Charles Montagu Slater|
23 September 1902
Millom, Cumberland, England, United Kingdom
19 December 1956 (aged 54)|
London, United Kingdom
|Occupation||Poet, novelist, playwright, librettist|
|Genre||Poetry, fiction, theatre, opera|
Slater was born in Millom, Cumberland, and attended Magdalen College, Oxford on a scholarship, upon graduation becoming a reporter for the Liverpool Post. An activist, he joined the Communist Party in about 1927. In 1934 he founded the Left Review, becoming its editor while publishing literary criticism, plays, poems, short stories, and film scripts, often using the pseudonym `Ajax’.
In the 1930s Slater was selected by Benjamin Britten as librettist for his opera Peter Grimes, which was based on "Letter XXII: Peter Grimes" in George Crabbe's poem The Borough. For the libretto, Slater eschewed the traditional five-stress line form of English rhyming or blank verse in favour of a more modern and conversational four stress line with rhyming couplets. He argued that contemporary listeners were accustomed to assonance and consonantal rhyme but it could also be argued that this form of 'rough' rhyme was common in early English drama and that Slater was restoring it to the stage, rather than inventing something new. Slater's original libretto, which he published himself (to the annoyance of Britten and Peter Pears, who had made a number of amendments to it before the opera was staged), is cast in three acts. It omits the repetitions necessary in the actual opera.
Slater was involved, with Britten and W. H. Auden, in many of the John Grierson documentaries, such as Coal Face (1935). In 1936 he published the novel Stay Down, Miner, about a strike at the Nine Mile Point Colliery; Stay Down, Miner was performed as a play by Left Theatre Ltd., with music composed by Britten, in the same year. In 1944 he published the novel Once a Jolly Swagman (1944), about motorcycle racing, which was filmed in 1949.