Prolific playwright and director Alan Ayckbourn has suffered a stroke. The 66-year-old – who, in 1997, became the first playwright since Terence Rattigan to be knighted by the Queen - is currently recovering in Scarborough Hospital.

Ayckbourn was encouraged to write by theatrical pioneer Stephen Joseph and, since 1971, has been the artistic director of the theatre, now called the Stephen Joseph Theatre, that his mentor founded in Scarborough in 1955. As part of the theatre’s 50th anniversary season last year (See News, 29 Apr 2005), Ayckbourn premiered his 69th play, Improbable Fiction, a typically Ayckbournesque comedy set in a writers’ circle.

A spokesperson for Stephen Joseph Theatre told “Alan Ayckbourn suffered a stroke last Tuesday evening (21 February). He is currently recovering in Scarborough Hospital and is responding well to treatment." His next project at SJT was to direct a revival of Intimate Exchanges - a series of eight linked plays written by him in 1982 - with rehearsals starting mid-March.

Intimate Exchanges will now be directed by another author-director, Tim Luscombe (Eurovision, The Schuman Plan), who said: "I am honoured to be taking over the reigns from Alan Ayckbourn, although obviously I'd rather the circumstances were different. He has been my hero for many years and I have always wanted to direct Intimate Exchanges."

In a statement released yesterday Ayckbourn said: "I hope to be back on my feet, or should I say my left leg, as soon as possible, but I know it's going to take some time. In the meantime, I am in excellent hands and so is the Stephen Joseph Theatre."

One of the most prolific playwrights in British history, Ayckbourn has premiered almost all of his plays in Scarborough, though they don't usually stay there. Since his first hit, Relatively Speaking opened at the Duke of York's in London in 1967, more than 25 of Ayckbourn's plays have subsequently been produced in the West End, at the National or the RSC. These include Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business, and more recently, Things We Do for Love, House and Garden, and the Olivier Award-winning Comic Potential.

Ayckbourn's plays have been translated into 30 languages, been performed on stage and television around the world, and received numerous awards. He has also written many plays for children, including 1998's The Boy Who Fell into a Book.

- by Caroline Ansdell