Willy Russell archive set for Liverpool John Moores University

Poster advertising a production of Educating Rita The archive includes publicity material from productions of Russell's plays

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Renowned Liverpool playwright Willy Russell has donated "papers and manuscripts" from across his career to one of the city's universities.

Mr Russell, who wrote the films Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita - and musical Blood Brothers - gifted the documents to Liverpool John Moores.

He said creating the archive had given him a "much tidier office".

The documents will be held in the university's Special Collections and Archives and be made available online.

The archive, which includes manuscripts, programmes, newspaper cuttings and press releases, financial documents, correspondence and audition notes, offers a "comprehensive representation of Willy Russell's work to date", a university spokesman said.

Amongst the documents are items relating to early stage productions of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, which were both later turned into films, the former starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine and the latter Pauline Collins and Tom Conti.

Also included are casting and audition notes around productions of Olivier-winning musical Blood Brothers, which closed in October after spending 24 years in London's West End.

'Generosity'

The 65-year-old playwright, who came to prominence in the 1970s through his association with the city's Everyman Theatre, said he was happy the archive would be held close to the venue.

Willy Russell

  • Born in 1947 into a working-class family in Whiston, near Liverpool, he left school at 15 without qualifications and became a hairdresser
  • Began writing songs for performers and for radio shows while working as a teacher and had his first play produced at the Everyman Theatre in 1971
  • Won Olivier Awards for plays Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita and for musical Blood Brothers and was nominated for an Academy Award for the Educating Rita screenplay

"I have a quiet sense of something fitting in knowing that my manuscripts are housed in a building no more than a few yards from where most of them were written and first performed," he said.

He added that it had "always been my intention that if ever my papers and manuscripts were to be deposited, then it would be with a Liverpool institute".

Dean of the Faculty of Arts Roger Webster said he was pleased the university had been able "to acquire this archive through Willy Russell's generosity".

"It will undoubtedly attract and produce world-class scholarship and we hope to develop a number of research projects around it," he said.

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