Obituary: Patrick Garland, theatre and television director

Patrick Garland. Picture: PA

Patrick Garland. Picture: PA

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Born: 10 April, 1935, in London. Died: 20 April, 2013, in Sussex, aged 78.

PATRICK Garland was a handsome and debonair man of the theatre who preserved a life-long passion for literature and poetry. He made his mark early in his career when he directed Alan Bennett’s first play in the Sixties: Forty Years On with John Gielgud. Garland’s work in television included directing some of Bennett’s acclaimed Talking Heads programmes – Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet with Patricia Routledge is particularly fondly remembered.

Garland’s career also included more popular shows, such as directing Michael Crawford in the smash hit musical Billy and in the Eighties a revival of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison on Broadway. He had a flair for pulling off the grand occasion and directed the Fanfare for Elizabeth at the Royal Opera House to mark the Queen’s 60th birthday, and also the funeral in Westminster Abbey of Laurence Olivier.

Patrick Ewart Garland was educated at St Mary’s College, Southampton, and read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he was president of the University Dramatic Society. Garland is remembered for a spirited Henry V in Magdalen College deer park.

After three years at the Bristol Old Vic School and Paris, he abandoned acting and took a job with the BBC working for the inspiring Huw Wheldon. Garland and his colleague (a young Melvyn Bragg) were interviewed by Weldon who informed them: “This job is a peach, the best job you’ll ever have in your life.” In his 12 years working for the BBC’s Monitor programme, Garland conducted historic interviews with some of the most notable personalities of the decade – Sir Noël Coward, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Dame Ninette de Valois and Dame Maggie Smith.

Garland brought to all such interviews an informed knowledge of the subject and asked the questions in a scholarly but unaggressive manner. He preserved a certain boyish charm, which endeared him to the interviewee. No more so than the interview with Coward.

The playwright was talking about his youth and all too casually remarked: “I was educated in the public lavatories of Battersea.” There was a brief pause and a blush and Coward calmly smiled and said: “A Freudian slip. Public Libraries.” It was a reflection of both Garland and Coward’s professionalism that the lapse was not edited out.

A TV revue, On the Margin, was the first time Garland worked with Bennett. That led to the author asking Garland to direct, in 1968, Forty Years On. Set in a run-down public school the play, with typical Bennett panache, reflected the decline of Britain in a post-Suez world. Garland got a marvellous performance out of Gielgud as the bewildered headmaster.

Garland directed successfully several one man evenings in the West End of London, which then toured the UK. Notable were Brief Lives (with Roy Dotrice; based on the life of John Aubrey), Beecham (with Timothy West), Kipling (with Alec McCowan) and Vita and Virginia (with Eileen Atkins).

His production of another one-man show was one of the highlights of the 1977 Edinburgh Festival. Garland directed Harrison in afternoon readings of George Bernard Shaw’s witty theatre reviews of the 1890s.

He was twice director of the Chichester Festival, (1982-85 and 1990-94) and enjoyed a considerable success with shows such as The Mitford Girls, Goodbye Mr Chips, Pickwick and Pygmalion. In 1998, he directed Chimes at Midnight there with Simon Callow in a stage version of the Orson Welles film. Garland and Callow again worked at Chichester in 2000 on The Mystery of Charles Dickens.

Garland only seldom worked in the cinema but he directed The Snow Goose, starring Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter, which won a Golden Globe and Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins.

Garland’s calm and reassuring manner made him ideal at organising such grand occasions as the Queen’s 60th birthday concert and Olivier’s funeral. For the funeral Garland had actors connected with Olivier’s career (Douglas Fairbanks, Michael Caine and Peter O’Toole, Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi and so on) walk into the Abbey with cushions on which there were placed his honours and items he wore on stage.

Another major production was at his beloved Chichester, where Garland involved the city’s inhabitants for Victory! It was a glorious promenade version of Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts, with James Bolam as Napoleon.

Garland wrote an acclaimed biography of Harrison (The Incomparable Rex), remained devoted to poetry and in particular the poetry of Sussex. In 1963, he formed Poetry International with Ted Hughes.

He loved Corsica, where he kept a house for many years. Garland married the actress Alexandra Bastedo in 1980. She survives him.

ALASDAIR STEVEN

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