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Saturday, 21 September, 2002, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
British theatre pioneer dies
Joan Littlewood
Many actors say she had an effect on their creativity
Acclaimed theatre director Joan Littlewood, who broke new ground in stage acting, has died at the age of 87.

Born in 1914 Littlewood was one of the most controversial and influential theatre directors and drama teachers of the 20th Century.

She discovered so many people. She was a great, great, great director

Actress Barbara Windsor

With her partner Gerry Raffles, she set up the Theatre Workshop company and put the Theatre Royal Stratford East on the international map.

Littlewood died in her sleep on Friday evening, at the London home of her assistant Peter Rankin, a Theatre Royal spokesperson said on Saturday.

Radical

Littlewood dismissed the establishment's concept of acting early on in her career, choosing instead to go her own way.

Radical and outspoken, she was said to have been feared by the authorities, and snubbed by the Arts Council.

But for many Littlewood was a woman ahead of her time.

Critic Kenneth Tynan once said of her: "It now seems quite likely that when the annals of the British theatre in the middle years of the 20th Century come to be written, Joan's name will lead all the rest."

Many famous actors have sung her praises - citing her influence on their creativity.

These include Richard Harris, Sheila Hancock, Barbara Windsor and the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who she directed in her most famous production Oh What A Lovely War.

Strong influence

Windsor said on Saturday that she was "devastated" by the news of Littlewood's death.

The actress said: "She changed my life. I auditioned for Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, and she said 'where have you been all my life?'

"I remember having not wanted to go to Stratford East, but I did five weeks there, then we transferred to the West End and I was in it for two and a half years.

"She discovered so many people. She was a great, great, great director."

The late Sir Nigel Hawthorne, in a recently published book, described her as "the most important influence of my life".

He said: "I owe her everything. Her encouragement stimulated me and transformed my work as an actor. She taught me to be truthful."

In 1975, after the death of Gerry Raffles, Littlewood left the theatre moved to France.

In agreement with her wishes her funeral will be a private cremation in London and her ashes will be taken to Vienne in France to be reunited with those of her partner.

Theatre Royal will be holding a memorial event for her to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Theatre Workshop company at Stratford East in early 1953.

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The BBC's Chris Jones
"All her life Joan Littlewood thumbed her nose at convention"
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