Brian Friel got it right when he said of Tyrone Guthrie ‘He’s a marvellous, marvellous man. He’s the greatest. A great man in every way. Not a great man of the theatre but a great man without qualification’.
Sir William Tyrone Guthrie 1900-1971 was a celebrated Tony Award-winning theatrical director who was instrumental in founding the Stratford Festival of Canada and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Guthrie was a great-grandson of the 19th century Irish actor Tyrone Power. His grandmother Martha was daughter of Dr. John Moorhead of Annaghmakerrig House, County Monaghan. He was also a cousin of the Hollywood actor Tyrone Power.
After receiving a degree in history at Oxford, where he was active in student theatre, and worked for a season at the newly-established Oxford Playhouse, Guthrie joined the BBC and began to produce plays for radio where he became one of the first writers to create plays designed for radio performance.
From 1936–1945 he was director of the Shakespeare Repertory Company and in the 1940s he began to direct operas to critical acclaim. Intrigued with the idea of starting a Shakespeare theatre in a remote Canadian location, in Stratford, Ontario he enlisted Alec Guinness to star in the inaugural production of Richard III. He remained as Artistic Director for three seasons, and his work at Stratford had a strong influence in the development of Canadian theatre. In 1963, he founded the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis Minnesota.
Peter Hall wrote of Guthrie that "Among the great originators in British Theatre...Guthrie was a towering figure in every sense. He blazed a trail for the subsidised theatre of the sixties. He showed how to run a company and administer a theatre. And he was a brilliant and at times great director..."
He was an honorary Doctor of Literature of St. Andrew’s, and also, a distinction he greatly prized, Chancellor of The Queen’s University, Belfast.
He was knighted in 1961, and died at home a decade later at Annaghmakerrig, aged 70. He was survived by his wife Judith who died the following year. In his Will we see the genesis of the TGC as we know it today.