James Hogan, publisher at Oberon Books, has paid tribute to the late Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, as a "Titan of the theatre" and treasured author who helped to transform the fortunes of the small independent press 15 years ago.
The former National Theatre director died at University College Hospital in London on Monday (11th September) aged 86, surrounded by his family. Among his achievements, he launched Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot in 1955, founded the RSC in 1960 - leading the company until 1968 - and became director of the National Theatre in 1973.
Hogan told The Bookseller Sir Peter was a "meticulous" author who "missed nothing" and his passing had left Oberon Books "bereft". He refered to his signing with the press as "a turning point in Oberon’s history", adding: "He must have known that he was giving new writing a massive boost by joining Oberon".
The overnight turn-around in Oberon’s fortunes was "like Manna from Heaven" expanded Hogan. "The great Sir Peter had turned to this small publisher in Holloway, still struggling for credibility and prominence in the theatre industry. The mood changed. 'If they’re good enough for Peter Hall, then they’re good enough for me'. So went the buzz round the business, in particular literary agents who mainly dealt with the big publishers," he explained.
Oberon went on to publish works by Sir Peter including The Peter Hall Diaries, his autobiography Making an Exhibition of Myself and Sir Peter's Shakespeare's Advice to the Players, a guidebook for actors and directors working on Shakespeare productions.
"We are bereft (by his death) at Oberon Books," said Hogan. "Fifteen years ago when this titan of the theatre put his trust in us to publish his work I was of course overjoyed and privileged. Peter was meticulous about his books, ever patient and never wrong. Over the years we had regular working lunches at a hideaway bistro in Chelsea which I always looked forward to. He loyally came to our annual garden parties and his arrival always caused an eager buzz among the guests. As we know, among his many great qualities was his devotion to the works of Shakespeare. He knew each play by heart line by line. But he was equally devoted to new writing. On one occasion I dared to ask him why he chose Oberon Books. His response was unequivocal: 'You publish a lot of new work.'"
Hogan continued: "One day I picked him up from a church in Clapham after rehearsals and we drove to the National Theatre to launch a new book. He stepped out of the car, went straight into the theatre to the vast Lyttelton stage to address a full house for 45 minutes without any notes. Afterwards he signed books patiently for an army of fans waiting in a very long queue."
He added: "Most of all I miss his generous advice on theatre and publishing which I treasure to this day."