Michael Johnson R.I.P.
Michael passed away on 19th September 2021.
He was a keen supporter of AWL for more than twenty years, having played a pivotal role in the administration of the group between 1997 and 2000. Michael was AWL Chairman from 2010-12 and took on the role of Secretary as well from 2011-12.
His work for theatre reflected his academic, scientific background and his interests in history and French literature.
(Scroll down for personal tributes from friends and colleagues)
Marie Lloyd & Vesta Tilley
A musical entertainment based on the lives of the two singers, performed by Teresa Jennings and Gilda Waugh)
An argument over a mobile phone in a railway carriage
The Reluctant Genie
An old couple with a vast collection of oil lamps are fed up with the constant appearance of genies
Kiss the Boys and Make Them Cry
A man is reunited with an old flame
Posh is pregnant, but by whom?
Out of Control
God and a woman argue the consequences of the creation of man
Springtime Has Long Passed
A wife, desperate for a child, is unable to handle the fact when she is told that she already is pregnant
That’s Hardly Me
A pair of writers search for an idea on the theme up yours
The Law is The Law
A constable arrests all the participants at a Twelve Days of Christma party
Only Six Hours to Go
Saint Nicholas and Father Christmas reflect on their roles at Christmas
An adaptation (with Laurie Maguire) of Les Palmes de M Schutz by Jean-Noel Fenwick. A comedy, which ran for two years in Paris, about the discovery of radium by Marie and Pierre Curie. (To be produced by Andy Jordan Productions)
The Wind in the Willows
Adaptation for performance in the round - May / June 2009, Isleworth Public Hall
Concerning the Shakespearean forger John Payne Collier, and the scholar-thief James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, set in Stratford upon Avon on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s three-hundredth birthday
It was a privilege to know Michael. People like him simply don’t come along every day. He was a true polymath who could turn his hand to absolutely anything and bring his acute intelligence to bear on both artistic and practical projects. Everything he did blurred the unproductive line drawn between art and science. Problems weren’t problems when Michael was around. They were simply puzzles needing to be solved. And he did so with a calmness and serenity that made him a rock of reliability. To top it all he approached everything with such a wicked, dry sense of humour. He was a pleasure to be around. One of his many talents was as a writer, and he also gave generous and perceptive support to other writers, myself included. He was absolutely instrumental in bringing my writing focus to plays and theatre-making. And he was always kind. In fact, that to me, was his defining characteristic: his complete, utter and unfailing kindness. He was a proper special person and will be sorely missed.
When Michael took over the role of running AWL, then HAWG, from Sue Birkett-Smith in 1997, he asked me to be his assistant, along with Laura Fitzpatrick doing some casting. What I thought would be a burdensome task became anything but. Michael not only shouldered such a major part of the work, but also brought a sense of order and calm to everything. There were no insurmountable problems, only solutions. If a script hadn’t arrived for one of the actors, he wouldn’t hesitate to hand deliver it to the other side of London, with no fuss. We would often have our meetings over a delicious lunch in his flat in central London – smoked salmon was often on the menu, and his flat was often a space we used for rehearsing. When an irate writer started shouting at me at the interval over the lack of skills of one of the actors, Michael stepped straight in and rationalized with him. He was such a reassuring presence. Away from the group too, if something needed doing, Michael would generously put in the time and effort to do it. When I moved in to a new house 22 years ago, Michael put in a loft ladder for me and climbed up ladders to sort out light fittings. I had four young children in those days, and I remember him joining us for a meal at Macdonald’s once – Michael was at ease in almost any situation, and they were at ease with him. When Teresa was doing a one-woman show in Edinburgh, Michael brought his usual diligence and attention to detail to daily updates of the press reviews, which he would then make sure were shown on the poster and the flyers. He was pragmatic, phlegmatic, and always generous and self-effacing in all things. He will be much missed.
When I think of Michael, the first and indelible impression is of his twinkly eyes and wonderful smile which always made the day seem brighter and better. I never heard him say an unkind word but I did hear many generous and kind and supportive comments and tremendous pride in the achievements of others, most particularly of his children and his partner Teresa. He always twinkled particularly brightly when talking about her. His own plays were always so interesting and thoughtful and the dialogue was a pleasure to speak. The first I remember must have been thirty years ago, an adaptation of a French play about Marie Curie which impressed me hugely and united his expertise and interests in science and the arts and France. I appreciated his calm and efficiency when he and Lucy Appleby and I took over the running of the group from Sue Birkett Smith and he would welcome us to his flat near Warren Street for meetings and problem-solving. He always seemed to take on the most burdensome tasks and deliver scripts all round London without a word of complaint. He was always a positive influence and presence leading or within the group and he will be tremendously missed, but not forgotten.
I feel I’ve known Michael for a very long time, ever since the early days of AWL, when we were all beginning to know each other and planning for the future. I was immediately struck by Michael’s scientific background and his attention to detail, which came out in his writing - an intelligent, thoughtful and humane man, who took a great interest in the workings of the human mind - and this translated itself into a wide variety of plays, from the historical to the contemporary. I was very lucky to be in some of them and I found working with him a delight. On a personal level I found his company so easy. He was charming, humorous and always had a twinkle in his eye, as though he was about to crack a joke, or cause some mischief - and I remember, so vividly, when he and Teresa came to stay with Marie and me down in Rye - we had such fun and we were totally at ease with each other. I shall miss him tremendously, but his spirit will always be with us and we will all be the stronger and better for knowing him.
