Jack Tinker of Queen's Gardens

Photo:Jack Tinker

Jack Tinker

Photo:Jack Tinker had a bus named after him

Jack Tinker had a bus named after him

Well known theatre critic

By Jackie Fuller, North Laine resident

One of the best journalists ever to have worked in Brighton was Jack Tinker. He lived in Queen's Gardens in the North Laine, which he loved, and was a well-known local character.

A notable theatre and film critic

Jack worked as theatre critic for the Evening Argus in the 1960s and also became a notable provincial film critic. He undertook a series of star interviews for the paper under the name of Luke Leavis.  After about eight years on the Argus Jack moved on to the Daily Sketch and then the Daily Mail, where he was fortunate to be given prime space on page 3 and achieved national fame. He worked there for 25 years and thought his success was partly due to the fact that the Daily Mail was an approachable and accessible newspaper.

Tributes when he died

Jack died in October 1996 from a heart condition, aged only 58.  Lights were dimmed in London's theatres as a mark of respect when they heard the news and a memorial service for him held at the Theatre Royal was attended by about 700 people.  In February 1997 a charity gala concert was given at the London Palladium as a tribute to Jack Tinker. It included a spoof of Sweeney Todd by Wayne Sleep called 'Tinker Jack, the Demon Critic of Fleet Street'. There is a memorial to Jack Tinker in the western churchyard of St Nicholas Church in Dyke Road and he also has a bus named after him.

What Lynda Trapnell said

When Lynda Trapnell, publisher of Musical Stages, interviewed Jack Tinker, she said she was in awe of his range of knowledge and understanding of the work involved in any theatrical production and especially for musicals. When he died she wrote: "He had performing in his blood but recognised his own limitations compared to the talents of others, so found a niche where he could admonish, admire, defend, promote, put down, build up and finally give his life to a great love." She also said "Not many of us can boast such a career or of having attracted so much respect and affection. There will be no dimming of lights for either you or me, I'm sure!"

I met him several times

I remember chatting to Jack Tinker on several occasions about his career and about the theatre. I once asked him when he had decided to be a theatre critic and he replied that he had never really wanted to be anything else! He said he first became passionate about the theatre at the age of 3½ when he was taken to see Cinderella at the Liverpool Empire. It became his ambition to be paid to go to the theatre.

How he learnt about theatre craft

He had learnt a lot about theatre craft by careful observation of the productions he attended - how to make a joke 'work', how to create illusions on stage from almost nothing, and so on.

How did he become so successful?

I enquired how he had come to be so successful and he thought he owed it all to luck, temperament and, he supposed, also a modicum of talent. He thought he was particularly lucky having come to Brighton to work as a journalist on the Evening Argus. He was appointed by Victor Gorringe, the editor at that time, as their theatre critic after the previous critic resigned (about whom, by the way, he was quite scathing - he told me with some amusement how 'that critic', who had better remain anonymous, had dismissed Beyond the Fringe as mere 'juvenalia', but of course the show went on to be a huge success in London).

Shows he remembered

I remember asking him once which shows he remembered particularly from his Brighton days. He was very enthusiastic about the one woman show by Marlene Dietrich when she was already quite advanced in years. (I had also seen and enjoyed this show.) He thought she was so glamorous even at that age and had conjured up many different moods in the course of the evening, singing in several different languages. Jack said she had really created 'magic' for him. He had met her after the show and had even had the temerity to tell her what he thought was wrong with her act! Jack was never afraid to speak his mind.

His bad reviews

I was also intrigued to know about bad reviews that Jack had written and he recalled a particularly bad one about Terence Rattigan's play Man and Boy. Apparently Rattigan had subsequently invited him to his home and was utterly charming to him! They went through the script together and Rattigan explained line by line why he had written it the way he had. Jack said that at the end he had come to appreciate what a fine craftsman Rattigan really was.

Meeting the royals...

I once asked Jack whether he had ever met members of the royal family. He said he had met the Queen at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. He was very nervous and the one question he had prepared to ask her ("How do you feel about always having to sit in the worst seat in the house?") went clean out of his head.

He had also been to the theatre several times with Princess Margaret, who was apparently quite an expert. Jack once recommended a production of Richard III , quite forgetting that for her it was really a family documentary. She thought it was a travesty of history.

...and famous actors

And of course Jack had over the years met many famous actors and actresses. One he mentioned to me was Edith Evans, who had explained to him that she had never played Lady Macbeth because she thought it was a ridiculous role. In fact she was convinced that there was a page missing in the text. She couldn't understand why the character went mad - "she was alright at dinner!" she said.

Techniques for critical writing

I was intrigued to know what techniques Jack used in his critical writing. He said he tried to avoid using malice but thought the pun could contain quite a lot of destructive power. He commented that the English language was not good on 'praise' language. He laughingly told me that during his childhood in Oldham the greatest praise that could be hoped for would be if someone said: "well, I couldn't fault it".

Contemporary playwrights

I once asked Jack who he thought was this country's most successful contemporary playwright and he immediately replied that one strong contender had to be Alan Ayckbourn, who had written more than 50 plays and who was saying so much about what was happening to the middle classes at that time.

Critics in the USA

I also asked him about the differences between critics in the US and the UK. Jack explained that US critics were much more powerful than in the UK and that no-one there will go to a show that has been panned by the critics. Whoever was the critic of the New York Times could close a show overnight!  He thought that critics didn't really have that power over here, where the public tends to decide for itself despite what the critics say.

Something of a performer himself

Jack was a flamboyant, colourful and extrovert character who was himself something of a performer, presenting his own anecdotal one-man show 'An Evening with Jack Tinker' at various venues, including aboard the QE2. He maintained that he didn't actually act, he just showed off.

Add your memories

If you have some memories of Jack Tinker, please add a comment below.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 195, November/December 2008, and some parts also in the earlier October/November 1996 issue]

This page was added on 01/12/2008.

I met Jack Tinker in the late 1950s in Woking when he worked for the local paper before he moved to the Brighton Argus. I remember attending a production of 'Murder in the Cathedral' that he put on in one of the Woking churches. It was a snowy winter night, the audience sat in the pews, the actors ran up and down the aisles and the experience left me with visual images I have never forgotton. I also remember Jack inviting me and another student nursery nurse for tea at his flat in Brighton after he'd moved there. He gave us raspberries.

By Barbara Lukas (née Haslam)
On 29/06/2009

Jack Tinker had poor recollection.  I was the Evening Argus critic who reviewed Beyond the Fringe at the Theatre Royal, Brighton and praised it hugely. I was not his immediate predecessor as critic on the Argus.  Two others followed me, one of whom was named Phil Pearman. I was long gone when Tinker became critic.  The critic who  slammed Beyond the Fringe that first night was from the Brighton and Hove Herald, an elderly gentleman who was offended by satire on things he had held dear during the 2nd World War. Alan Bennet also wrongly attributes Tinker as critic at the Brighton opening of Beyond the Fringe and praises him for his favorable review. I seem to be the only one who knows who it was.  Such is the falseness of fame and memory.

By Alan Brown
On 11/05/2015

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