David Heneker theatre and music collection entices people into archives at Kingston University

By Culture24 Reporter | 18 December 2013

A new exhibition of theatre memorabilia at Kingston University is showing the depth and importance of of archives as a cultural resource

a photo of flyers and lp sleeves from half a sixpence
Half a Sixpence memorabilia which is part of the David Heneker Archive at Kingston University London© Kingston University London
He may not be a household name but Ivor Novello Award-winner David Heneker wrote songs for some of the longest-running musical comedies to be shown on the London stage after the war.

The first British writer to have two shows on Broadway running for more than 500 performances, his best known musical was Half a Sixpence. But other highlights from his career, which ran from the 1930s to late 1990s, include Charlie Girl, Irma la Douche and Expresso Bongo, filmed with singer Cliff Richard.

Now the archive of this maestro of musical theatre is going on show at Kingston University with other treasures of the West End and Broadway as part of a national campaign to encourage people to visit their local archives.

Out of the Box: The David Heneker Archive has opened in the University's Archives and Special Collections department as part of the Explore Your Archive campaign, which is seeing archives across the country hold events to encourage researchers to visit their local archives and discover what collections are held there.

Kingston University’s archivist Katie Giles said the new exhibition beautifully captured an important part of musical theatre history.

"We decided to focus our promotion on David Heneker because, although he composed some of this country's best-known musicals, we thought it important to recognise all that he contributed to musical theatre," she explained.

Within the Heneker collection at Kingston University, which is open to the public, a wealth of original material from stage and film productions can be found including working notes, early drafts of scripts and manuscripts of songs. There are also programmes and memorabilia including commemorative wedding albums and postcards and after-show champagne supper party invitations.

The university has a wealth of musical theatre-related items including the Stephen Sondheim Archive, and the Sheridan Morley Collection. The literary archives held by the University also include the Iris Murdoch Archive, which contains thousands of personal letters that reveal her insecurities as a writer and offer insights into her development as a novelist.

"Archives are important cultural resources for people to access,” says Giles. “I still find it incredible that people have come in here to do a bit of research and have been reduced to tears because they've discovered something particularly poignant and important to them and it's right there, in their hand.

"The main thrust of this campaign is to encourage people to come and explore our archives and take a peek at the materials we have in them - we want people to get hooked so that they keep coming back. I think everyone will be amazed and intrigued by some of the items we have secured here.”


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