Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Philip Radcliffe R.I.P.

A little less than a year ago, I had the privilege of presenting our Special Achievement award to a man who, in his own quiet and unassuming way, was one of the great heroes of arts journalism (and one of my own favourite people) Philip Radcliffe, who was retiring after more than six decades of reviewing and reporting.

Phil, who died last week, was one of the founders and leading lights of the Manchester Theatre Awards as well as its predecessor, the MEN Theatre Awards. His glittering career not only included getting to hang out with The Beatles and numerous other luminaries but also discovering Ian McKellen as a schoolboy, a story he gleefully and hilariously recounted as he collected his award in front of a visibly astonished, star-studded audience.

Amongst many other outlets, he reviewed for the Bolton Evening News, where he got his start as a callow youth; The Manchester Guardian; the Manchester Evening News; the Daily Mail; The Sunday Times; The Daily Telegraph; The Times Literary Supplement; The Times Higher Education Supplement; John O'London's Weekly; the South China Morning Post; the LA Times; and The Arts Desk. 

He was a genuinely inspiring figure not only to many of us working in the arts world but also to hundreds of the Communications students he tutored and supported over the years, both here and in America. A steadfast champion of properly researched reviewing even, or especially, when it was under threat, he himself wrote with enviable erudition, a deep knowledge of the subject, an understated wit, genial good humour and all-round common sense. He was also, I should add, blessed with the sort of dapper dress sense not often seen amongst theatre critics! As theatre itself goes through changes and challenges, the sort of values represented by Phil should never be forgotten or fall foul of fashion.

Personally, I first met Phil when I had my first real job – and I use the term loosely – as editor of the Manchester University Students Union newspaper. My opposite number, working for the University’s Communications Department, was the impeccably professional Phil Radcliffe, while I was pretty much the archetypal long-haired student, full of half-arsed theories and attitude. But I learned a huge amount from the ever-tolerant, never-ageing Phil about how it was possible to act like a real grown-up without knocking the fun out of what we were both lucky enough to be doing for a living, which was writing about and sharing something we truly loved.

When our paths crossed subsequently at the Manchester Evening News and, of course, the Awards, Phil had lost none of his kindness, his wry intelligence or his humility. Nor indeed, the sort of irrepressible sense of mischief that would see him and his son, the broadcaster Mark Radcliffe, breezing into the Press Box at Manchester City home games whether or not they had been invited or expected! But, really, Philip Radcliffe was welcome wherever he went and his death is an unbearably sad loss to his beloved wife Jill, to his family, and to his friends in the world of journalism and the arts. We shall not, I suspect, see his like again.

Kevin Bourke