Collection: BC MS 20c Theatre, Baron: Alec Baron, archive compiled by Baron relating to theatrical life in Leeds from the late 1920s to the 1950s, principally Leeds Unity Theatre, supplemented by material relating to Leeds Film Theatre and world cinema.

Archive Collection icon Archive Collection: Alec Baron, archive compiled by Baron relating to theatrical life in Leeds from the late 1920s to the 1950s, principally Leeds Unity Theatre, supplemented by material relating to Leeds Film Theatre and world cinema.

Details

Title: Alec Baron, archive compiled by Baron relating to theatrical life in Leeds from the late 1920s to the 1950s, principally Leeds Unity Theatre, supplemented by material relating to Leeds Film Theatre and world cinema.

Level: Collection 

Classmark: BC MS 20c Theatre, Baron

Creator(s): Baron, Alec (1913-1991)

Date: 1928-1991

Main language: English

Size and medium: 19 boxes

Persistent link: https://explore.library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-explore/8627 

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Description

Archive compiled by Alec Baron relating to theatrical life in Leeds from the late 1920s to the 1950s, principally Leeds Unity Theatre, supplemented by material relating to Leeds Film Theatre and world cinema.

Introduction

This collection was most generously given to the Library by Alec Baron’s family via Martin Banham in 1990s, with further donations of 3 notebooks in December 2004, his personal memoir and additional programmes in July 2005, photographs and a typescript of his play "Comrade Enemy” in December 2007. They reflect his life as a prominent figure in amateur and professional theatre and film in Leeds from the 1930s to 1980s. Alec Baron was born on 29 November 1913.

In an early age of a schoolboy he developed a keen interest in cinema and theatre, and with seven likeminded friends he formed the Dramatic and Arts Club, which was to meet every Friday for several years in alternate houses to discuss the arts. The same group of schoolboys ambitiously started the Leeds Film Group, showing films for people interested in seeing German, Russian, French and other Art Cinema films that were not shown at commercial cinemas. It was the first film society founded in England outside of London, and a successful achievement with a sold out audience at every performance.

Baron and the other founders later formed the Leeds Film Institute Society (later Leeds Film Society), and around the same time Baron strongly supported the formation of the British Film Institute. He also made significant contributions to the setting up of the National Film Archive, which from thereafter he was able to use freely. Baron acted as the secretary of the Leeds Film Society during many seasons, and the Society subsequently sponsored the Leeds Film Theatre at the Playhouse, which opened on 27 September 1970.

Baron had decided to leave school and move to London in order to break into films. However, following the death of his brother and his other brother getting married and moving away from home, he was obliged to stay at home in Leeds. Baron then started his own theatre company, called the Astra, as he regarded theatre the next best thing to films, and without equipment he was unable pursue films. He also directed the annual University Students Rag Show on many occasions. In the late thirties Baron discovered left movement drama in Leeds, and enthusiastically started to write political revue. There already was a Unity Theatre at Kings Cross in London, having developed from the Workers’ Theatre Movement, and seeing the need for one in Leeds, Baron formed a Unity Theatre in Leeds with a group of people.

They started in 1939 with a performance of a play at the Left Book Club in Leeds for an audience of about 30 people on a stage without curtains or lights. The theatre was run by amateurs who built their own stage and made their costumes. The Unity Theatre also developed its own playwrights and many of the plays and revues performed were written by the members of Leeds Unity Theatre. They became successful very quickly, and were soon performing shows every week. In the summer 1942 a Children's Theatre was started at Unity Theatre, which staged such plays as "The Wild Geese" and "The Pied Piper”. In 1943 the company moved to a larger theatre in the City, the Civic Theatre, with a capacity of 2O0. In addition to plays and revues, the Unity Theatre produced also two ballets, "The League of Nations" and "Industrial Ballet", as well as mass declamations, notably, "Salute the Soviet Union".

