Playwright Sir Arnold Wesker dies aged 83
PUBLISHED: 09:22 13 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:45 13 April 2016
A renowned playwright who featured Norfolk in a number of his plays and met his future wife at Norwich's The Bell Hotel has died aged 83.
Sir Arnold Wesker’s work was performed to full houses around the world and translated into up to 20 different languages.
He wrote more than 40 plays in a career spanning many decades, as well as several books and a collection of poems, and was knighted in 2006.
Sir Arnold, who was born in London in May 1932, was said to be most famous for his trilogy of plays - Chicken Soup With Barley, Roots, and I’m Talking About Jerusalem - based on his working-class and impoverished Jewish background.
The trilogy was written between 1958 and 1960 and the plays, in particular Roots, had links to Norwich.
Beatie Bryant - the central character of Roots - was inspired by his future wife Doreen Bicker, a chambermaid at The Bell Hotel, Norwich, where Sir Arnold was working as a kitchen porter.
He gave her the nickname of Dusty, because of her “gold-dust” hair, and they wed in 1958. It was a visit to his wife’s parents’ farm at Redenhall, near Long Stratton, that was said to have given him the setting for Roots, a play which saw Beatie return from London to her parents’ farm only to find the culture change harder to adapt to than she thought.
Further connections to Norfolk came in 2013 when a production of the show at The Donmar Warehouse, in London’s Covent Garden, starred three alumni of the Norwich Theatre Royal arts courses - Lisa Ellis, Carl Prekopp and Nic Jackman.
Sir Arnold was also a patron of Norwich Playhouse and premiered one of his plays at the city theatre.
Written in 1996, Blood Libel, together with The Merchant, explored a Christian society infected by antisemitism. It was about William of Norwich, a 12-year-old whose murder in 1144 was attributed to the Jews, a rumour that resonated throughout medieval Europe.
Caroline Richardson, director of Norwich Playhouse, said: “We were very saddened to hear of the death of Sir Arnold Wesker. He had been a patron of Norwich Playhouse since its opening in December 1995 and was always very supportive of the theatre. He very generously allowed his play Blood Libel to have its world premiere here in 1996 which was, rightly, received with acclaim. Along with the international literary world, we shall miss him.”
Among Sir Arnold’s other renowned plays were Chips With Everything (1962), based on his service in the Royal Air Force, and his first play The Kitchen (1957), based on his early days as a kitchen porter and pastry cook.
In total he wrote more than 40 plays, four books of short stories, two collections of essays, a book for young people, three more of non-fiction, a collection of poetry and an autobiography.
His final work, The Rocking Horse, was a radio play commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the BBC World Service in 2007.