George Speaight

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George Victor Speaight (/spt/; 6 September 1914 – 22 December 2005) was a theatre historian and the leading authority on 19th-century toy theatre.

One of his brothers was the Shakespearean actor Robert Speaight, who paid for some of George's education at Haileybury.

George was fascinated from his boyhood by toy theatres, and in the 1930s professionally took up puppetry. He became known for his puppet show performances at the Bumpus bookstore in Oxford Street.

He undertook wartime service as a conscientious objector, providing wireless services at Gibraltar, then later in uniform participating in the invasion of Normandy.

His book Juvenile Drama: The History of the English Toy Theatre appeared in December 1946. He became manager of Pollock's Toy Theatres, and for some years worked in theatrical endeavours.

His next book History of the English Puppet Theatre appeared in 1955. He then worked as an editor of children’s encyclopaedias and reference books, initially at Odhams Press. He later joined George Rainbird's firm where he edited the Catholic Encyclopaedia, before becoming editorial director of Rainbird Reference.

He retained an interest in the theatre, editing Theatre Notebook, the journal of the Society for Theatre Research, and producing a catalogue of 19th century plays. He held prominent roles at the Union Internationale de la Marionnette, at the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, and as a jury member at the International Festival of Puppet Theatre at Bucharest. He founded or co-founded several theatrical enterprises.

Speaight left reference publishing in 1974, but continued with theatrical activities during a long retirement. In 1980 he published The Book of Clowns and A History of the Circus.

In 1946, he married Mary Mudd, a wood engraver. He was much affected by her death, shortly before his own. They had a son and a daughter.

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