As the National Theatre approaches its 50th anniversary, James Naughtie traces the long road to its foundation, and explores whether the struggles and delays in fact resulted in a more versatile and creative establishment than elsewhere in Europe.
Episode One: A House for Shakespeare
France has had a national theatre since 1680, Greece since 1880. The National Theatre in London is a youngster by comparison, with plans to celebrate its 50th birthday in October 2013.
For the homeland of Shakespeare, this may seem anomalous, but as James Naughtie investigates the reasons why the founding of a National Theatre took so long, he comes to the conclusion that the delays resulted in an unusually versatile, creative and popular cultural institution.
In Episode One, James Naughtie traces the story from 1848, when the radical publisher Effingham Wilson publishes a pamphlet called A House for Shakespeare, to the years of the First World War when hopes for a fitting celebration of the tricentenary of Shakespeare's death were at first dashed and then met in an unexpected way.
He speaks with Nicholas Hytner, Richard Eyre, Michael Frayn, Michael Billington and Jacky Bratton, as well as listening to the voices of Laurence Olivier, Sybil Thordyke and other theatrical luminaries in the BBC Archives, tracing a story in which the arts, history, politics and national identity share the stage.
Readings: Simon Russell Beale
Producer: Beaty Rubens.