24 April 2023
‘The Stage’, the weekly
theatre newspaper, has
been run by the Comerford
family for four generations
Francis Maurice (Frank) Comerford (1927-2023), who died in London earlier this year at the age of 95, was the longest-serving leader of the 143-year-old The Stage newspaper and digital platform.
Frank Comerford had graduated with a BSc in physics from Imperial College, London, and was a research scientist in the iron and steel industry when, unexpectedly, he became managing director of the family-owned business on the sudden death of his father, Hugh Comerford, in 1954.
A former editor of The Stage commented: ‘In his mid-20s, he was forced to learn the ways of newspaper publishing and the particular needs of a readership which encompassed performers at a time when he least expected it.’
The Stage has been published by the Comerford family since it was launched in 1880 as The Stage Directory, describing itself as a ‘London and Provincial Theatrical Advertiser’. It was founded, initially as a monthly, by its editor Charles Carson and the business manager Maurice Comerford, Frank Comerford’s grandfather. It has been a weekly publication continuously since 1881.
Sir Laurence Olivier once said: ‘The stage would not be the stage without The Stage.’ The Guardian has described it as ‘the bible of luvvies and board-treaders throughout the land.’ To have survived so long in a changing era is an achievement in itself. But, as the Guardian pointed out, The Stage has a unique claim to distinction: it has been in the same family ownership all that time.
The Stage is a weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880 and includes news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising, mainly directed at those who work in theatre and the performing arts.
The publication was a joint venture involving the business manager Maurice Comerford and the founding editor Charles Lionel Carson, whose real name was Lionel Courtier-Dutton. It operated from offices opposite the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Carson’s wife Emily Courtier Dutton later founded several theatrical charities.
The first edition of The Stage was published under the title The Stage Directory – a London and Provincial Theatrical Advertiser on 1 February 1880 at a cost of 3d and with 12 pages. Publication was monthly until 25 March 1881, when the first weekly edition was produced. At the same time, the name was shortened to The Stage and the publication numbering began again at No 1.
The Stage entered a market crowded with many other theatre titles, including The Era. Undercutting their rivals, Maurice Comerford and Charles Carson dropped the price of the paper to 1d, and soon it became the only remaining title in the field.
Charles Carson remained the editor of The Stage until 1901, when he was succeeded by Maurice Comerford, who was the editor from 1901 to 1904. He was succeeded in turn by Charles Carson’s son Lionel Carson, who assumed the joint role of managing director and editor. When Lionel Carson died in 1937, control of The Stage passed to the Comerford family, and since then the newspaper has remained in the ownership of the Comerford family.
The survival and the successful transition of The Stage owes much to Maurice Comerford’s grandson Frank Comerford, who guided The Stage for 69 years.
As The Stage recalled in his obituary earlier this year, ‘One of his first decisions was whether or not to incorporate coverage of television, the relatively new medium that appeared to pose a threat to live performance. The change of title to The Stage and Television Today in 1959 committed the paper to TV coverage, making it one of the first publications to take television seriously.’
The Stage was relaunched in 1959 as The Stage and Television Today, incorporating a pull-out supplement dedicated to broadcasting news and features. The name and supplement remained until 1995, when broadcasting coverage was re-incorporated into the main paper.
Advertising has long been an integral part of The Stage. John Osborne submitted his script for Look Back in Anger in 1956 in response to an advertisement by the Royal Court Theatre in London.
Dusty Springfield responded to an advertisement for female singers in 1958. Idris Elba got his first acting role in a play after applying to a job ad in the paper. Harold Pinter too got his first job after responding to an advert and Kenneth Branagh landed the lead in The Billy Trilogy in the BBC ‘Play for Today’ series, after it was advertised in the paper.
Sir Michael Caine told Steve Wright in an interview on BBC Radio 2 that at the beginning of his career he applied for acting roles he found in The Stage.
Ricky Tomlinson responded to an ad for United Kingdom, another ‘Play for Today’, in 1981. Sandi Toksvig landed her first television job playing the part of Ethel in No 73 after she answered an ad in The Stage.
Charles Dance landed his first role in a Welsh theatre thanks to The Stage. Olivier Award-winning actor Sharon D Clarke found her first role at Battersea Arts Centre through an audition advert in the paper.
A number of pop groups have recruited all or some of their members through advertising in the newspaper, including the Spice Girls in 1994, Take That, and Steps.
Noël Coward is said to have once said: ‘The moment you have arrived in the profession is when you realise you don’t have to read The Stage.’
Frank Comerford celebrated the paper’s centenary in 1980 by hosting a party at the Savoy Hotel that was attended by industry figures including Trevor Nunn, Ralph Richardson, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth More and David Suchet.
Showcall, which was set up by Frank Comerford in the 1970s, was followed in 1983 by the Showcall Showcase, an opportunity for agents, bookers, producers and performers to get together in person and see what was available.’
Frank Comerford retired s managing director in 1992 and became chairman of the company. He remained a director, along with his five children, until his death. He was succeeded as managing director first by his daughter Catherine Comerford, and then in 2012 by her brother, Hugh Comerford.
