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Obituary: John Goodwin – ‘skilled editor and writer who transformed the theatre programme’

John Goodwin’s leadership of the publicity departments of the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre in their often controversial early years provided a bedrock of surefooted certainty and clarity for management, audiences and journalists alike.

A skilled editor and writer, he also transformed the lowly theatre programme from a virtual afterthought into a work of scholarship, insightful context and often, with graphic designer George Mayhew’s assistance, art – a template that was soon taken up across the industry.

He had, The Stage approvingly noted as early as 1961, “a flair for glossy feature journalism at its best”.

Born in London, the son of musical comedy actor Jessie Lonnen and a tax inspector father, after the war (in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Navy) Goodwin worked for David Fairweather in his
various West End ventures and Basil Dean’s British Theatre Group, before joining the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1948. Until 1956, he masterminded the press and publicity campaigns for its annual season in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Following a brief spell in publishing, he returned to Stratford where, in 1959, he memorably devised with the photographer Angus McBean a huge panorama measuring nearly 43m by 2.5m celebrating Shakespearean actors from the Elizabethan era into modernity.

He joined the nascent RSC as its first head of press and publications in 1960, overseeing every element of its press and programming material during a period of expansion, and launched the company’s own publishing imprint.

In 1974, he became an associate director of the National Theatre and a member of its planning committee. An encyclopaedic knowledge of the repertoire coupled with deftly exercised political skills made him a linchpin of artistic director Peter Hall’s tenure as the company bedded down in its newly-acquired
South Bank home.

Goodwin would go on to edit Hall’s bestselling diaries in 1983 and a seminal text on British Theatre Design: The Modern Age in 1989. He also wrote an admired Short Guide to Shakespeare’s Plays in 1979.

His original plays included Losing My Marbles, a one-man show for the Australian performer and director Trader Faulkner (seen at the Jermyn Street Theatre in 1999) and the as-yet unstaged A Most Sweet Poison, based on a novel by Alphonse Daudet and published by Oberon Books.

John Goodwin was born on May 4, 1921, and died on July 29 aged 97. He was married to the novelist Suzanne Goodwin until her death in 2008, and is survived by a son and two stepchildren.