The following timeline illustrates the real events that inspired Terence Rattigan to write The Winslow Boy and its ongoing significance as a play today.
1908-1911 – The Real Winslow Boy
In 1908 13-year-old George Archer-Shee enters the Royal Naval College for young cadet training. One day George is given permission to visit the local post office to purchase a postal order for fifteen shillings and sixpence (approximately $69 dollars today) to buy a model train. Later that day a postal order for five shillings (approximately $22 today) is reported that was stolen from a fellow cadet, and after a routine investigation, The Admiralty expels George from the college on the grounds of theft.
George’s family decide that they will not accept the Admiralty’s ruling without a fight and encourage eminent Irish barrister and politician, Edward Carson to take on the case to preserve their reputation. Carlson adopts a legal device called the petition of right in order to bring the matter before London’s High Court, as the Royal Navy is protected from a civil lawsuit. King Edward VII grants Carson’s petition and the family wins the right to come to court. The story is the subject of political debate and features in the newspapers regularly, with public sympathy behind the family. After four days in court the Crown’s case collapses and George Archer-Shee is pronounced innocent.
1944-45 – Writing the Play
Rattigan researches the events surrounding the Archer-Shee case and uses them to form the basis of a new play. He says “I wanted to create, not just to recreate. The plot was borrowed from life, but if the characters too had been borrowed from life then I felt the whole play might easily have been dead.” Rattigan introduces several fictional characters and moves the timing of the case to closer to the outbreak of the First World War.
1946-47 – West End and Broadway Premieres
The Winslow Boy premieres in London’s West End at the Lyric Theatre in 1946 featuring Emlyn Williams, Mona Washbourne, Angela Baddeley, Kathleen Harrison, Frank Cellier, Jack Watling and Clive Morton under the direction of Glen Byam Shaw. It won the Ellen Terry Award for the Best New play.
The play premieres on Broadway at the Empire Theatre in 1947 with Frank Allenby as Sir Robert, Alan Webb as Arthur Winslow, and Valerie White as Catherine Winslow. The play won the New York Outer Critics’ Circle Award in 1948 for Best Foreign Play.
1980-81 – Roundabout’s Revival and National Tour
Roundabout revives The Winslow Boy with a production starring Remak Ramsay, Ralph Clanton, Barbara Colton, David Haller, James Higgins, Elizabeth Owens, Giulia Pagano, Lee Toombs, Michael Tylo, and directed by Douglas Seale at the Lucille Lortel’s Theatre De Lys. The production tours nationally in 1981.
1997-2011 – Other Terence Rattigan Plays at Roundabout
Roundabout stages two other plays by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea in the 1997-98 Season and more recently Man and Boy in the 2011-2012 Season starring Frank Langella.
2013 – Old Vic Revival
The battle between personal principles, conscience and justice remains highly topical. The recent UK revival opened at The Old Vic in London on 8 March 2013 starring Sia Berkeley, Deborah Findlay, Naomi Frederick, Nick Hendrix, Stephen Joseph, Wendy Nottingham, Charlie Rowe, Peter Sullivan, Richard Teverson, Jay Villiers and Henry Goodman, directed by Lindsay Posner.
Roundabout brings The Winslow Boy back to Broadway from September 20 for the first time in 60 years. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.
2013-2014 Season, The Winslow Boy