Stephen Wood obituary

Other lives: Head of the press office at the National Theatre and executive director at the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough

Stephen Wood, who has died aged 73 after a stroke, was a press officer, administrator and former stage manager who worked closely with Alan Ayckbourn at Scarborough. He was at the National Theatre press office, of which he eventually became head, from 1982 to 1996, returning to Scarborough to become, until his retirement in 2016, executive director of the Stephen Joseph theatre in the reconstructed Odeon cinema.

Critics and publicists enjoy an odd relationship: a professional dependence is often shadowed by a personal wariness. But I got to know Stephen well, partly through a shared passion for cricket and partly because we had friends in common. I was struck by his steadfast loyalty to the people and institutions with whom he worked, but also by his straightforwardness and honesty.

Born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, to Joan (nee Pollard), a teacher, and Thomas Wood, Stephen had a peripatetic childhood, as his father was a cleric who eventually became a professor of theology at a college in Lampeter, Ceredigion. But Stephen was mainly educated at Rossall school in Fleetwood, Lancashire, where he shone at sport, including cross-country and rugby. In 1969-70 he did a stage management course at Rada, went on to be a stage manager at Lincoln Theatre Royal, and changed courses to become a press officer at the Library Theatre Manchester before joining Ayckbourn at the original Theatre in the Round at Scarborough in 1976.

It was there I got to know him, while writing a book on Ayckbourn: what struck me was the strong bond between the dramatist and his press officer based not just on their love of cricket and rock but on their practical understanding of stage mechanics. Ayckbourn’s co-direction of Bedroom Farce at the Lyttelton introduced Stephen to the National Theatre, and in 1982 he was invited to join their press team, then headed by John Goodwin. To the last, Stephen remained passionately committed to the National, and to Peter Hall and Richard Eyre in particular.

Wherever employed, Stephen worked in close partnership with his wife, Amanda Saunders, whom he met in Lincoln in 1972 and married three years later. Amanda was in charge of Platform performances at the National, where discussions take place between people in the industry. I remember she once asked to me to interview Imran Khan about a beautiful book he had written about Pakistan’s Pathan peoples (now called Pashtuns): I was shy of turning the conversation to cricket but Stephen had no such inhibition and asked a question from the audience to which Imran instantly responded.

My abiding memory of Stephen is of a man who combined a total lack of bullshit with absolute loyalty to friends and colleagues. Even at our last meeting, he quit his beloved Oval early so as not to be late for an event marking the death of a former associate in the National press office, Janine Shalom. Stephen was a man who had his priorities right.

Amanda survives him, as do his son, Marcus, grandson, Ethan and twin brothers, Michael and Paul.


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

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