Fond farewell to face of the RSC

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Graham Sawyer remembered with love

Tributes have been paid to a hugely popular former manager at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Graham Sawyer, who died aged 76 on 31st March, was a major figure in local theatre, especially at the RSC, where he was first house manager then later theatre manager between 1969 and 2000.

Graham, of St Gregory’s Road, Stratford, had cancer and died at Myton Hospice after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

Graham with his sister Julie

He was known to most Stratfordians and countless visitors – not least the Prince of Wales and the Queen – as the public face of the RSC, where his outgoing personality enlivened the foyer.

Adrian Noble, former artistic director, said: “Graham understood the importance of welcoming our audience, whether they hail from Texas, Tokyo or Shipston-on-Stour. He had the ability to remember hundreds of names, family members, former employees and, crucially, he had the gift of the gossip. My wife Joanne and I were blessed by countless small courtesies and kindnesses. He will be much missed.”

Behind the scenes, Graham organised accommodation for actors and sorted out their often offbeat requirements. Once, when he asked a caterer to deliver a platter of sandwiches to one house, she found herself serving Prince Charles.

For some years he programmed and ran the winter season at the Swan Theatre, and in a brief gap in his RSC years he worked as house manager at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Former deputy theatre manager Richard Rhodes worked with Graham for 15 years. He said: “We experienced the rich tapestry of RSC life back in the 80s and 90s – fires, floods, the opening of the Swan and Royal visits. Graham calmly sailed through them all, followed by plenty of laughter as we looked back on events at the end of the day.

“Some of my favourite recollections include Graham being given a couple of hours’ notice to find a strong male masseur for Rudolf Nureyev, who was flying in from Peru to make a guest appearance that evening with the London Festival Ballet, and being presented with a donkey to house for a week during a run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Graham was also keenly involved in amateur dramatics, mainly with the Talisman Theatre in Kenilworth.

Close friend Peter James recalled: “His on-stage appearances were few and less significant than his talents for designing and directing. His directing style was ‘very Stratford’, based on multiple input from the cast rather than imposition from the director.”

Graham was born on 19th February 1944 in West Acton during a blackout – a neighbour guiding the midwife to the house with a torch.

Peter added: “His life has been book-ended by war and then the coronavirus pandemic, but he was philosophic to the last and took great comfort from his Quaker belief. Two days before he died he was sitting out in the sunshine chatting to a fellow patient. Those who knew him mention the width of his enthusiasms, his endless talk, his generosity, his thoughtfulness, his sheer fun to be with and his love of life.

“Graham never married but his lifestyle had blessed him with an address book of countless friends. These, in his final months, he systematically invited to pay goodbye visits – his guests shared a platter of food and a trawl though his gloriously haphazard collection of shared memorabilia.”

Richard Rhodes summed up: “When leaving me to the weekend’s duties, his parting words would always be ‘take care’ so, for the last time, take care Graham – we miss you.”

Graham is survived by his sister Julie Hall and her daughters, his nieces Amy and Penny.