:   HRH, The Duke of Kent, KG, GCMG, GCVO, ADC
Vice Presidents:
Stephen Fry     Moira Lister    Sheridan Morley
Chairman: Mrs Barbara Longford
Tel:  020 7937 8692 (office)
Tel:  020 7603 7399 (home)
e-mail:  [email protected]

Ms Paula Ridley OBE.,                                               3rd April, 2006
Chair of the Trustees,
Victoria & Albert Museum,
69 Thomas More House,                               
London EC2Y 8BT

Dear Ms Ridley,

The Future of the Theatre Museum, Covent Garden

On behalf of over 400 members of the Noël Coward Society,  I should like to put on record the very high regard in which we hold London’s National Museum of The Performing Arts.  The failure to secure funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the refurbishment was indeed most disappointing, especially in view of the amount of hard work and commitment which must have gone into preparing the bid. 

The Noël Coward Society would like to offer all the help it can give you in trying to secure the future for this unique facility.  We recognise the difficulties inherent in the transformation of the Old Flower Market, into a vital display, exhibitions, archive and performance space for theatre, drama, opera, dance, circus and music; but nevertheless, this is indeed possible in the twenty first century.  Alas it seems that the only thing which is holding back the project is a lack of due recognition of worth on the part of those who decide how to allocate publicly-raised funding.

Why is the Theatre Museum, or to use its far more accurate name – the National Museum of The Performing Arts - considered to be so important?  The Society does not need to convince you of this, I know, but I outline our reasons for considering it so, in the hope that they may be of assistance in future discussions with the Trustees and other bodies such as the Arts Council.

  1. The United Kingdom is unrivalled throughout the world for the quality of its theatre arts.  Our theatrical history is one of this country’s highest achievements.  We have a wealth and breadth of talent in this field of human endeavour which is truly outstanding and which gives sustenance to a vital requirement of the human psyche. The West End of London is the greatest centre of performance in the world and the Theatre Museum is situated at its very heart.

  1. Consider the high achievers in life, whose backgrounds may have been lacking or underprivileged.   The students the educationalists describe as having “value added”.  Each and every one of them has been stimulated and transformed at some point in their lives by having access to some aspect of literature, music or the performing arts.  The huge current success of the musical, Billy Elliot, is the story of one such high achiever.  The social responsibility of retaining this Museum could not be more important today.

  1. A Museum for Performing Arts must by its very nature be a living space, which will stimulate and educate young people.  Live events and educational facilities should take place side by side with the exhibitions and vast archive material.  The collections need to remain near the very spot where Eliza Dolittle sold her flowers and contemporary practice in all sectors must be highlighted.

As you may know, our parent organisation – The Noël Coward Foundation – has done much over the years to help the Museum.  At the end of 2005 they supported a ‘Comedy of Coward Festival’, with three events which played to a packed theatre.    First Giles Brandreth, Richard Briers, Penelope Keith and Thea Sharock performed a roundtable conversation about playing Coward.  Second was a Masterclass -‘Coward in Love’ and the third event was a Revue, which took place in the picture gallery, of words and music by Coward, wonderfully performed by Liz Robertson and Denis King.

We would like to do more to help.  We regard the Museum as our London home as every year we hold our Annual General Meeting in the Studio Theatre area on a Saturday nearest to Noël Coward’s birthday.  Our members then walk round the corner to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, for a flower-laying ceremony at the statue of Noël Coward in the foyer.  Last December we welcomed Dame Maggie Smith and the year before that Lord Attenborough. 

Please get in touch with me if you think there is anything the Society can now do to help you.  Is there anyone else to whom you would like us to write?  Please do everything in your power to save one of our greatest treasures.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Longford

Copies to:
Mr David Lammy, MP,
Minister for Culture,
Department of Culture, Media & Sport,
2 – 4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DY.
Mr Jonathan Altaras,
Trustee of the V & A,
Flat 1, 27 Bolton Street, London W1J 8BW


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