Leonard Tucker obituary


Leonard Tucker, who has died aged 94, was one of many British theatre’s main lighting designers and the primary lighting supervisor on the Nationwide Theatre. He joined Laurence Olivier in that capability on the Outdated Vic in 1963 and continued beneath Peter Corridor when the NT moved on to the South Financial institution in 1976.

His profession adopted the speedy developments in expertise within the Seventies, the age of computerised lighting boards and the haphazard utility of video and CGI visible results, although he was distinctly “old-fashioned” on this space.

A number of essentially the most optimistic improvements have been instigated by Richard Pilbrow’s firm Theatre Tasks, however Tucker spent his inventive life with Sadler’s Wells after the second world warfare, the Outdated Vic, the Nationwide and, from 1985, when he was made redundant by Corridor within the wake of extreme Arts Council cuts – and the Cottesloe auditorium was closed in protest – the West Finish. Till that break, Tucker had supervised a lighting crew of 21 technicians throughout the three NT theatres.

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Leonard Tucker thought of Laurence Olivier ‘essentially the most particular technician of any director I ever met’

The second youngest of eight siblings, Tucker was born in Islington, north London, to Arthur, a metallic polisher who had fought with the machine gun corps within the first world warfare, and his spouse, Agnes (nee Newland), a book-folder because the pages got here off the presses.

He was educated in an Islington secondary faculty and made pocket cash as a choir boy – he had an excellent ear for music and was a proficient, self-taught pianist – and overcame the difficulties of being born blind in a single eye, and asthmatic.

He first went to work – after being briefly evacuated through the warfare – in 1943 at a close-by radio manufacturing unit however discovered extra amenable employment on the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward) in St Martin’s Lane, laying the fires within the workplaces and sharpening the brass across the constructing. He joined the stage crew by evening, aged 16, as a junior electrician.

His first present in that legendary 1944 Outdated Vic firm season led by Olivier and Ralph Richardson was Olivier’s Richard III. He was chargeable for the ghostly inexperienced lighting that accompanied the phantoms’ go to on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth. One of many lights had burnt out, and he changed it with the primary “inexperienced” he may discover.

“Ready within the wings,” mentioned Tucker, “Larry seemed on the spot, then checked out me, and I knew I’d been sussed. There was solely essentially the most delicate change of shade, however he knew the distinction.”

In 1945 he went to Sadler’s Wells as a junior electrician beneath the inventive directorship of Tyrone Guthrie and treasured notably his time engaged on the primary efficiency of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. His time on the Wells was interrupted by nationwide service, when he was conscripted in 1948 into the military pay corps.

He was again on the Vic in 1954 as chief electrician – a lot of the exhibits at the moment have been lit by the inventive director, Michael Benthall. However when Pilbrow got here in to gentle Val Might’s manufacturing of Richard II in 1959, he helped devise a extra complicated system than only a primary spot bar, and he discovered a “pageant” – a light-weight with no spill rays – to hold behind a backcloth so as to create an impact of the solar, rising and setting, a vital picture in that play.

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Peter Blythe (Michael Dennis) and Katharine Schlesinger (Rose Pemberton) in The Dwelling Room by Graham Greene, with lighting designed by Leonard Tucker, on the Royalty theatre, London, 1987. {Photograph}: Donald Cooper/Alamy

The Information Chronicle acclaimed “the most effective lighting on the Vic in a while” and “Little Len” (he was solely 5ft 4in tall – and was often known as Len or Lennie) solid a agency friendship with Pilbrow. He was a founder member in 1961 of Pilbrow’s society of British lighting designers, precursor of at the moment’s affiliation of lighting designers (ALD) with over 700 members, together with honorary People.

After the breakup of Olivier’s marriage to Vivien Leigh, Leigh toured in 1961 with the Outdated Vic – together with Tucker, as lighting supremo – to America, Australia and New Zealand in La Dame aux Camélias and Twelfth Night time. Val Webber, who had joined the Vic in 1960 as an assistant stage supervisor, was additionally assigned to the tour, and she or he and Leonard married in Sydney, and in secret, in October 1961.

Again on the Vic, Olivier based the Nationwide Theatre – “essentially the most particular technician of any director I ever met,” mentioned Tucker – and demanded as a lot from the crew round him as he did from himself; “he basked in my highlight, and I basked in his,” he added.

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From left, Leigh Lawson (Aubrey Tanqueray), Pamela Buchner (Mrs Cortelyon), Clare Byam Shaw (Ellean) and Felicity Kendal (Paula Jarman) in The Second Mrs Tanqueray by Pinero, with lighting designed by Leonard Tucker, on the Nationwide Theatre, 1981. {Photograph}: Donald Cooper/Alamy

The unforgettable productions he lit there included Franco Zeffirelli’s Sicilian A lot Ado About Nothing with Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens; Olivier’s Othello, directed by John Dexter; and Michael Blakemore’s sensible manufacturing of The Entrance Web page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, which signalled an NT elision from the Outdated Vic to the South Financial institution.

Olivier referred to as his wizard electrician “Outdated Tucker who lights the actors”, and that’s what he did, although he had absorbed classes from the Berliner Ensemble’s go to to the Outdated Vic in 1965 with their 3D lighting of textured stone and brick buildings and theatrical use of vivid colors – in distinction to the Royal Court docket’s misinterpretation of Brechtian lighting as flat and white, like an insipid new espresso.

In 1984 he co-designed the lighting of forty second Avenue with the grasp lighting designer of the Forties and 50s, Joe Davis, the go-to lights man for the as soon as dominant West Finish producers HM Tennent. Davis died mid-rehearsals and Tucker took over on the driving seat for this musical theatre razzle-dazzle smash hit.

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La Belle Helene by Offenbach, with Rosemary Ashe, proper, as Helen, Queen of Sparta, and lighting designed by Leonard Tucker, at Sadler’s Wells theatre, London, 1988. {Photograph}: Donald Cooper/Alamy

Subsequently, after he left the NT, he amassed a complete of greater than 100 West Finish credit, together with essential collaborations with the director Harold Pinter and designer Eileen Diss on the performs of Simon Grey; Maggie Smith in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Girls (1994); Pauline Collins in an ideal Simon Callow revival of Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine (1988); and, earlier, Alec Guinness in Alan Bennett’s The Outdated Nation (1977).

His final lighting gig was a 2008 manufacturing of Janáček’s Crafty Little Vixen on the Royal Academy of Music, performed by Charles Mackerras, with whom he had labored at Sadler’s Wells in 1948.

Tucker, famend as an excellent problem-solver, each on the stage and within the residence, lived fortunately in Beckenham, Kent, with Val, who returned later in life to the NT as a wardrobe assistant. He was predeceased by Val, who died in 2021, and survived by their youngsters, James, an actor, and Alison, who’s a secretary for the West Finish producer Michael Codron.


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