Friday, October 12, 2012

Garry O'Connor, Debussy, and the Tates Maggie and James

Tate Memorial, Hampstead Cemetery
The opera singer in O'Connor's play, Debussy Was My Grandfather, is based on his great-aunt, Maggie Teyte. Her brother was James W Tate (she changed the spelling for effect). Out of the blue O'Connor received a letter, which said:

'Our theatre charity The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America and The Theatre Memorial Guild are devoted to restoring and caring for the final resting places of Music Hall and Theatre artistes, as well as erecting commemorative blue plaques.

'We discovered today at Hampstead Cemetery, whilst laying a wreath at the grave of Marie Lloyd on her 90th anniversary, that your...[ancestor]...James W Tate's memorial has fallen into great disrepair.'

James W Tate was a songwriter and accompanist, and O'Connor thinks he may have his nose.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sir Kenneth Branagh Endorses O'Connor's 'Viv' Play

Sir Kenneth Branagh
The Madness of Vivien Leigh, one of two plays by Garry O'Connor published by CentreHouse Press, is, according to theatre luminary Sir Kenneth Branagh, 'fascinating, sprawling, ambitious and biting'.

He goes on: 'I wanted to congratulate you on the glitter and intelligence and perception.' 

Debussy Was My Grandfather and The Madness of Vivien Leigh are two plays by Garry O'Connor published by CentreHouse Press.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Richard Kay of the Daily Mail on Garry O'Connor

Daily Mail Columnist Richard Kay
The Daily Mail's Richard Kay makes the point! Writer Garry O'Connor, known for his 'warts-and-all biographies' of  Vivien Leigh and Alec Guinness, and lesser performers the Blairs of Number 10, has penned a sensational personal memoir. Published as two plays, it has the intriguing title Debussy Was My Grandfather.

O'Connor recently discovered that Maggie Teyte, a great British soprano of the early twentieth century, was his grandmother, through her liaison with the celebrated French composer Claude Debussy. Debussy coached the teenage Maggie when she lived in Paris. O'Connor had always believed her to be his great-aunt, but now it appears she was his grandmother.

'I can't say it has changed my life,' says Garry. 'But it might explain why I am such a good guitar player.'

Debussy Was My Grandfather is published by CentreHouse Press. Read more from Richard Kay.

Friday, August 03, 2012

About Garry O'Connor

Garry O'Connor

Garry O'Connor is a playwright, biographer and novelist, noted for his publications on theatrical and literary figures. Son of Cavan O’Connor, Irish tenor, BBC broadcasting star and Variety Artist, and Rita, also a singer, maiden name Odoli-Tate, O’Connor is the grand-nephew of Dame Maggie Teyte DBE, Croix de Lorraine, Chevalier, Legion d'Honneur, the international opera soprano and interpreter of French song, and of James William Tate,  songwriter, accompanist, and composer.

Educated at St Albans School and King’s College, Cambridge, where he was an Exhibitioner and State Scholar, and won the James Essay Prize, O’Connor was President of University Actors. He was taught at Cambridge by Professors Boris Ford and John Broadbent, with George Rylands as his Director of Studies, where O’Connor concentrated mainly on directing and writing plays. He is an MA of King’s College.

After Cambridge, winning a French Government scholarship to Paris for drama, he studied mime at the École Jacques Le Coq in Paris before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company as Michel Saint-Denis’s assistant. This was during the Peter Hall seasons at Stratford Upon Avon. Thereafter he directed plays in London and elsewhere until his decision to become a full-time writer.

O’Connor directed his own version of Jonson’s Catiline in the Stratford Studio, with Roy Dotrice, Janet Suzman, and Jean Tardieu’s The Keyhole at the Aldwych Theatre. He directed the London premiere of Alun Owen’s A Little Winter Love at Stratford East (‘directed by Garry O’Connor with almost the psychic speed of communication that there can be about jazz’: Penelope Gilliatt, Observer), devised and directed A John Whiting Evening, premieres at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and productions at RADA, the London Drama Centre, and Webber-Douglas School. He also read plays for the RSC and translated plays from French for the RSC, and later for the National Theatre in Olivier’s regime.

