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Minister for the Arts

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Audio: Minister for the Arts 2
Duration: 00:01:53
Date: 1970
Jennie Lee at the ceremony marking the start of building work for The National Theatre on the South Bank in London.
Image : Jennie Lee at the National Theatre building ceremony
Date: 1969

Jennie supported Laurence Olivier, Peter Hall and Arnold Goodman in creating The National Theatre on London’s South Bank. According to Jennie’s biographer Patricia Hollis:

“…but for Jennie’s intervention with the Treasury and then with the GLC (Greater London Council), the NT would have been lost. It was Jennie at her weakest, with her poor financial grasp, and Jennie at her best, with her tenacious and steely political skills”

Construction began in 1969 and was completed in 1976. Peter Hall was the National Theatre’s first director. The photograph on this page was taken at a ceremony marking the start of building work for The National Theatre on the South Bank.

When Jennie lost her seat in 1970 she was sent a letter of support and regret signed by over 70 of the actors and staff of the NT including Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Tom Baker and Ronald Pickup. In it, they wrote: 

"...our profession is much indebted to your unstinting work on its behalf and, in particular, your tireless efforts for our National Theatre, without which we know we would not exist. Now countless future generations have need to be grateful to you."

In the audio clip on this page, recorded in 1970, Jennie talks about being Minister for the Arts for six years. It is clear how much she enjoyed the role and the support she gained from the many artists that she helped during that time. In the clip Jennie even refers back to the Arcade Hotel in Cowdenbeath where she grew up and first developed her love of music and theatre.

It’s obvious that Jennie was a well-loved figure in the Arts scene between 1964 and 1970. It was also during this period that Jennie was known for another major project – the creation of The Open University.

Minister for the Arts (page 2 of 2)