John Tydeman

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John Peter Tydeman [1] (born 30 March 1936) is an English producer of radio and director of theatre plays. He was responsible for commissioning and directing the early plays of Caryl Churchill, Joe Orton, Tom Stoppard and Sue Townsend.

Tydeman was the head of BBC Radio Drama from 1986 to 1994.

Education and military service[edit]

Tydeman was educated at Hertford Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Singapore Regiment of the Royal Artillery in Malaya, 1954-1956.[2]

Early BBC career[edit]

After joining the BBC as a general trainee, working in various parts of the Corporation, he became a full-time producer in BBC Radio Drama in 1960, where he produced Shakespeare and other classical writers and worked with many of the leading dramatists of the day, also adapting works such as Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and Jane Austen’s Emma. Among the writers he produced were David Rudkin (Cries from Casement as his Bones are Brought to Dublin), Edward Bond (Narrow Road to the Deep North), William Trevor (Scenes from an Album) and David Cregan and Tom Stoppard on many occasions.

Although Caryl Churchill’s first play for radio, The Ants (produced by Michael Bakewell), was broadcast three times in 1962-63, it was not retained in the BBC Archives. For Churchill, as for Stoppard, the freedom of the radio form was significant in the development of their writing. Churchill’s work with Tydeman shows an unfettered imagination at work. The plays Identical Twins, Shreber’s Nervous Illness, Henry’s Past, Abortive, Not, Not, Not, Not, Not Enough Oxygen and Perfect Happiness do survive in the BBC, and foreshadow the freedom and discipline of her later stage work. Kenneth Haigh’s performance as twin brothers in Identical Twins, a ‘duologue’, is a tour-de-force of radio acting and writing.

Association with Joe Orton[edit]

Joe Orton was there at the beginning of Tydeman’s BBC career, as Tydeman, usually called ‘Tydey’ in theatrical circumstances, told Brian Jarman of the Fitzrovia News in 2011: ‘It was when he was a young BBC general trainee after university in 1959 that a playwright called Joe Orton walked into his office. John was spending three months in various departments and just happened to be working in Drama at the time.

"Joe was wearing bovver boots and khaki. He said he’d just come out of prison", Tydeman once commented. "He’d been had up for defacing library books. He was revolutionary. I was a bit daunted." The play Orton had brought was called 'The Boy Hairdresser, which was later changed to The Ruffian on the Stair.'

Equally as important, Tydeman’s nurturing of Orton finally saw The Ruffian on the Stair appear on the BBC, with Kenneth Cranham in the leading role, several years later, but only after Tydeman had introduced Orton’s work to the theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay. That led to Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane appearing on the London stage just months before the radio broadcast of The Ruffian on the Stair.[3]

Later BBC career[edit]

One of the most prolific of radio directors, Tydeman directed 27 of Rhys Adrian’s more than 30 plays for radio, including the Prix Italia winning Evelyn (1970) and Prix Futura winning The Clerks (1979).[4] (Michael Bakewell directed five of Adrian’s plays, and Ronald Mason directed two.)

He commissioned and directed Sue Townsend’s first Mole script for BBC Radio 4, when the character was still known as Nigel, in The Diary of Nigel Mole Aged 13 ¾,[5] and he then entered into a correspondence with the fictional Adrian who submitted his poetry efforts to Tydeman at the BBC. It was Tydeman who brought Townsend together with the publisher Methuen after that first broadcast. Tydeman himself became a quasi-fictional character in Townsend's Mole novels.

Tydeman became Assistant Head, Radio Drama (AHDR) in 1979, and succeeded Ronald Mason as Head of Radio Drama (HDR)[6] in 1986. He retired from the BBC in 1994, but continued to produce radio plays as an independent.

Other activities and honours[edit]

Tydeman’s association with Peggy Ramsay continued after he introduced her to Joe Orton. After Ramsay died in 1991 he became a trustee for the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, leading to his continued support for new writing after he left the BBC, particularly through administering the Foundation’s annual grant to the Pearson Playwrights' Scheme, (originally the Thames Television Theatre Writers Scheme and later to become the Channel 4 Playwrights Scheme).

Tydeman's stage productions have included Caryl Churchill's Objections to Sex and Violence (Royal Court Theatre, 1975), David Buck's dramatisation of Robert Nye’s Falstaff (Fortune Theatre, 1984) and Emlyn Williams's Night Must Fall (Haymarket Theatre, 1996).

He was made OBE in the New Year Honours List of 31 December 2002.[7] He has received numerous other awards, including the Radio Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award for 2010.