I enjoyed working with the students. As an exile, this award happily reconnects me with the Potteries … where everything began
Awarded posthumously and received by Peter’s wife, Ffrangcon Whelan.
Peter Whelan’s childhood was spent in Stoke-on-Trent, the son of a lithographic artist who loved Shaw and Shakespeare. He caught the drama bug at Hanley High School where they put huge creative energy into student plays. At fifteen he dreamt of becoming a playwright.
National Service saw Peter posted to ruined, Cold War Berlin, where he found, both then and for the future, that life was certainly not a dream. Fifty years on and he used this experience in his play for the Royal Shakespeare Company, A Russian in the Woods.
Returning to Staffordshire from Berlin, he read English and Philosophy at Keele University and directed and acted in productions. His future wife introduced him to the Wedgwood Memorial College summer courses in drama. Peter reflected that he “learned deeply from them”.
On graduating Peter migrated to London as an advertising copywriter. His first successful play was performed in 1975, the thriller Double Edge, co-written with Les Darbon. A lucrative transfer to the West End followed and Peter earned enough to give up his day job and complete his first solo play, Captain Swing. The Royal Shakespeare Company took it, as well as The Accrington Pals, Clay, The Bright and Bold Design, The School of Night and The Herbal Bed. Peter was appointed an Honorary Artistic Associate in 1996.
Further commissioned work included Overture, an adaptation of The Tinder Box, and a contribution to The Night Before the Morning After Show, all for the New Vic Theatre, North Staffordshire, Divine Right and Nativity for Birmingham Repertory Theatre and The Earthly Paradise for the Almeida Theatre. His work was also seen in London, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
National recognition brought Peter an Olivier Nomination, Lloyds Private Banking Award for Playwright of the Year, Theatrical Management Award for Best New Play, and Writers Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Regional Theatre Play. For television, Peter’s dramatised documentaries included The Trial of Lord Lucan and In Suspicious Circumstances. The Award of Honorary Doctor of the Arts is posthumously bestowed in recognition of Peter’s distinguished achievements as one of the UK’s finest playwrights, his contribution to Staffordshire University and to the New Vic Theatre.
Upon hearing of the bestowal, Peter said, “I enjoyed working with the students. As an exile, this award happily reconnects me with the Potteries … where everything began.”