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Reassessing Middlebrow Drama during the Second World War


Reassessing Middlebrow Drama during the Second World War ... quoted in Angus Calder (1969) The People s War: Britain 1939-1945. London: Pimlico, p. 17. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Reassessing Middlebrow Drama during the Second World War

Reassessing Middlebrow Drama during the Second
World War
  • Dr Rebecca DMonté,
  • University of the West of England, Bristol

Above Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London (stalls
and circle the morning after bomb damage, 1940)
Left Argyle Theatre, Birkenhead (auditorium
after bomb damage in 1940)

Right Hippodrome Theatre, Dover (Second World
War bomb damage)
Above Streatham Hill Theatre, London (V1 rocket
bomb damage, 1944)
Entertainments National Services Association
Left John Gielgud takes a production overseas
in an ENSA plane
Above The Western Brothers in North Africa
Left ENSA Programme
Middlebrow writers are important in expressing
ideas and modes of feeling which were
commonplace among the intelligentsia before the
war but they have a suggestive insensitiveness
to the life round them, a lack of discrimination
and the functioning of a second-rate mind. Q.
D. Leavis (1932) Fiction and the Reading Public.
London Pimlico.  The Middlebrow is the man,
or woman, of middlebred intelligence who ambles
and saunters now on this side of the hedge, now
on that, in pursuit of no single object, neither
art nor life itself, but both mixed
indistinguishably, and rather nastily, with
money, fame, power, or prestige. Virginia Woolf
(1942) 'Middlebrow'. In The Death of the Moth.
London Hogarth Press. the common terms
highbrow, lowbrow and middlebrow created a
convenient aesthetic and psychological
equivalent to the British class system,
labelling authors and readers in one
epigrammatic blow. Clive Bloom (2002)
Bestsellers Popular Fiction Since 1900,
Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan.
This is a war of the unknown warriors.The
whole of the warring nations are engaged, not
only soldiers, but the entire population, men,
women and children. The fronts are everywhere.
The trenches are dug in the towns and streets.
Every village is fortified. Every road is
barred. The front lines run through the
factories. The workmen are soldiers with
different weapons but the same courage.
Winston Churchill, quoted in Angus Calder
(1969) The Peoples War Britain 1939-1945.
London Pimlico, p. 17.
Above Miniature of Manderley
Above and Left Judith Anderson and Joan
Fontaine, in Rebecca (dir. Alfred Hitchcock,

Above Celia Johnson, with Trevor Howard, Brief
Encounter (dir. David Lean, 1945)
Right Robert Newton Celia Johnson, This Happy
Breed (dir. David Lean, 1944)

Above and Right Owen Nares, Matinee Idol
J. B. Priestley at the BBC
Right and Below Right Film of Quiet Weekend
(dir. Harold French, 1947) Location East
Garston, Berkshire
Above Quiet Week-End, Esther McCracken (1938
revived in 1941 with Michael Wilding and Glynis
(No Transcript)

Above Dear Octopus, Dodie Smith (Queens
Theatre, dir. Glen Byam-Shaw, 1938, with Marie
Tempest and John Gielgud)

Above Film of This Happy Breed (dir. David Lean,
1944 with Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, and
Stanley Holloway)
This royal throne of kings, this scepterd
isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of
Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise. This
fortress built by Nature for herself Against
infection and the hand of war, This happy breed
of men, this little world, This precious stone
set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the
office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a
house, Against the envy of less happier
lands, This blessed plot, this earth, this
realm, this England. William Shakespeare,
Richard II, 2.1
Left Mrs Miniver (dir. William Wyler, 1942 with
Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon)
Above No Medals, Esther McCracken (Vaudeville
Theatre, dir. Richard Bird, 1944 l. to r.
Pauline Tennant, Fay Compton, Valerie White)
Miss Esther McCracken. Writes the kind of
domestic comedy that is always safe because it
touches everyday experience and does not botch
its details. No Medals is about the cares of a
housewife in wartime (and, for that matter, in
time of peace). It is about marmalade and
vacuum-cleaners and charwomen and plum-bottling
and fish-queuesaudiences accept it as part of
the theatre ritual, continue to chuckle at the
domesticities familiar in their mouths as
household words, and leave, restored, to return
to their own fish-queues, and vacuum-cleaners,
and marmalade. J. C. Trewin, Women as
Playwrights, John OLondons Weekly, November 2,
The Years Between, Daphne du Maurier, Wyndhams
Theatre, 1945 Left Film (dir. Compton
Bennett, 1946 with Valerie Hobson and Michael
Right Play revived at the Orange Tree Theatre,
Richmond, 2007 (dir. Caroline Smith, with Karen
Ascoe and Michael Lumsden)