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Obituary: Ivor Benjamin – ‘A determined advocate for directors’ rights’

Ivor Benjamin. Photo: Amanda Benjamin

Few figures in contemporary British theatre played such as crucial role in promoting the profile and welfare of directors as Ivor Benjamin, who has died at the age of 63.

One of the first influx of members of the Directors Guild of Great Britain in 1983, he was a council member for more than a decade and its chair from 2005-15. A determined advocate for directors’ rights, he contained a split by screen directors from the Guild to form Directors UK in 2000 by transforming the organisation into the executive arm of a new charity, the Directors Guild Trust.

He was also instrumental in establishing, in a partnership with Directors UK and Stage Directors UK, the Directors Charitable Foundation in 2015, which launched the UK’s first hardship fund for directors in 2017.

Hardship fund aims to rescue directors from poverty bracket

Born in Archway, London, Benjamin read English at Cambridge University. He won best director at the 1979 National Student Drama Festival and received a bursary to spend a year at the Belgrade Coventry – an apprenticeship that led to more than 60 productions in the UK, Ireland, US, Israel and the Philippines.

Early professional shows included David Edgar’s Ball Boys and Howard Brenton’s Gum and Goo (Contact, Manchester, 1981) before returning to Coventry for a two-year spell in 1982 that included the Coventry Mystery Plays (co-directed with Bob Hamlin in the city’s cathedral), Louise Page’s Falkland Sound/Voces des Malvinas and Spike Milligan and John Antrobus’ The Bed Sitting Room.

At the Tabard Theatre in 1987, he adapted and directed Arthur Schnitzler’s Lieutenant Gustl, taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe the following year and to BBC Radio 4 in 1989.

After working with Birmingham Rep’s Young Company, the Bolton Octagon and adapting and directing Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon for Jacksons Lane Players in 1988 – which has since been has been staged in Ireland, Singapore and the Philippines – he spent two years at the Harrogate Theatre. There, he was responsible for revivals of Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On (1989) and, in 1991, Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight and Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa!.

An accomplished fight director, he lectured in the discipline at Middlesex Polytechnic, and taught and directed at Mountview Theatre School, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, ALRA and Guildford School of Acting.

Benjamin was also a systems analyst and IT specialist. He worked with companies in the arts sector and wrote widely for tech journals.

Ivor Benjamin was born on June 18, 1956 and died on July 4. He is survived by his wife and two children.

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