Margaret Francesca Venniker
May 27, 1908
|Died||September 4, 1991 (aged 83)|
Although Ramsay was born to English parents in Molong, New South Wales, Australia, her family eventually settled in South Africa by the end of the Great War in which her father served in the South African Medical Corps. During a brief and unhappy marriage, she came to England in 1929; her husband Norman Ramsay was under investigation in South Africa. After touring with an opera company, and a spell as an actress, she began reading scripts for a number of managements, including that of Peter Daubeny, who was later known for organising annual 'World Theatre' Seasons.
As she was gaining no financial return from scripts she was finding, in 1953 her friends and acquaintances persuaded her to open her own agency, in which they invested. For her entire career her business was based in Goodwin's Court, an alley off St Martin's Lane, London. She was able to buy out her partners in 1963, after the success of her first "discovery'", Robert Bolt. Sometimes she could be wrong in her opinions. Of A Man for All Seasons (1966), Bolt's own screen adaptation of his play, she was dismissive: "We don’t expect it to succeed as it’s not very dramatic and has no sex at all".
She represented many of the leading dramatists to emerge from the 1950s onwards, including Alan Ayckbourn, Eugène Ionesco, J. B. Priestley, Stephen Poliakoff and David Hare. After discovering Joe Orton, then living on National Assistance, she persuaded producer Michael Codron to stage Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane. Ramsay represented the dramatist, and then his estate, for the rest of her life. The 1978 biography of Orton by John Lahr, initiated by Ramsay in 1970, led to friction between the author and the playwright's former agent. For about ten years, she consulted her client, David Hare, about the quality of the work of other writers represented by her agency.
Ramsay's last years were affected by the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Her long term companion, the actor William Roderick, died in April 1991. She died on 4 September 1991 in London from the effects of a heart condition and circulation issues.
The Peggy Ramsay Foundation has been established by her estate and makes grants and awards to help writers and writing for the stage. Her archive has been donated to the British Library. In 2009, a blue plaque was unveiled at Ramsay's former home in Brighton by her friend and biographer Simon Callow.
Portrayals and books
In Prick Up Your Ears (1987), the Orton film biopic based on the Lahr book, Ramsay is portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave, while in Peggy For You (1999), a play by Alan Plater set in the late 1960s, Ramsay is placed centre stage. Two books have been written about Ramsay; the work by Colin Chambers cited below is a straightforward biography, while Simon Callow's memoir Love Is Where It Falls: The Story of a Passionate Friendship (1999) is an account of their close friendship.
- Christopher Stevens Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams, London: John Murray, 2010, p.409 ISBN 1-84854-195-3
- Colin Chambers, Peggy: The Life of Margaret Ramsay, Play Agent, London: Nick Hern Books, 1997, p. 7.
- Chambers (1997), p. 8.
- John Lahr, Prick Up Your Ears: The Life of Joe Orton, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002 [1978, 2000], p. 144.
- Brooks, Richard (8 August 2010). "Enter stage left, Hare the secret critic". The Times. Retrieved 23 July 2018. (subscription required)
- Chambers (1997), p. 157.
- Chambers (1997), pp. 179-86.
- "Peggy Ramsay, 83, An Agent in Britain Of Top Playwrights", The New York Times, 7 September 1991.
- The Peggy Ramsay Foundation.
- Zoe Wilcox, "The Peggy Ramsay archive", The Writers Guild, 15 September 2010.
- Gurner, Richard. "Actor Simon Callow unveils blue plaque in Brighton". The Argus. Newsquest. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
- Michael Billington, "Peggy For You" (review), The Guardian, 24 November 1999.
- Laurence Watts, "Interview: Simon Callow on Dickens, Peggy Ramsay and being gay", Pink News, 29 December 2011.