Memorial to James Roose-Evans

James Roose-Evans (Jimmy)

died peacefully at home on October 26th, 2022, aged 94


a life well lived

The younger of two sons, James Humphrey Roose-Evans was born in London on November 11th 1927. His father, Jack, a commercial traveller dealing in ladies’ gowns, was a bully and drunkard who terrorized his family. The marriage was a disaster. His mother, Primrose (nee Morgan) eventually packed up all the furniture and, with the help of a local farmer, loaded it on to a wagon, leaving her husband a note to say that she and Jimmy had gone. While she looked for somewhere to live, she sent Jimmy to live with the parents of a schoolfriend, Mary Pollard, which changed his life. Finally feeling emotionally secure, Jimmy stayed with them for 2 years and settled down, excelling as a pupil at the Crypt grammar school in Gloucester and winning a scholarship to St Benet’s College, a religious private hall at Oxford University, where he read English.

Jimmy spent 2 years of national service in the Royal Army Educational Corps.  Around this time, his parents had reunited and bought a house in Golders Green, north London, and announced, to Jimmy’s dismay, that he would be living with her from now on. One day the Pollards, with whom he had kept in touch, arrived to meet his mother, only to be summarily ejected by the angry matriarch, who forbade them from ever seeing her son again. His parents’ relationship broke up for good after a year, his mother selling the house and vanishing with the money. The emotional strain of these events led Jimmy to have a nervous breakdown and embarked on years of psychotherapy.

After leaving Oxford, he started out as an actor in rep in the early 50s, but his interest in behavioral  psychology suggested a career as a director.

James Roose Evans actorIn 1954, he was appointed artistic director of the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich (the prototype Elizabethan model theatre). In the same year he met Martha Graham, and in 1955 joined the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, where dance, drama and music were studied on an equal footing, and where he worked experimentally with dancers, singers and musicians, exploring new forms of non-verbal theatre.

He returned to London in 1957 to teach at R.A.D.A. (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), staying on the staff until 1961 and taught at the Central School of Speech and Drama, teaching the likes of John Hurt, Vanessa Redgrave & Judi Dench. Another of his students was the future film director Mike Leigh, who was particularly influenced by Jimmy’s exercises.

James Roose Evans and Hywel Jones at Hampstead HeathJimmy had 2 major relationships in his life: the first was with the actor David March whom he met as a student in Oxford and with whom he lived until 1960. In 1958 he met the actor and opera performer Hywel Jones, who would be his partner for the next 54 years. Hywel died in 2013, and Jimmy wrote a memoir of their life together.

In 1959, Jimmy founded the Hampstead Theatre by persuading the Hampstead parish church in Holly Bush Vale to rent out their scout hall (Moreland Hall) to him as a center for the work of new writers. His first season, in 1959-60, included a Welsh language classic (translated into English), SIWAN, by Saunders Lewis, starring Siân Phillips; Eugène Ionesco’s JACQUES; and Ann Jellicoe’s THE SPORT OF MY MAD MOTHER. Harold Pinter was a permanent fixture in the early years, trying and testing many of his plays in front of the loyal Hampstead audience. Jimmy had great enthusiasm for the young Pinter, directing a double-bill of THE DUMB WAITER and THE ROOM in its London premiere at the Royal Court to rave reviews in January 1960.

James Roose Evans and Dame Peggy Ashcroft at Hamstead Theatre founding 1962Asked by the parish church to shut down the theatre in 1962, Jimmy’s now galvanized Hampstead theatre club was instantly rehoused when the local council came up with a £7,000 grant for a temporary prefab two miles away at Swiss Cottage. Jimmy raised £10,000 for fixtures and fittings. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Jimmy’s associate director, formally unveiled a plaque launching the (new) Hampstead Theatre on November 2, 1962. Under Jimmy’s leadership the Hampstead Theatre pioneered & championed the work of a youthful Harold Pinter and other new writers. He was also responsible for the Hampstead’s commissioning of Peter Luke’s highly successful play HADRIAN VII.  It was at the Hampstead Theatre that talents such as Jude Law and Ewan McGregor 1st spoke lines on the professional stage. Over the years, it has provided a stage for some of the greatest actors in the world including John Malkovich, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson, John Hurt, Felicity Kendal, Edward Fox, Faye Dunaway, Tom Conti, Rupert Everett, Maureen Lipman, Sheila Hancock and Zoe Wanamaker.

In 1963 Jimmy revived the career of Noël Coward with his commercially successful production of PRIVATE LIVES in his Hampstead Theatre – signaled what Coward himself dubbed “Dad’s renaissance” as the show transferred to the West End.