O’Connor was the first Resident Dramatist and Appeals Director of the Hampstead Theatre Club. He has had eight of his own plays produced, among them I Learnt in Ipswich How to Poison Flowers (1969), at the Arts Theatre Ipswich, directed by Nick Barter, The Musicians (Mercury Theatre, London, 1970), in which Tom Conti made his first appearance on a London Stage, Semmelweis at the Edinburgh Festival (1976), which according to Harold Hobson writing in the Sunday Times ‘has saved the dramatic reputation of this year's Festival’, while Michael Billington (critic) wrote in The Guardian that it ‘unnervingly and absorbingly demonstrates that pride is often the counter-balance to ineradicable prejudice’.

His Dialogue Between Friends at the Open Space was based on his involvement with Arnold Wesker’s controversial The Friends, staged at the Roundhouse in 1970. His book Darlings of the Gods was adapted as a three-part mini-series for Thames Television and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1991, and was filmed in Australia. ore recently Campion’s Ghost, adapted from his novel about John Donne, was performed on Radio 4 (1997), with Paul McGann and Timothy West in the leading roles. He has also written and presented features for Radio 3, and acted as consultant on BBC 1 documentaries on Laurence Olivier and Pope John Paul II, appearing in the latter.

Garry O'Connor's Debussy Was My Grandfather is published by CentreHouse Press.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Debussy Was My Grandfather

Debussy Was My Grandfather / The Madness of Vivien Leigh, published by CentreHouse Press, July 2012. A theme common to both these plays by Garry O’Connor is the emotional and psychological turmoil underneath the veil of public careers, with an uncompromising look at the undercurrents: the dysfunction of domestic/family life, in all its anguish and floridity. There’s a nicely judged balance between art in its moments of transcendence, and the reality underpinning it, with a flawed humanity put to the service of art. It’s a theme O’Connor has explored in a substantial body of work as novelist, biographer, and playwright.
In Campion’s Ghost (1994, novel and BBC 4 play), amid the religious strife of Elizabethan England, the poet John Donne rejects his Catholic upbringing to seek preferment at court. Yet his nature, his conscience and his passion for a mistress cause him constant torment. ‘That O’Connor manages to recreate figures such as John Donne and Elizabeth I in many complex and unexpected ways is a tribute to his skill. Donne becomes almost the symbol of his age. Not only is he at the heart of the Renaissance, but he also embodies in his private anguish the bloody battle between Catholicism and Protestantism.’ Sunday Times
In Chaucer’s Triumph (2007, novel) O’Connor takes on Chaucer at his own game in The Canterbury Tales, with a cast of storytellers, this time on a journey from Leicester to London, teasing out a tale of eroticism and intrigue. ‘O’Connor’s greatest achievement is his warm, wise, and humorous portrayal of the poet Chaucer.’ Historical Society Review
The Darlings of Downing Street (2007, biography) explores the personal contradictions of Cheri and Tony Blair in their relationship with power. ‘A highly charged assessment of a pair of ham actors who saw “politics as a performance art”.’ Sunday Express
Earlier, The Darlings of the Gods (biography, novel, and mini-series, 1989), forerunner of The Madness of Vivien Leigh, shows the marriage of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier already under strain.
‘The mythology of one of the century’s most celebrated marriages…a brilliantly perceptive portrait.’ The Observer
‘With real insight O’Connor gets plausibly close to what made Olivier and wife tick as artists…a penetrating, utterly objective mind at work.’ Irish Times
‘Compulsive…the pair who were Charles and Di, Torville and Dean, Tragedy and Comedy, Scylla and Charybdis all rolled into one.’ Vogue

Debussy Was My Grandfather, by Garry O'Connor, is published by CentreHouse Press.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


CentreHouse Press returns as an independent literary publisher, operating from the South Hams and a cabin in upstate New York. Coming soon, two new plays by Garry O'Connor.