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Hugh S Williams

British playwright

A playwright whose work was performed for President Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) and Emperor Haile Selassie (Ethiopia), Williams wrote on the subject of reconciliation, and inspired the African conservationists that surrounded him to reconcile and reunite the relationship between animals and people.

His plays negotiated the space between Christianity and secularism, life and death, the human and the animal. A close friend of Agnes Leakey - aunt of Kenyan conservationist Richard - Williams was embedded in the world of wildlife protection for much of his life, and surrounded by those who sought to bring the reconciliation of his plays into the world beyond the text, and use it to reconcile the African ecosystem with its human neighbours.

Williams was Artistic Director of the Westminster Theatre from 1975 to 1990, and became renowned for his contemporary Christian dramas which were redemptive and often profoundly moving. His most successful play was, unexpectedly, Poor Man, Rich Man, a modern take on the life of St Francis of Assisi. Williams wrote it as a one-man show for the French actor and mime artist Michel Orphelin. First performed at the Edinburgh fringe festival in 1979, it was staged in 12 countries over the following 11 years, touring across Europe, Canada, the USA and the Philippines. Williams, from a non-conformist background, researched the life of St Francis in the convent of the Capuchin monks in Rome and in Assisi itself.

In the 1960s, Williams became assistant stage manager at the Westminster Theatre, which was run by MRA. Alan Thornhill, an Oxford don and ordained Anglican priest, was one of the Westminster’s playwrights and took Williams under his wing. 'He was old enough to be my father,' Williams commented. From 1969 to 1971, Williams and his wife toured with the 60-strong troupe of the musical production Anything to Declare? The show travelled around European countries, India, the Far East and Australasia.

In 1988 Williams became the Chair of Westminster Productions Ltd, the company that mounted the plays at the Westminster. MRA, faced with rising costs, eventually decided to sell the theatre. Williams was disappointed that the Christian denominations didn’t combine to take over the theatre.

He and his wife, Dell, retired to Yalding in Kent in 1992, where they became a popular couple running amateur drama seasons of open air Shakespeare and Drawing Room Drama. After Dell’s death in 2009, he married Nicky Grainger in 2011.

From the obituary by Michael Smith and Daisy Fletcher, first published on the website of The Independent, 19 February 2016.


Birth year
Death year
United Kingdom
Primary country of residence
United Kingdom