Jimmy regularly visited the USA and toured the UK to lecture and conduct experimental theatre workshops.

Widely regarded as one of Britain’s most original theatre directors, James Roose-Evans directed numerous West End hits, including UNDER MILK WOOD, PRIVATE LIVES, SPITTING IMAGE, THE HAPPY APPLE, AN IDEAL HUSBAND, AN INSPECTOR CALLS, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCHCIDER WITH ROSIE which he also adapted and designed.

84 Charing Cross Road 1987 Film PosterHe adapted and directed Helene Hanff’s 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD into a multi-award winning stage play in the West End and on Broadway, winning awards on both sides of the Atlantic for Best Director and Best Play. Jimmy and Hugh Whitemore later adapted 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD again as a feature film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Jimmy produced and directed Hugh Whitemore’s THE BEST OF FRIENDS starring Sir John Gielgud (returning to the stage for the first time in 10 years, and his last appearance at the age of 83) and shortly after, directed former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel’s TEMPTATION starring “Dr. Who’s” Sylvester McCoy and real life Countess Rula Lenska. To critical acclaim, Jimmy adapted and directed both Joyce Grenfell’s collection of letters into RE: JOYCE, starring Maureen Lipman as well as VENUS OBSERVED at Chichester in 1992 starring Donald Sinden.

He had written a number of documentaries for the B.B.C. including “The Female Messiah”, about the Shakers, which was nominated for the Italia Prize. He was a regular contributor to the B.B.C.’s program “Kaleidoscope”, and “Woman’s Hour”.

James Roose Evans book Experimental TheatreJames Roose-Evans is the author of 21 books on theatre and life including his best-selling Experimental Theatre from Stanislavsky to Peter Brook (currently in its 4th edition and still reprinting). James Roose Evans book Adventures of Odd ElsewhereJimmy also wrote a number of children’s books, including The Adventures of Odd and Elsewhere (1971) The Secret of the Seven Bright Shiners (1972); Elsewhere and the Gathering of the Clowns (1974); Odd and the Great Bear (1974); The Return of the Great Bear (1975); Odd to the Rescue! (1975); The Christ Mouse; The Secret of Tippity Witchit (1975) and The Lost Treasure of Wales (1977). His 7-volume saga, about Odd and Elsewhere became synonymous with British teddy bear history.

Jimmy founded the Bleddfa Centre for the Creative Spirit in Wales in 1974. He was the first British theatre director to be ordained a non-stipendiary priest in 1981, and has regularly preached in Westminster Abbey, Winchester Cathedral, Chichester, Gloucester, and Norwich cathedrals.

Jimmy’s papers are now lodged at the Harry Ransom Center, the University of Texas at Austin.

Jimmy never stopped working, directing, teaching, or talking. He remained a familiar figure in the London theatre scene and a loyal friend.

James was known to his friends as either “James” or “Jimmie” or “Jimmy” but he also delighted in some of the other names he was called – on one occasion he was publicly announced as “James Loose-Evans”, and another time as “James Booze-Evans”, and he once received a letter addressed to “Jane Rose-Evans”!

Extract from my Gallivanting book:


While applying for permanent residency, upgrading my landed immigrant status in Canada, I needed to leave the country and wait for the approval… As a result, I chose to go to London, visit my godparents and seek out opportunities on the West End, since the process would likely take months.

I was fortunate to have dual Australian / British citizenship.

I rented an ultra-cheap hotel room in the grungy Edwardian Hotel located in Earls Court suburb of London (halfway between the West End and Heathrow) for the princely sum of £60 a week in cash, handed directly to the manager (likely never going through the books to the hotel owner) which was an incredible deal. It gave me a little room with a TV and a washbasin with a shared toilet and shower on the basement level but fortunately nobody else used the basement, and so I basically had that bathroom to myself. The only window was a sliver of a rectangle towards the ceiling above the bed.

Earls Court’s popularity in the London gay community was surging at this time. The area was nicknamed ‘Kangaroo Valley’, because of its large number of Australian residents on their UK temporary visas. Diana, Princess of Wales lived one block away at 60 Colherne Court before her engagement to HRH Prince Charles in 1981.

Bromptons Hotel Earls Court 1990I needed an income stream to support my London life and so I took a job as a bartender at one of the more popular gay bars called Brompton’s anchoring the large gay bar scene at 294 Old Brompton Road in Earls Court, a short walk from my hotel.

Famous regulars in its heyday were Freddie Mercury, Rudolph Nureyev and Kenny Everett. Here, I had a great fun for a couple of months meeting lots of people and making a lot in tips… My BEAT experience and my Australian/American accent helped a lot.

