UK Government

Department for Culture, Media And Sport: Thomas Hardy am-dram scripts should stay in the UK, says Culture Minister

Press Release   •   Dec 21, 2009 10:48 GMT

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, has placed a temporary export bar on a collection of typescripts from contemporary dramatisations of the works of Thomas Hardy.  This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the collection in the United Kingdom.

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the collection is so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune.

The poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was born near Dorchester in Dorset and drew inspiration for his work from the local landscape and people. He set his novels, including “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and “Far from the Madding Crowd”, in the south and south-west of England, to which he gave the fictional name of Wessex. A contemporary Dorchester-based amateur dramatic society called The Hardy Players staged adaptations of many of the novels, with input from Hardy himself, between 1908 and 1924.

The collection under export-deferral comprises annotated typescripts, prompt copies, actors’ parts, programmes, posters and miniature mock-up scenery. Some of these were originally owned by Thomas Henry Tilley, one of the two local figures chiefly responsible for the productions. The prompt copies are particularly important because they give the dialogue as actually delivered, and the stage directions as performed, and are the closest we can now get to the experience of an original Hardy Players production. The collection demonstrates how the local community adopted Hardy and his works to sustain its own regional identity.

Christopher Wright, Reviewing Committee member, said: “This collection is closely associated with the life of a particular region, one given an enduring literary identity as Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. As well as providing information about the adaptation and staging of Hardy’s works, it also documents the reception of a major literary figure by the local community that inspired him.”

The decision on the export licence application for the collection will be deferred for a period ending on 17 February inclusive. This period may be extended until 17 April inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the collection at the recommended price of £50,000 (excluding VAT) is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the collection should contact the owner’s agent through:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen’s Gate
South Kensington
London SW7 5HD
Telephone 020 7273 8270

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: sunita.sharma@mla.gov.uk.

2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Frances Wilson, RCEWA Secretary, on 020 7273 8270, email frances.wilson@mla.gov.uk.

3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.

4. The collection comprises working papers and records (annotated playscripts, prompt copies, actors’ parts, programmes, posters and miniature mock-up scenery), deriving from the adaptation and staging of Thomas Hardy’s works by the Hardy Players (formerly the Dorchester Dramatic and Debating Society), with input from Hardy himself, between 1908 and 1924. It contains material relating to all the Hardy Players’ productions, namely The Trumpet Major (1908, rev. 1912), Far from the Madding Crowd (1909), Mellstock Quire (1910), Three Wayfarers (1911), The Distracted Preacher (1911), The Woodlanders (1913), Wessex Scenes from the Dynasts (1916), The Return of the Native (1920), A Desperate Remedy (1920), The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall (1923) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1924). The largest group of adaptations was by Alfred Herbert Evans, a Dorchester chemist, others were by Thomas Henry Tilley, builder, stonemason and Mayor of Dorchester (a ‘real life of Mayor of Casterbridge’), while Thomas Hardy himself was personally responsible for four:

- The Three Wayfarers: an adaptation of a short story performed professionally in London prior to the Hardy Players performance

- Wessex Scenes from the Dynasts: an adaptation of his verse drama, originally staged in aid of the British and Russian Red Cross

- The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall: the only original play Hardy wrote to be performed by the Hardy Players

- Tess of the d’Urbervilles: Hardy’s own adaptation of his best-loved novel.

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