Thomas Bohdanetzky, general manager of arts centres and theatres in the UK and Canada, was a true European gentleman. He was courteous – with a twinkle of humour – and always elegantly dressed, despite being anything but svelte. He ruled the theatres he managed with total control, exercised quietly but firmly, and mitigated by great charm. He inspired affection and admiration in all who worked with him. He was knowledgeable, experienced, wise and had enormous generosity of spirit. Many will remember the opportunities he gave them and the support he offered to those who won his trust.
Born in Budapest in 1935, he was aware of his parents’ wartime activities hiding and planning escape for Jews. A lack of formal qualifications did not prevent him from knowing more about human nature and theatre management than almost anyone. In Budapest he worked as a theatre electrician.
His escape from communism – he was said to have walked through the minefields leading his formidable mother, but would never confirm this – was a spur of the moment decision. They took a refugee boat to Canada, and once he had learnt enough English, he became a dresser at Toronto’s Crest Theatre before becoming a formidable stage manager at theatres across Canada, lastly at the Stratford Festival where he met his first wife Polly, a theatre designer. Bill Freedman, the Canadian theatre producer, persuaded him to go to London in 1968 as company manager of Bill’s shows, including Hadrian VII, where Thomas encountered a stage manager, Penny, who became the wife with whom he happily spent the rest of his life. He enjoyed his family life with his son Tibor and stepdaughters Belinda and Victoria, and with his grandchildren.
After seven years in London, Thomas returned to Canada, as production manager of Toronto Arts, general manager successively of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Festival Lennoxville, the Pittsburgh Public Theater (in the USA), financial controller at the Canada Council, and at Toronto’s Centre Stage. Bill then lured Thomas back to London in 1986 to join him and myself at Maybox, then comprising the Albery, Wyndham’s, Piccadilly, Criterion and Whitehall Theatres and the Donmar Warehouse.
After Maybox was sold, Thomas organised the financial side of Robins Cinemas and then of Bill Kenwright Ltd before, in 1991, becoming general manager of the Victoria Palace, St Martin’s, Savoy and Vaudeville theatres and The Mousetrap. Although formally retired for the last five years, he remained particularly involved with The Mousetrap and the development plans for the Victoria Palace.
Thomas didn’t suffer fools gladly, and, as the director Eddie Gilbert said: “He was right – and not only about people – more often than is reasonable.”
He had seen so much, especially in those formative years in Budapest, that he knew how infrequently it was worth getting excited. But there was one memorable occasion when, in the early nineties, his accent thickening, he told an ambitious trade union official: “I’ve lived under the Nazis and I’ve lived under the communists and I will not accept from you unsupported allegations of discrimination – you may leave.” He became firm friends with her superior.
He was as adept at managing finances as he was good with people. He also embraced modern technology with enthusiasm, his pockets and bag full of the latest miniaturised computers and gadgets, which also filled his formidable home office, where he maintained impeccable and comprehensive files.
He took pleasure in his family, friends and colleagues, and in his own considerable skills and abilities, and also in his leisure and his indulgences, although he didn’t allow himself much of these. He died on February 16 after a short illness. He is sorely missed by family, friends and colleagues, and his passing leaves us and the London theatre community, the poorer.
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