Birmingham Stage Company

Peter Wolff

18 March 2012

There are so many things I could write about Peter Wolff, who very sadly died this week. Here was a man in his 80's, an age which you would normally think would be twilight of a man's life. But not the extraordinary Peter Wolff. Coming out of a long and successful career in textiles, Peter founded a writer's trust to help emerging British talent. In 1998 he put £1 million into a fund and invited writers and theatres to apply for help. I called him to meet about the five plays I'd just commissioned. He couldn't consider helping me until the plays had been written but we got on well and kept in touch. Two years later he asked if I would be interested in running the Trust with him. I knew very little about new writing, but Peter was intrigued by the success of the BSC and wondered if I could apply the same judgement to his Trust. I widened his remit and together we chose plays from Hampstead, The National, The Donmar, Soho Theatre, Coventry Belgrade and Theatre Centre. It was a special three years in which I learned an enormous amount. What impressed and surprised me so much about Peter was that despite his great success in business, he came into the theatre world with a completely open mind and a vast eagerness to learn - he was never one of those clever people who knew it all.

For example, we both attended a 3 day theatre conference, an easy assignment I thought, until Peter suggested we meet every morning at 8.30am to attend the lectures from touring to investment. He had the energy of three tigers! Being a self-employed man for much of my life, I'd never really worked for a boss before, and Peter was the most fantastic boss: terrifying when thing went wrong, over the moon at every success. His enjoyment of business was fascinating to behold. He lived and breathed every move on the chess board. It's very hard to write about Peter in the past tense. He made such a huge impact on so many people that we are all left reeling by his absence from our lives.  But we can all be grateful that this extraordinary man - whose biography we begged him to write! - came from Germany to England as a boy and brought his unique and infectious enthusiasm for life with him, which he generously shared around, inspiring all of us to do better. Rest in peace, Peter. You certainly deserve it! And I'll miss you.

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