I met Michael over 25 years ago, when he was so welcoming to the newest member of AWL, and soon invited me for lunch at his flat by the Post Office Tower, in central London. On the way up the stairs we, well Michael, was greeted very, very affectionately by the other tenants, most of whom he said were ’local ladies of the night’. It turned out he was looking out for their interests on the block’s Residents Committee, with more security and better lighting in the block. I asked if he was given discounts, but he just twinkled. Shortly after that, after a reading in Hammersmith of one of his plays, he recommended me to his daughter Kate, who was an acting agent with Curtis Brown; I’m still with her. For a short period, he was invited to join our very casual pub quiz team - Lucy, Brendan, Peter - in Chiswick, he thought it was because of his knowledge of literature, but in reality it was because he was the only scientist any of us knew - a senior Research Chemist for most of his life, before his early retirement. After several weeks of Michael answering nothing at all, we eventually were given a difficult question on, ’chemistry’; Michael had no idea of the answer, so we all got drunk and spent the rest of the evening laughing. And gossipping. Great company, generous with time and money, and curious about everything and everyone. We last met around 18 months ago, sharing coffee and cakes in Richmond, then back to his flat for more chat, gossip and wine. And gossip. A man of many parts; playwright, DIY man, boat-builder, family man, charming flirt (my wife tells me this) and so, so proud of his adored partner, Teresa.
I had the pleasure of knowing Michael for his entire time at AWL. He always struck me as a man with an incredible sense of wonder and enthusiasm in everything he did. He was kind enough to include me in many of his works over the years and when a casting director called me to say that Michael wanted me to be in one of his plays it always made my day. I knew the roles would be beautifully written and observed, and they always were. As strange as it may sound I always thought of him in something of a paternal way; he was someone knew I could talk to for thoughts and advice on an interpretation in confidence from the director and I knew I could always rely on his advice. He was unerringly positive and had a wonderful sense of humour reflected through those sparkling eyes and glorious smile. I recall one event in particular when a large group of us travelled down to his place in Richmond to help Teresa Jennings and Val Leon prepare for their forthcoming world cruise workshops and shows. While we all pretended to be cruise passengers aspiring to be the next Denches and Branaghs (though we probably better resembled Hylda Bakers and Jimmy Jewels), I remember Michael sitting on the sidelines beaming and laughing along even though he was by that time suffering considerably from ill health. Every now and then I’d glance across and he’d wink and smile his support. It struck me that despite such great personal adversity he remained positive and enthusiastic to the arts, culture and artists that meant so much to him in all forms. And above all I will remember him for being great fun and a very talented writer. Bless you Michael and thank you for some wonderful inspiring artistry. We will all miss you very much.
What a brilliant man Michael was. He seemed to be equally at home in the worlds of both science and literature. Quite a polymath. He was always so encouraging about my writing and seemed interested in everything. He actually lent me a typed copy of his father’s experiences at the Battle of Loos in 1915. Michael’s father was still a teenager at that point. It was a searing account of what it must have felt like to be one of the few survivors of that terrible battle - which had started rather nicely in a typical French town complete with cafe, baguettes and a pretty barmaid. I was very touched that Michael trusted me with this precious document: he did so because we were putting on the first world play DEAR CHOCOLATE SOLDIER based on the letters of a gunner stationed in the Somme. Michael’s father’s account gave me a deeper insight into the horrors of that time. Michael was a gentle and brilliant man. We will all miss him.
I remember Michael was a quiet, unassuming man, which hid his considerable talent as a writer but not his natural warmth. He shared his chuckling sense of humour in the same way, with a smile that betrayed his appreciation of his own jokes. His critical understanding of our efforts to entertain and his kind remarks. Above all I saw his loyalty to AWL when at times it must have been difficult for him to attend our meetings, and I shall personally miss him at the bar.
When I fist came to HAWG, the Daddy of AWL, twenty-something years ago, the reading was one of Micahel’s plays with a huge cast of first-class actors. As if that wasn’t enough, he and Lucy (Appleby) were organising everything. It was so impressive. I soon found that this was typical Michael: bringing people together, entertaining, thought-provoking, welcoming, unfailingly reliable and endlessly generous. When I subsequently chaired AWL, I was always proud to introduce Michael to newcomers as the man who set the gold standard to which all future Chairs must aspire. Without Michael, today’s AWL would surely not be. Rest in peace, old friend.
Even though I knew Michael had not been well for some time, it still came as a great shock to hear of his passing. He was a lovely man, a real gentleman and I feel very privileged to have known him and been in some of his plays. He was such a big part of AWL. I for one will miss him and remember him with great affection.
I first met Michael when I first joined AWL in my early twenties....A long-standing member of AWL who will be greatly missed not only for his contribution to the group but for his warmth and kindness.
We’re going to miss Michael a lot - he was such a gentle, unassuming but constant presence at AWL. We must do a lovely evening to celebrate his writing next year. Rx
Very saddened to hear of Michael’s passing. A truly lovely man, a supremely educated and open-minded renaissance gentleman of the olde school, who always showed such courtesy and thoughtfulness. He was especially kind to me in my early days directing at AWL, helping me negotiate the frequently tight time constraints - and the occasional challenging personality! RIP dearest Michael.
Very sad to hear the news and didn’t think it would be so soon. He helped me so much when I joined the committee as secretary. A real gent, great company and friend for many years. And, yes, we must definitely have an evening devoted to dear Michael. Pete xx
Lovely man, great writer and friend of my old neighbour in Primrose Hill. RIP. Xxx
What a gorgeous man, so lovely, so friendly, such a talented writer. I will so miss seeing your lovely face again. Rest in peace sweet Michael now. With deepest sympathy xxx
Michael was such a kind and gentle man, and such a great help to the committee. I liked him a lot, and he’ll be fondly remembered by many of our older members who knew him.
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