Alan Ayckbourn: Thoughts On Scarborough

Discovering Britain (Channel 4, 30 March 2016)
"I like to think the Stephen Joseph Theatre has done quite a lot to mark Scarborough on the world map. It’s an inspiring place too. I must say I’m a small town boy and I came up here and it’s another town and yet it’s not another town because once the season starts, it throws opens its doors to thousands of people and sort of becomes less parochial. Its strange, because once I developed here and began to get a little bit more fame and fortune from London with
The Norman Conquests and those stiong of plays that went on, Scarborough still really had this strange attitude towards us. I remember this guy saying to me: "If you're that good, what yer doing here?" He thought it was most extraordinary. I said: "I don’t know what it says about you. I know what it says about me!"

My North East (published 1990)
"A Londoner by birth, I came to Scarborough as an aspiring actor and assistant stage manager when I was 17, and have never wanted to leave. At first, it was the work which drew me. Stephen Joseph, who founded the Theatre-in-the-Round (common nowadays but virtually unheard of then), was running a very unconventional operation by the standards of 1957. Scarborough was very exciting, with Stephen encouraging young actors and writers to tackle new work. In my case, he concentrated on getting me to write and direct.
"People I knew in London theatres complained about seldom seeing a tree and here I was walking to work along the beach. I was happy, too, to watch my two sons grow up beside the sea.
"When Stephen Joseph died in 1967, I effectively took on his mantle, committed to a theatrical alternative to London. Being in charge, I also found myself in a lucky position: I've never had a play turned down because, apart from one or two for Stephen, I've never submitted one to anyone except myself.
"And the Scarborough audiences: they like value for money up here. They sit there almost saying out loud: 'I've paid good money for this; now make me laugh'. Northern people have an honesty, bluntness, even rudeness - call it what you like, but I find it very good. They don't say what they don't feel. If they seem to be enjoying the evening, they really are.
'Scarborough is a typical seaside town, with an influx of summer visitors, many of whom wouldn't normally go into a theatre but who think: 'Hell, we're on holiday. Let's go mad'. We even had a very nice review in the New York Times this summer, and we've started getting parties from the other side of the world.
"I draw a lot of my material from here. As an aid to concentration, I love walking on the moors. There's some magnificent countryside, miles and miles of it, glorious, open and unspoilt. Walking around and finding bits of moorland that I never knew existed gives me great pleasure."

Yorkshire (published in 1990)
"I'm a southerner and always used to think that life died out round about Potter's Bar. When I was working in the theatre and found myself posted to Scarborough I barely knew wher it was, so for me it was total discovery.
"Everything about Scarborough is contrast. It's built on two bays. The north side is very quiet for people who just like to look at the sea, whereas South Bay has got the harbour and the candy floss and bingo. That's the side I like.
"Leaving the cliffs and the beaches you can drive a few minutes inland and discover the equally gorgeous Whitby Moors. And it's no distance to the totally different countryside of the Dales which are deep and almost jungly.
"It's the hotels in many ways that make Scarborough. The Laughton family used to run the Royal. Charles Laughton went off to Hollywood and made his fortune, but his brother Tom stayed on as 'mine host' at the Royal, and ran it like a glorious country house. It's an incredible building. The entrance hall alone is well worth a look.
"The holiday season's getting longer all the time. It's now October or November when the shutters come down on the front. That, for me, is when the best time of year begins. I love the Yorkshire coast when the waves are high and the sea comes crashing in and the voices of the Brontes fly on the wind.
"There's a huge clean sweep of coastline to explore from Flamborough Head to Whitby. Whitby, of course, is the home of Dracula. That's where Bram Stoker wrote the story and it truly feels like stepping back in time when you go there.
"Among places I have a special feeling for, I think Mallion Spout in Goathland would be top of the list. I've had some lovely picnics there. It's got a secret stream that drops from a great height and runs down through thickly forested hills. I love Ravenscar. There's some good blackberrying and kite-flying country round there.
"Ilkley's a town I like. It's charming. So is Tadcaster, where you can't move for breweries. They say you can wake up in the morning and get drunk in Tadcaster if the wind's in the right direction.
"And I love the Snake Pass over the Pennines. It's amazing up there. One gets a most extraordinary feeling of being right at the end of the world. I don't think I'd quite have the stamina to live there, but it's a great place for poets."

"In Yorkshire, they take their humour seriously, if you see what I mean…. They have a saying up here: 'It's too daft to laugh at', and when I hear that, I know I've overstepped the mark."
(In Britain magazine, May 1980)

"I live in a rambling, converted vicarage near the castle ruins, and I really feel quite proprietorial about Scarborough when the summer visitors have departed. When I'm stuck over a particular scene and it doesn't come right, I put on my gumboots and walk along the beach and scream abuse at the seagulls. I can talk to myself without anyone noticing and wondering if I ought to be at large."
(In Britain magazine, May 1980)

"I'm a very committed regionalist. I could have left here a long time ago and settled in a nice Chelsea flat, but I've always loved this town and the people and I have a terrific loyalty to the Stephen Joseph Theatre."
(Yorkshire Life magazine, April 2005)

"It's [Scarborough] where my heart is. It's where I start and finish,"
(Mail On Sunday, 16 August 1998)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.