Details & Cataloguing

English Literature, History and Children's Books & Illustrations


White, Michael.

i) 43 letters and memoranda by Kenneth Tynan, to Michael White (one to his colleague Willy Donaldson), chiefly typed but some autograph, mostly about Oh! Calcutta! including the initial concept ("...Small cast (8-9 girls, 2-3-4 men), small chamber orchestra, using mime, sketches, dance, film, songs. The aim of the show: to be elegantly but intensely sexy. No crap about art..."), the revue's title, suggestions of possible writers, directors, choreographers, actors, dancers, and strip-tease artistes, individual contributions ("...Two five-minute colour films by Roman Polanski on voyeurism..."), proposals of running order, suggested changes to texts and other details of the London show in the light of the New York production, critiques of the show after viewings at the Roundhouse ("...'Was it Good?': This is a shambles. Tony's latest contribution is to look at Brenda and say 'See nipples and die' I almost did. Jonathan plays the whole number with his cock hanging out...") and after its transfer to the West End ("...The audience did not laugh very much and by the time the lights came up on the curtain call the applause was dying and many people were on their way out..."), with other letters on issues of rights and royalties; several later letters discussing the 1976 revue Carte Blanche with complaints that it is insufficiently sexually explicit, and some chatty letters on personal subjects ("...I have resumed serious training in winemanship and am now capable of distinguishing, blindfold, between Dom Perignon and Mackeson's Milk Stout (The Milk Stout is the one with the faint bouquet of tunafish.)..."), also with some retained copies of letters by White to Tynan and other related material, in total about 100 pages (plus a photocopy of a revised draft of his article 'Meditations on Basic Baroque', and also copies of letters and other documents included in the lot), 26 April 1967 to 19 November 1979 (where dated), in a folder, together with a second folder with papers relating to the death of Tynan, his memorial service, and posthumous reputation

ii) letters by other correspondents about Oh! Calcutta!, including two autograph letters signed by the director Jacques Levy (2) ("...As far as the music is concerned, I think you are right about The Stones being doubtful..."), the remaining letters chiefly by agents and managers and concerning contracts, agreements, and royalties, including Margaret Ramsay on Joe Orton's contribution and her concerns of possible police interference in the production, and correspondence relating to Samuel Beckett's Breath and the author's unhappiness about the use of his work, also an invitation to the opening night party, in total about 130 original letters, retained copies, royalty statements and related items, chiefly 1968-70, housed in a folder

iii) Scripts: Joe Orton, top-copy typescript of his short play Until She Screams, 14 pages, foolscap, with accompanying letter, 1 page, "Friday", also with a photocopy of the script; Kenneth Tynan, Homage to St Dominic's, carbon-copy typescript, 4to, 10 pages; together loose in a manila folder labelled in pencil ("Joe Orton original script")

iv) original signed contracts for Oh! Calcutta! by John Lennon (Four in Hand), Samuel Beckett (Breath), and other contributors, dated 19 February 1969, with weekly statements of receipts and expenses for the play (1970), later summary financial and royalty statements (1970s), related correspondence and other papers, in a folder, with a second folder containing later correspondence, royalty statements, and other documents (chiefly 1977-80)

v) Volume of press cuttings relating to the original London production of Oh! Calcutta!, including reviews, opinion pieces, editorials, cartoons, and news items, providing a vivid insight into the furore over the production, c.240 pages (most pages with several cuttings), 1970, leaves loose

vi) framed poster for Oh! Calcutta! at the Roundhouse (527 x 335mm.), with two other framed posters, a framed seating return for the show at the Duchess Theatre (1978), and two original unsigned pen-and-ink cartoons by Mark Boxer, Roundhouse poster with 16mm. puncture mark

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Catalogue Note

 "...I showed you a painting by the ancient French surrealist Clovis Trouille of a reclining girl displaying her bottom, with the caption: "Oh Calcutta!" While in Paris I discovered that this is a pun – "Quel cul t'as", meaning "what an arse you have!" I therefore suggest calling the show "Oh Calcutta", subtitled "An Erotic Revue" and using the Trouille painting as a poster..." (Ken Tynan to Michael White, 28 June [1968?])

An extensive archive about a production that marked a milestone in the sexual revolution. With extensive nudity and explicit sexual content, the revue Oh! Calcutta! was intended to push boundaries in response to the changes in social attitudes that had marked the later 1960s. Its huge commercial success (and indeed the fact it was not prosecuted) ensured that its influence was felt in the commerical theatre for decades, and the production is widely seen as an important moment in the development of modern liberal Britain and the unabashed commercialisation of sex. The show was inspired by Kenneth Tynan, a friend and mentor of White's, who (as the current archive reveals) came up with the concept in some detail in 1968 and wrote to prospective contributors from Gore Vidal to John Osborne. White was involved in organising the production from its very earliest stages, although eventually it opened in New York in 1969, produced by Hillard Elkins, before the production at London's Roundhouse opened in 1970.  

English Literature, History and Children's Books & Illustrations