By the time Frank Comerford became the company’s chair in 1992, it was clear that he had successfully steered the weekly newspaper through a period of more change both in the theatre and in publishing than there had been in the whole of the previous century.
The newspaper has awarded The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since 1995.
At the age of 96, Simon Blumenfeld was recognised by Guinness World Records in 2004 as the world’s oldest weekly newspaper columnist. His column continued in The Stage until shortly before he died in 2005.
The Stage Awards were launched in 2010. They are given annually and recognise outstanding organisations working in theatre and beyond in many categories.
In 2020, The Stage Media Company acquired the 164-year-old Bookseller, another of Britain’s 20 oldest business and professional media brands.
Frank Comerford never really retired. He attended The Stage Awards, as usual, earlier this year, and remained a director until his death earlier this year. He had led The Stage for almost half of its life as the world’s longest-surviving weekly for the theatrical profession.
A lifelong Catholic, Frank Comerford was vice-president of the Catholic Stage Guild, now the Catholic Association of Performing Arts. Other theatrical organisations he supported included the Association of British Theatre Technicians.
Frank Comerford was born on 12 August 1927, and died on 24 February 2023, aged 95. Both his first wife Monica and his second wife Mary predeceased him. He was survived by his five children, Catherine, Margaret, Hugh, John and Mary, and nine grandchildren.
His son, Hugh Michael Comerford, who practised as a criminal barrister for ten years, has been the managing director since 2012, having succeeded sister, Catherine Comerford, who now chairs the board. Hugh Comerford is the great-grandson of the co-founder Maurice Comerford.
When she was managing director, Catherine Comerford said, ‘I find it strange to think that throughout that time four generations of my family have been involved in it, two of which I never knew,’ she has said.
The five present directors are: Hugh Michael Comerford, Catherine Mary Comerford, John Wilfrid Francis Comerford, Mary Elizabeth (Comerford) Robinson, and Margaret Mary Comerford.
Although The Stage remains a weekly newspaper, its continuing success may be due to the growth of online audiences and live events. The Stage has recently evolved into a true, multimedia brand with a website, mobile app, podcast, awards, email job alert, online archive, and a dating site all part of the portfolio. Today, The Stage has a digital and paid readership (including pass-on) of around 30,000.
We are still in the season of Easter, and because Saint George’s Day fell on the Third Sunday of Easter yesterday (23 April 2023), the calendar of the Church of England transfers the commemoration of Saint George, Martyr and Patron of England, today (24 April 2023).
I am hoping to visit Lichfield later today, to see a new exhibition in the Cathedral. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.
Following our recent visit to Prague, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a church in Prague;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Saint Nicholas Church, Old Town Square, Prague:
As I strolled around the Old Town of Prague earlier this month [12-14 April 2023] week, I visited the Church of Saint Nicholas, on the corner of the Old Town Square, Pařížská Street and Franz Kafka Square. Its beautiful green baroque towers and dome can be seen throughout the old town centre.
This monumental church was built in 1732-1735 to designs by Kilián Ignaz Dientzenhofer, on the site of an earlier 13th century Gothic church, also dedicated to Saint Nicholas.
The was the parish church of the Old Town until the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn on the opposite side of the square was completed in the 14th century.
After the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, the church became part of a Benedictine monastery. The early mediaeval church was destroyed by fire, and the present church was completed in 1735, and its white façade decorated with statues by Antonin Braun.
But just a half century after the church was completed, the Emperor Joseph II closed all monasteries not engaged in socially useful activities in 1781, the church was stripped bare and the interior decorations were sold off.
The empty building was used as a granary for a while and then as a registry archive. It returned to its original purpose as a church in 1871 when it was used by the Russian Orthodox Church. During this Orthodox era, the splendid crystal crown chandelier, made in the Harrachov glass works in northern Bohemia, was donated to the church by the Russian Tsar.
The 20th century brought new decorations with neo-baroque style paintings, statues, and a life-size sculpture of Saint Nicholas was placed in the outside niche of the church.
The Czechoslovak Hussite Church was founded here in 1920, reviving the legacy of the tradition of the reformer Jan Hus. Since then, this has been the main church of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church and its Prague Diocese, and so it is often known as Saint Nicholas Cathedral.
The Czechoslovak Hussite Church began when a group of priests in former Czechoslovakia separated from the Roman Catholic Church after World War I. The church could be described as neo-Hussite, and contains Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and national elements. It claims to have revived the traditions of to the Hussite reformers and acknowledges Jan Hus as its predecessor.
During the Prague uprising in 1945, the church was used by the Czech partisans as a hidden site for Radio Prague after the main radio building was attacked by the Waffen-SS.
John 15: 18-21 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.’
The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Anglican Chaplain in Warsaw, Poland, the Revd David Brown, who reflected on peace in the light of today’s International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace.
The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (24 April, 2023, Saint George; United Nations International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace):
Let us pray for peace in the world. May all in positions of power actively pursue justice and peace and protect the lives of those who live in danger of war and conflict.
God of hosts,
who so kindled the flame of love
in the heart of your servant George
that he bore witness to the risen Lord
by his life and by his death:
give us the same faith and power of love
that we who rejoice in his triumphs
may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened
by the blood of your martyr George:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org