Tyrone Guthrie

Sir Tyrone Guthrie
Born William Tyrone Guthrie
(1900-07-02)2 July 1900
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
Died 15 May 1971(1971-05-15) (aged 70)
Newbliss, County Monaghan, Republic of Ireland
Occupation Theatrical director

Sir William Tyrone Guthrie (2 July 1900 15 May 1971) was an English theatrical director instrumental in the founding of the Stratford Festival of Canada, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at his family's ancestral home, Annaghmakerrig, near Newbliss in County Monaghan, Ireland.

Early life

Guthrie was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, the son of Dr Thomas Guthrie (a grandson of the Scottish preacher Thomas Guthrie) and Norah Power. His mother Norah was the daughter of Sir William James Tyrone Power, Commissary-General-in-chief of the British Army from 1863 to 1869 and Martha, daughter of Dr. John Moorhead of Annaghmakerrig House and his Philadelphia-born wife, Susan (née Allibone) Humphreys.[1] His great-grandfather was the Irish actor Tyrone Power. He was also a second cousin of the Hollywood actor Tyrone Power. His sister, Susan Margaret, married his close university friend, fellow Anglo-Irishman Hubert Butler.

He received a degree in history at Oxford University, where he was active in student theatre, and worked for a season at the newly established Oxford Playhouse.


In 1924 Guthrie joined the BBC as a broadcaster and began to produce plays for radio. This led to a year directing for the stage with the Scottish National Players, before returning to the BBC to become one of the first writers to create plays designed for radio performance.

During the period from 1929 to 1933 he directed at various theatres, including a production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author in 1932. During 19331934, and 19361945 he was director of the Shakespeare Repertory Company. While in Montreal, Guthrie produced the Romance of Canada series of radio plays for recalling epic moments in Canadian history. The series was broadcast on the Canadian National Railway radio network.[2]

Butler translated the text for Guthrie's 1934 production of Anton Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, for perhaps its first English-language production.

In the 1940s Guthrie began to direct operas, to critical acclaim, including a realistic Carmen at Sadler's Wells and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He also returned to Scotland where, with James Bridie in 1948, he staged the first modern adaptation, by Robert Kemp, of Sir David Lyndsay's grand-scale medieval comedy Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis for the Second Edinburgh International Festival; a landmark event in the modern revival of Scottish theatre. Staged in the city's General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland on the Mound, specially adapted for the occasion, it was here that Guthrie's hallmark thrust stage first proved its full worth.

Stratford Festival of Canada

In 1953, he was invited to help launch the Stratford Festival of Canada. Intrigued with the idea of starting a Shakespeare theatre in a remote Canadian location, he enlisted Tanya Moiseiwitsch to further develop his thrust stage design, successfully improvised in Edinburgh, and actors Alec Guinness and Irene Worth to star in the inaugural production of Richard III. All performances in the first seasons took place in a large tent on the banks of the Avon River. He remained as Artistic Director for three seasons, and his work at Stratford had a strong influence in the development of Canadian theatre.[3][4] Guthrie produced Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore in 1960 and The Pirates of Penzance in 1961, which were televised in Canada and also brought to the Phoenix Theatre in New York and on tour in the US. In 1962, as soon as the Gilbert and Sullivan copyrights expired, he brought these productions to Britain; they soon played at Her Majesty's Theatre and were broadcast by the BBC. They were among the first Savoy opera productions in Britain not authorized by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.[5] In 1963, he founded the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, designed by Ralph Rapson.


In the prologue to his biography James Forsyth wrote, "Anti-Broadway, anti-West End, anti everything implied in the term 'Legitimate Theatre', he ended up with a legitimate claim to the title of 'most important, British-born theatre director of his time'".[6] Peter Hall wrote, "Among the great originators in British Theatre...Guthrie was a towering figure in every sense. He blazed a trail for the subsidised theatre of the sixties. He showed how to run a company and administer a theatre. And he was a brilliant and at times great director..."[7]

Guthrie wrote two major books about the creation of effective drama: Theatre Prospect (1932)[8] and A Life in the Theatre (1959).[9]

Queen's University Belfast

He was Chancellor of Queen's University Belfast (1963–70).[10] On 15 September 2010 a blue plaque in his memory was unveiled at the BBC in Belfast by the Ulster History Circle.

Personal life

In 1931 Guthrie married Judith Bretherton, who survived him by only a year. He was knighted in 1961, and died a decade later at his home, Annaghmakerrig, in Newbliss, County Monaghan, Ireland, aged 70, from undisclosed causes. He is buried in the graveyard of Aghabog Church of Ireland in Newbliss.[11]



  1. "Obituaries: Sir Willlam Tyrone Power". The Times. 26 July 1911. p. 11.
  2. Romance of Canada series not found 24 March 2016
  3. www.canadianshakespeares.ca/multimedia/pdf/stratford.pdf
  4. The Stratford Festival: The First 50 Years Arts and Entertainment CBC Archives
  5. Berger, Leon. "Obituary: Marion Studholme", Gilbert and Sullivan News, The Gilbert and Sullivan Society (London), Vol. V, No. 10, Spring 2016, p. 19
  6. James Forsyth (1976) Tyrone Guthrie: The Authorized Biography, Hamish Hamilton, London ISBN 978-0241894712
  7. Peter Hall's Diaries: The Story of a Dramatic Battle (1983) Harper & Row
  8. Tyrone Guthrie (132) Theatre Prospect, Wishart & Co., London
  9. Tyrone Guthrie (1959) A Life in the Theatre, McGraw-Hill, Columbus, OH
  10. Brian Walker and Alf McCreary (1994). Degrees of Excellence: The Story of Queen's, Belfast, 1845–1995. Belfast: Queen's University Belfast. ISBN 0-85389-535-X.
  11. Obituary, Tyrone Guthrie, Palm Beach Post, May 16, 1971
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Academic offices
Preceded by
Field Marshal the Viscount Alanbrooke
Chancellor of Queen's University Belfast
Succeeded by
Lord Ashby of Brandon
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