There are numerous playwrights whose output includes masterpieces and other plays which are less well regarded. Pinero, Noël Coward, Terence Rattigan, Tennessee Williams included.
From history, Lope de Vega and Shakespeare are also “fine” examples of prolific playwrights, some of whose work attracts less interest today. How could it be otherwise? Lope, for example, wrote some 1500 plays, around 450 remain extant, but only a few remain in the repertory, notably Fuente Ovejuna. Perhaps Lope churned them out for money, recycled a good many too. Yet in death all these great playwrights are respected and revered. Where would theatre be without them today? Arnold Wesker has joined that distinguished company.
How easy it is, and glib, to say he wrote a few good plays and sneer at the rest? My response is ‘you try writing a few good plays!’ Arnold did more than that, he wrote several masterpieces.
Among the many playwrights I have had the privilege of publishing Arnold has a special place in my heart. With his wife Dusty he was a charming host and impossible not to like. The twinkle in his eye, and in his smile, his razor-sharp logic, told me that he knew himself well, and knew rather more about the possibilities of theatre than some of his critics.
Alongside his contemporaries like Osborne and Bond, Arnold was a leader, a political force whose plays transformed modern theatre. At times he was an energetic activist, never afraid to take on the establishment within the theatre – and, believe it, there is such an establishment which confers favour on the faithful and stifles opposition. I remember an actor who some years ago told me that among a cast of sixteen he was the only one who hadn’t been to Oxford. (The director also went to Oxford.) The outsider was cast (tolerated) for his regional accent!
Arnold was one of my heroes in the theatre. He was never one to roll over when angered or bullied. Some call it biting the hand that feeds you. Others call it telling the truth.
Sir Arnold Wesker always told the truth. I shall miss him.