When Baron was called up to the army, Kate Plenty took over from him as the director. Baron and Plenty wrote a successful full-length play, "Comrade enemy", which ran for thirteen weeks at Unity in 1942, and was much praised by Sybil Thorndike. The aim of the Unity Theatre, which was mainly run by communists, was to produce plays and revues with depth, meaning and a real modern message, mainly concerning social and economical conditions and politics of the time. Instead of merely providing entertainment, they presented a programme of drama dealing with progressive and antifascist ideas. A lively Unity Theatre movement thrived in Leeds in the 1930s and 1940s.

Leeds Unity Theatre was closed at the beginning of 1945, but was reborn two years later as Leeds Citizen's Theatre. Baron also directed plays with Jewish themes for the Jewish community in Leeds. He was the first administrator of the Leeds Playhouse, which he left in 1972 to pursue writing. Baron died on 27 October 1991.

Comprises: (a) Theatrical material mainly relating to Leeds Unity Theatre, including 83 items of correspondence (Alec Baron, Kate Plenty, Bill Ramsay (national organiser of the Unity Theatre Society Ltd.), Oscar Lewenstein (theatre and film producer), Sybil Thorndike, and others); programmes for plays by George Bernard Shaw, Clifford Odets, and others; typescripts of plays by Ted Willis, and others, also including a typescript of "Comrade Enemy"; photographs of Baron with members of Glasgow Unity Theatre; designs for logos and constumes, song sheets, press-cuttings, promotional material, tickets, and other printed ephemera; also includes material relating to Theatre Workshop (under the direction of Joan Littlewood); and other theatre companies; (b) Film material, mainly relating to Leeds Film Theatre, Leeds Film Society, Leeds Film Group, also including world cinema material: programmes, promotional leaflets and catalogues, correspondence, film magazines; (c) Baron's personal notebooks on his theatre and film going, Baron's personal memoir (103 ff., photocopy of a typescript).

Includes printed, typed and manuscript material, as well as 16 photographs.

Administrative or biographical history

Alec Baron was a prominent figure in amateur and professional theatre and film in Leeds from the 1930s to 1980s. He was born on 29 November 1913, and as a schoolboy he developed a keen interest in cinema and theatre. He was one of the founders of the Leeds Film Group, the first film society in England outside London. He later formed the Leeds Film Institute Society (later Leeds Film Society) with a group of film enthusiasts, and acted as the secretary of the Society during many seasons. After leaving school, Baron started his own theatre company called the Astra. He also directed the annual University Students Rag Show at many occasions. In the late thirties Baron discovered left movement drama in Leeds, and enthusiastically started to write political revue. Consequently, with a group of people he formed a Unity Theatre in Leeds, on the model of the one already in London. The Unity Theatre created and performed plays dealing with the political situation of the time with a clear anti-fascist message. When Baron was called up to the army, Kate Plenty took over from him as the director. Baron and Plenty wrote a successful full-length play, "Comrade enemy", which ran for thirteen weeks at Unity in 1942. In the same year the Unity Theatre was transferred to the Civic Theatre. As of Jewish background Baron also had an interest in Jewish theatre and directed plays with Jewish themes. Baron was also the first administrator of the Leeds Playhouse, which he left in 1972 to pursue writing. He died on 27 October 1991.

Arrangement

The BC MS 20c Theatre, Baron catalogue is based on an historic inventory. The arrangement of material does not necessarily represent the original order of the archive and it is considered partly processed by an archivist. When making requests to consult, please be aware that there may be discrepancies between description and physical arrangement. The retrievable unit for this collection is file level.

Access and usage

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Related people and organisations

Littlewood, Joan Littlewood, Joan

Plenty, Kate Plenty, Kate

Related subjects

WARNING: many of our records have not been classified by subject. So if you search our catalogue by subject using the links below then you are unlikely to find all relevant records. But you will find some...

Theater

Motion pictures

Film festivals

Communism and culture

Jewish theater

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