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Basil Dean Archive

Date range: 1902–76.

Papers of Basil Dean (1888–1978), actor, dramatist and theatrical impresario.  

In 1907 Dean joined Annie Horniman’s Gaiety Theatre in Manchester, leaving in 1911 to become the first Controller of the Liverpool Repertory Theatre, later to be called the Liverpool Playhouse.  

In 1919, with Alec Rea, he formed the ReandeaN company and this partnership made an outstanding contribution to the British theatre in the 1920s. 

Basil Dean was among the first to make British talking pictures. In 1929, with Reginald Baker, he founded Associated Talking Pictures Ltd which later became the Ealing Studios, and in the 1930s his career combined both stage and films. In 1939 he created E.N.S.A. (the Entertainments National Service Association) and became its Director General. The war over, he returned to the theatre, presenting new plays and reviving earlier successes such as Hassan.

The archive consists of some 16,000 items covering most aspects of Dean’s career over sixty years. It is an indispensable source for students of the British theatre and cinema during the first half of the twentieth century.

It includes 11,000 items of correspondence with figures such as:

  • Richard Aldington
  • J.M. Barrie
  • H.E. Bates
  • Arnold Bennett
  • Lilian Braithwaite
  • James Bridie (Osborne Henry Mavor)
  • Harold Brighouse
  • Benjamin Britten
  • Sir Alfred Butt
  • Agatha Christie
  • Sir Charles Cochran
  • Fay Compton
  • Gladys Cooper
  • Noël Coward
  • Clemence Dane (Winifred Ashton)
  • Robert Donat
  • Godfrey Elton
  • St John Ervine
  • Gracie Fields
  • John Galsworthy
  • Sir John Gielgud
  • Sir Eugene Goossens
  • Graham Greene
  • Annie Horniman
  • Sir Barry Jackson
  • Margaret Kennedy
  • Gertrude Lawrence
  • Sir Gerald Du Maurier and his daughter Daphne
  • Walter MacQueen-Pope
  • Walter Monckton
  • Sir Laurence Olivier
  • Louis Parker
  • Sir Ralph Richardson
  • Flora Robson
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Dodie Smith
  • Sir Godfrey Tearle
  • Sybil Thorndike
  • Robert Vansittart
  • Edward Willis

There is material relating to Dean’s directorship of Associated Talking Pictures Ltd (which later became the Ealing Studios) during the 1930s, and papers concerning two American film companies, Radio-Keith-Orpheum (R.K.O.) and Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation.

In addition there are press cuttings of articles and reviews,  scripts, prompt books, set and costume designs, programmes and photographs.

There is a separate block of correspondence addressed to Arnold Bennett, comprising over 600 letters and replies relating to the theatre.

Finding aids

Catalogue available online via ELGAR.

Alternative form

Published microfiche: Theatre History Series, No. 2: The Basil Dean Collection in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester (Haslemere: Emmett Publishing Ltd, 1990).


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library