NORMAN AYRTON – REQUIESCAT IN PACE
“It is with deep sorrow that we record the death of Norman Ayrton peacefully in his sleep at the age of 92. Christopher Cook, who recorded an oral history with Norman, was a colleague for over fifteen years.”
No Norman Ayrton, no BADA. It’s as simple as that. As the Academy’s first Dean it was Norman who created the London Theatre Program syllabus that broadly speaking we still follow. It was Norman who insisted that along with Movement and Voice and Acting Shakespeare there had to be Theatre History and Dramatic Criticism. And, of course, acting for High Comedy which he himself delighted in teaching.
It was a source of infinite pleasure to him when a student finally mastered a scene from The Beaux Strategem or his most favourite play Congreve’s The Way of the World. And mastery included the props, which were as much the character as the lines. A cane was never just a cane when Norman was directing and a fan for much more than for keeping cool.
Norman’s standards were exacting and had been moulded by his time at the Old Vic School after the Second World War. A reluctant actor, you sensed, he had found his metier as a teacher, whether it was the great soprano Joan Sutherland who became a friend, or students at LAMDA, Juilliard, The Royal Academy of Music or at BADA in the final chapter of his professional life.
He loved his students, the ‘kids’ as he called them. Or most of them, and in return they admired and respected him. For his faculty colleagues he will be an irreplaceable presence in the office common room where he offered wise advice and presided over the gossip. And, let it be said, raided the chocolate biscuit tin. I hope that where he’s gone to is a place that welcomes the sweet toothed. And understands the art of holding a fan!