1990 was a difficult time in England… Domestic terrorism was a fact of daily life in those days. Margaret Thatcher was in power, London was plagued by the deadly Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) who were exploding bombs in central London, and even worse, the people of London were getting aggressively angrier with the government and the poll tax riots were reaching their peak.

For fear of the I.R.A. campaigns of terror, I remember automatically crossing the street to avoid going anywhere near army recruiting offices, uniformed soldiers, letter boxes or garbage bins (a favorite drop point) in downtown London. It became second nature and habit. All tube station toilets were locked up to avoid I.R.A. bombs. Metal bins in densely populated areas such as Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square or Covent Garden were especially attractive to terrorists because they could create deadly shrapnel when the bombs went off.

Living with domestic terrorism as a fact of life prepared me well for when this became an issue later in the U.S.A. following 9/11.

I longed for a job in the West End to tide me over until I returned to Canada. Who would have guessed that a week later I would be rubbing shoulders with Sir John Gielgud over lunch?

Saturday, Sunday, Monday… in real life

While working the Brompton’s gay bar I met a lot of West End thespians, one of whom was an editor of Spotlight, a magazine book for contacts in the London theatre business, who introduced me to several key movers and shakers. This led me to Brian Kirk, one of the most respected producers and general managers in the West End of the time.


On Saturday, March 31, I went for a job interview with Brian Kirk in his office on the 3rd floor of Cranborne Mansions (aka London Hippodrome) in Leicester Square.

I arrived at the appointed time following matinees around 5:30pm and went into his office to meet him. His offices had lots of windows overlooking Leicester Square. We began the interview and about 10 minutes into it came a loud explosion and the glass windows in his office shattered, as we both jumped under his desk where we huddled for about an hour waiting for an all clear from the local police.

London Poll Tax Riots OBSERVER news 1990It turns out that the 200,000 or so poll tax rioters who were coming east up the Mall from Kensington were blocked by police at Trafalgar Square. Here, rioters split with some going south to Whitehall, and others coming north up Charing Cross Road. At Leicester Square underground tube station at Cranbourne Mansions, the rioters were overturning cars on Charing Cross Road and Cranbourne Street in Leicester Square which included a delivery van that was blown up with a little kerosene rag in the petrol tank… This caused the explosion directly outside his office, and a lot of damage to his building.

As a result of being in extremely close confines cowering with Brian Kirk for an hour… I got the recommendation for the job as company and stage manager for a West End production of TEMPTATION to be directed by James Roose-Evans (Jimmy) at the Westminster Theatre, if I could obtain required union approval and if after meeting Jimmy there was mutual agreement.

London Poll Tax Riots 00 London Poll Tax Riots 01 Trafalgar Square London Poll Tax Riots 04 London Poll Tax Riots 07 London Poll Tax Riots 08 London Poll Tax Riots 05 Leicester Square London Poll Tax Riots 09 Independent


The next day, a Sunday, I met with Jimmy at The Westminster Theatre, which was at the corner of Palace Road and Palace Street opposite the Royal Mews of Buckingham Palace. In the lobby coffee shop, Jimmy and I hit it off like a house on fire. This was before the days of the internet, so my advance research on him was minimal, basically all I knew was what I saw on theatre posters with him directing big shows and what Brian Kirk had told me. I was comforted within moments of meeting Jimmy, he loved my love of teddy bears, my difficult gay life’s path, my middle name “James” and my theatrical story of my life’s journey to that meeting, and I loved everything about his life story.

THE BEST OF FRIENDS John Guilgud HeadshotJimmy is one of Britain’s most experienced theatre directors. He founded the Hampstead Theatre in London, He dramatized and directed 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD on Broadway and the West End. He was then finishing up a run of Hugh Whitemore’s THE BEST OF FRIENDS at the Apollo Theatre which he directed, and which gave Sir John Gielgud his last stage role. Jimmy is also the author of children’s books (such as the iconic teddy bear adventures series of “Odd and Elsewhere”)


My next meeting on the Monday was with Peter Plouviez, the General Secretary of British Actors Equity.  I repeated what I had done in Canada to utilize my Australian and Canadian Actors Equity memberships to confirm transferable to British Actors Equity union membership status. Since I was born in England and held a British passport, plus had the endorsement of Brian and Jimmy, it became a very easy thing to do.

It was all approved the same day and so that evening when I returned to my hotel on April 2, 1990, I was now officially a member of three Actors Equity Associations on three continents and ready to start work on TEMPTATION.

