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Theatre producer & director Patrick Garland dies aged 78

By • West End

Patrick Garland, a noted theatre producer, director and actor who enjoyed two stints as artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre, has died aged 78.

Garland, who worked with figures including Rex Harrison, John Gielgud and Alan Bennett, was the only director ever to have had four plays running concurrently in the West End.

Born in 1935 he started out as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic before working for a time with the BBC as a director and interviewer. His theatrical breakthrough in the late 1960s when he staged hit productions of Bennett's Forty Years On starring Gielgud and one-man show Brief Lives with Roy Dotrice.

His many subsequent credits included acclaimed revivals of Ibsen and Shakespeare, and the musical Billy (1974), starring Michael Crawford and Elaine Paige at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

He went on to become artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre twice, from 1981 to 1985 and 1990 to 1994. During these tenures he directed over 20 productions for the venue and raised funds to establish the Minerva Theatre.

Jonathan Church, current artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre, said today: "He was quite simply vital to the success and longevity of the Festival Theatre. His love of Chichester Festival Theatre never diminished and his support and advice was welcomed by the directors that came after him.

"On a personal level I will treasure having known him and I will remember with fondness his kind support of our seasons and his appearance (health failing) at our 50th birthday gala, laughing and joking with members of Olivier's original company in celebration of the theatre he loved." 

A measure of the esteem in which Garland was held within the theatre industry, in 1989 he was asked to oversee the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey for his friend Laurence Olivier.

His wife, actress Alexandra Bastedo, who he married in 1980, said: "He was a wonderful man, brilliant with people of all types, and life will never be the same. There were always comings and goings at the house because of my rescue charity which he was always happy to put himself behind."

'Delightfully civilised man'

Whatsonstage.com chief critic Michael Coveney writes:

Garland was a delightfully civilised man and a very good director of actors in literary-based theatrical projects: Roy Dotrice as the 17th century gossip and diarist, John Aubrey, in Brief Lives, Timothy West as Thomas Beecham, Eileen Atkins as Virginia Woolf, Alec McCowen as Rudyard Kipling, Simon Callow as Charles Dickens.

He was a shooting star in Oxford theatre and forged an association with Alan Bennett in television, where he was a notable mainstay of the BBC arts team for twelve years; this led to Bennett's glorious first West End play, Forty Years On, and a great theatrical career which included two stints as artistic director at Chichester and several collaborations with Rex Harrison, including a My Fair Lady revival on Broadway in 1981.

His book about Harrison, The Incomparable Rex, is one of the best (and funniest) show business memoirs of the last century.


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