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The grey man who changed the nation

Roger Rose as Clement Attlee, with Lynne O'Sullivan. Pic: Mark Thomas
Roger Rose as Clement Attlee, with Lynne O'Sullivan. Pic: Mark Thomas

A new comic play documenting the fascinating post-war transition from Conservative Winston Churchill to reformist Labour leader Clement Attlee – simply titled Clement Attlee – comes to Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre this autumn (September 26-27).

The play reaches the city alongside the annual Labour Party Conference, in the same city and week, and writer Francis Beckett is hoping for some well-known faces in the audience.

Beckett suggests Attlee was Labour’s greatest prime minister – not a statement in wide dispute – and asks how current leader Sir Keir Starmer measures up, among other questions

The writer – an author, journalist, playwright and contemporary historian – was the 2009 winner of the Ted Wragg Award for lifetime achievement in education journalism. He has written 17 books, mostly on contemporary history – including a highly-regarded biography of Attlee. Originally called A Modest Little Man, the renamed play has had three sold-out London fringe runs.

Clement Attlee’s 1945-1951 Government founded the NHS, created the welfare state, introduced free education and nationalised key industries such as the railways. The play begins in May 1945, when Britain was ready to cast off wartime austerity and welcome political and social revolution. Clement Attlee, the Labour leader then Prime Minister, was the man who had to deliver it.

Francis Beckett - writer of "Clement Attlee"
Francis Beckett - writer of "Clement Attlee" Pic: Martin Godwin

Attlee blindsided his critics by looking and sounding like a middle-manager but acting like a revolutionary, secure in the belief a nation just clear of war would follow.

Beckett explains: “This is a history play that reminds us of a time when Britain was competently governed, when its leaders put substance before style.

"People asked me how I could write a comedy about this boring little man, but beneath his exterior he was a fascinating man, and a Prime Minister of rare skill and determination. I hope this play proves it.”

The title role is played by Roger Rose; with Lynne O’Sullivan as Violet Attlee; Pete Picton as Herbert Morrison; Miranda Colmans as Rose and Jennie Lee; Silas Hawkins as Winston Churchill, Hugh Dalton, and John Carvel; and Clive Greenwood as Vicar, King George VI, and Nye Bevan.

Information and tickets here


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