‘We could, I suppose, fall back on a woman…’
The words of John W Carter, scholar, bibliophile, author of the excellent ABC for Book Collectors, and sometime head of Charles Scribner’s Rare Book Department in London. He was discussing with the expert on British theatre, Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, the problem of finding someone eminent enough to open the National Book League’s exhibition on the British Theatre in October 1950 now that John Gielgud had declined the invitation.
From the correspondence that has come to light recently in a file of letters, Carter, having rejected the not very glamorous Ralph Richardson as a candidate, and having dismissed T.S. Eliot out of hand, for some reason, seems indeed to have turned to a woman in the shape of Peggy Ashcroft ( ‘the best actress in England’), who politely declined. Her explanation was that she always hated ‘making speeches‘ and that anyway she was committed to going on tour with the Old Vic on October 16th. Carter then seemingly wrote to the glamorous Fay Compton, who also appears to have said no. Luckily for Carter, the comparatively youthful Alec Guinness, despite being involved with a film at the time, accepted the invitation. [RR]