Although not a name known by many, Ethel Langstreth made a significant contribution to the industry in her role as secretary of both the British Theatre Association and the Association of British Theatre Technicians.
Born in Lancashire in 1930, having read languages at London University, Ethel was briefly a teacher in France. It was there she met Norman Marshall, chairman of ABTT and the British Drama Association, in 1964. He then persuaded Walter Lucas, the BDA director, that both bodies required efficient administration. Lucas appointed Ethel as secretary of both ABTT and the BDA and she remained in those roles until her retirement in 1995.
Her responsibilities grewover the years. The BDA became the British Theatre Association, ABTT brought the Society of Theatre Consultants on board who, along with the Theatres Advisory Council, were added to her portfolio.
When the late Hugh Jenkins and I expanded the role of the TAC to create the Standing Advisory Committee on Local Authority and the Theatre we agreed that we could not proceed without Ethel.
The only filing she ever did was in her head and that was the best fountain of knowledge we could ask for. At the drop of a hat Ethel could brief a parliamentary lobby, advise the bodies she served, create agendas and run meetings for a multitude of organisations. She may have been behind the scenes but always had a vision of the way forward and, with rare exception, her every view became a part of our legislative processes.
Hugh made no bones about it – without Ethel we would have foundered and when appointed Minister for the Arts he acknowledged her tremendous contribution when he recommended her for an MBE.
Shortly after her retirement the profession honoured Ethel at a reception in the Theatre Museum at which both Hugh and I were proud to eulogise on the indelible mark she had left on all our lives.
What a strange quirk of fate that I should write her obituary just one week after the issue in which we celebrated the life of Hugh Jenkins.