Australia Canada UK
union Equity AU union Equity CA union Equity UK

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

London Garrick Club 1990London Garrick Club logoA week later Jimmy took me to lunch as his guest at his member-only theatrical Garrick Club (named after actor David Garrick, and one of the oldest gentleman’s clubs in the world). Hosted by Jimmy, along with fellow members Sir John Gielgud, and writer Hugh Whitemore, plus Hugh’s agent wife (a rare exception to the men-only rule of the time).

For me, this was theatrical heaven. Not only being at the same table as these legends, participating in their conversations, but surrounded by theatrical history, with personal artifacts of famous actors, managers and creatives dating back hundreds of years in curio cabinets, along with oil paintings of legends caked with cigarette and cigar smoke covering the walls.

In the Milne Room (named after A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh bequest), Hugh Whitemore regaled us with stories of his days after winning a scholarship to R.A.D.A. (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) where he was repeatedly told by his teachers and others that he would not make it in the business and suggested he quit R.A.D.A., Hugh gave up acting and went into writing for TV. After a hugely successful writing career, later joined the council for R.A.D.A.!

John Gielgud then told the story of his time at R.A.D.A. in the ’20’s where he wanted to be writer but was encouraged by his teachers and others to utilize his unique voice and went into repertory theatre as an actor initially to “pay the bills”. The rest is history.

Jimmy then went on to tell his story of his career in theatre, teaching the likes of John Hurt, Vanessa Redgrave & Judi Dench at R.A.D.A. and the Central School of Speech and Drama (C.S.S.D.), adapting and directing 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, PRIVATE LIVES etc. before he became ordained and pivoted to balancing a life of the church preaching at Westminster Abbey as a gay priest and directing in the West End.

By the end of the lunch, I knew Jimmy and I had a special friendship.

I was now Company and Stage Manager for ex Czech President Václav Havel’s TEMPTATION, which opened at the Westminster Theatre, in London’s West End on June 6, 1990. Directed by James Roose-Evans; starring Sylvester McCoy; Frank Middlemass;  Robert Longden and Rula Lenska, aka Countess Roza-Marie Leopoldyna Lubienska of Poland.

To save money, I had secretly moved from the Edwardian Hotel into my Westminster Theatre dressing room / office which had a small cot and shower facilities, courtesy of the long-time crusty old stage door security man in exchange for £20 a week in cash to him and a £20 bar credit at the Phoenix pub (which the pub had given me, but I never used). I was all set, except I was to be locked (chained) into the theatre with no ability to come and go from about 11:00pm until about 9am when the theatre offices & cafe opened.

Queens Gate apartment in LondonWhen DJ arrived from Toronto to visit me, I rented “digs” (theatrical actors short stay apartments) for £365 a week in Kensington, opposite the Royal Albert Hall, adjacent to the Iraq embassy at 20 Queen’s Gate near Prince Consort Road. This was likely the poshest place we ever had. It was furnished in traditional British style, and had a huge claw foot bathtub, but the location was its best feature.

The Royal College of Music, the Royal Albert Hall and the Imperial College were all clustered across the street, and music rehearsals could be heard permeating the air, making it quite lovely.

For DJ, the shopping of Kensington / Knightsbridge, including Harrods was all a very short walk.

We had a wonderful time spending my meagre savings, buying teddy bears and artwork, visiting Jimmy and his partner Hywel Jones at their Hampstead home (Jimmy was a generous host and a great cook), enjoying dinners with friends and while I was finishing up TEMPTATION, sending DJ off to a string of West End shows in complimentary house seats courtesy of our publicist, the fabulously talented, kind and generous Sue Hymen.

After about 20 shows in less than 2 weeks, DJ gave up on the West End, and wanted to go back to shopping.  I think it was house seats to RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET that pushed him over the line, or maybe Willy Russell’s loudly reading the newspaper behind him during a matinee of his SHIRLEY VALENTINE to which DJ asked him to be quiet.

The timing was terrific, since my Canadian permanent residence was approved, and I was closing up TEMPTATION, so I prepared to go back to Canada.

Jimmy and Hywel (until his death in 2013), DJ and I remain friends to this day.

happy memories

Temptation in London's West End

James Roose-Evans directed TEMPTATION in London’s West End

James Roose-Evans on IMDB

Jimmy, gone but never forgotten…
you’ve definitely earned a good rest in peace.
Long may your journey continue!

Toby Simkin’s Broadway Entertainment, LLC
dba within China as: 沈途彬商务咨询(上海)有限公司

– ~ ~  {:-)-:}  ~ ~ – | | | |

Facebook #PreservingHistory1ShowAtATime

Biography | Portfolio | Blog | Consulting | Theatre History | AustralAsia Live | ObituariesContact