Theatre critic Michael Coveney has won the inaugural Architectural History Book of the Year award for his 2022 publication of MASTER OF THE HOUSE: THE THEATRES OF CAMERON MACKINTOSH. His latest book is a collection of his (mostly Guardian) obituaries, THE FINAL CURTAIN (Unicorn, 2023), with a foreword by Sam Mendes, which begins with a fanfare for Laurence Olivier, Peggy Ashcroft, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, and covers, in chronological order of demise, the careers of Susan Fleetwood, Alan Bates, Nicola Pagett, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Helen McCrory, Ken Dodd, Leslie Phillips, Glenda Jackson, and many more.
Michael was born in the East End of London in 1948 and educated at a north London Jesuit grammar school (the same one as Alfred Hitchcock’s), and Worcester College, Oxford. He has worked as a teacher, script reader, piano player and journalist. He was editor of Plays and Players magazine from 1975 to 1978, and theatre critic and deputy arts editor for the Financial Times throughout the 1980s. He went to The Observer as theatre critic in 1990, followed by a seven-year stint in the same post on the Daily Mail from 1997.
His books include CATS ON A CHANDELIER: THE ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER STORY, MAGGIE SMITH: A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR, THE AISLE IS FULL OF NOISES, a polemical diary of a theatre critic in 1993, KNIGHT ERRANT (with the late Sir Robert Stephens), and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MIKE LEIGH.
His updated biography of Dame Maggie Smith was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in September 2015 to great acclaim and was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. This was followed by LONDON THEATRES, published by Frances Lincoln in 2017, in which Michael joined forces with leading photographer Peter Dazeley to take theatre lovers on a tour of London’s most iconic theatres. QUESTORS, JESTERS, AND RENEGADES, published by Bloomsbury in 2020, is a vital story of the amateur theatre as it developed from the medieval guilds to the modern theatre of Ayckbourn, Bennett and Pinter, with a few mishaps and missed cues along the way.
This was the first account of its kind, packed with anecdote and previously unheard stories, and showed how amateur theatre is so much more than a popular pastime: it has been endemic to the birth of the National Theatre, as well as a seedbed of talent and a fascinating barometer and product of the times in which we live.
In KEN CAMPBELL: THE GREAT CAPER (2011, Nick Hern Books), Michael celebrated one of the true originals in post-war British theatre; a maverick, visionary and outrageously demanding director. Campbell, well known as an actor for his television appearances in G F Newman’s Law and Order, Fawlty Towers and as Warren Mitchell’s neighbour in In Sickness and In Health, represented the unofficial vitality of British theatre in all its raucous traditions of Shakespeare and the Jacobeans, the music hall, modern improvisation and Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. In his later years he produced and performed in a series of brilliant, quasi-autobiographical monologues that stand comparison with any one-man shows of their time.
Michael Coveney was given unconditional access to Campbell’s private papers, notebooks and unpublished work, and talked to many of his friends and colleagues, including Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Bob Hoskins, Sylvester McCoy, Nina Conti, Prunella Gee, Bill Drummond, Richard Eyre, Simon Callow and John Sessions. His is an authoritative, often hilarious, critical biography of an amazing spirit and a remarkable talent.
QUESTORS, JESTERS, AND RENEGADES
This is the vital story of the amateur theatre as it developed from the medieval guilds to the modern theatre of Ayckbourn and Pinter, with a few mishaps and missed cues along the way. Michael Coveney - a former member of Ilford's Renegades - tells this tale with a charm and wit that will have you shouting out for an encore. Between the two world wars, amateur theatre thrived across the UK, from Newcastle to Norwich, from Bolton to Birmingham and Bangor, championed by the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Sybil Thorndike, and J B Priestley. Often born out of a particular political cause or predicament, many of these theatres and companies continue to evolve, survive and even prosper today. This is the first account of its kind, packed with anecdote and previously unheard stories, and it shows how amateur theatre is more than a popular pastime: it has been endemic to the birth of the National Theatre, as well as a seedbed of talent and a fascinating barometer and product of the times in which we live.
London is the undisputed theatre capital of the world. From world-famous musicals to West End shows, from cutting-edge plays to Shakespeare in its original staging, from outdoor performance to intimate fringe theatre, the range and quality are unsurpassed. Leading theatre critic Michael Coveney invites you on a tour of forty-five theatres that make the London stage what it is. With stories of the architecture, the people and the productions which have defined each one, alongside sumptuous photographs by Peter Dazeley of the public areas, auditorium and backstage, this illustrated overview of London's Theatres is a book like no other. A must for fans of the stage! Foreward by Mark Rylance.
MAGGIE SMITH: A BIOGRAPHY
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
No one does glamour, severity, girlish charm or tight-lipped witticism better than Dame Maggie Smith, one of Britain's best-loved actors. This new biography shines the stage-lights on the life and work of a truly remarkable performer, one whose career spans six decades.
KEN CAMPBELL: THE GREAT CAPER
UK: Nick Hern Books
Ken Campbell, who died aged 66 in 2008, was one of the true originals in post-war British theatre; a maverick, visionary and outrageously demanding director. His career began with his Road Show and two great epic plays, both produced on shoestring budgets - the nine-hour Illuminatus!, which opened the National Theatre’s smallest auditorium in 1977, and the 22-hour hippie acid trip The Warp, which defined this era of fringe theatre.
Michael Coveney has been given unconditional access to Campbell’s private papers, notebooks and unpublished work, and has talked to many of his friends and colleagues, including Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Bob Hoskins, Sylvester McCoy, Nina Conti, Prunella Gee, Bill Drummond, Richard Eyre, Simon Callow and John Sessions. His is an authoritative, often hilarious, critical biography of an amazing spirit and a remarkable talent.