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 André van Gyseghem

  was born on 18 August 1906 in Eltham, Kent, to Georges Emil van Gyseghem and his wife Minnie Evison (née Offord).  André went to school in Greenwich before studying drama at RADA. Although working for a time in music publishing, he made his stage debut in Bognor in September 1927, followed by a period with Hull Repertory Theatre. He was at various minor London theatres for the next four or five years. His career as director began in 1930 and before long he was known as a producer of left-wing plays at the Embassy Theatre in Hampstead.

 

He had became a member of the Communist Party in the very early 1930s, and directed a London staging of `All God's Chillun Got Wings’, in March 1933, with Paul Robeson and Flora Robson, as a benefit for German Communist refugees from Nazism. He then co-founded a “Left Theatre”, a professional left production group, with Barbara Nixon in December 1933.

 

Between 1933 and 1935 he made several trips to the Soviet Union, including a year's work at a theatre in Moscow. He attributed much of his own acting expertise to the education he received there.

 

He became associated with the Party’s attempts to draw professionals in the arts and entertainments business into contact with the Workers’ Theatre Movement.  Through both the `Red Radio’ and `Rebel Players’ agit-prop groups, Van Gyseghem met the Workers’ Theatre Movement central committee in 1933, shortly after returning from Moscow. He accompanied the Workers Theatre Movement teams on their trip to the 1933 Moscow Workers Olympiad, where British amateurism was queried. This area of work culminated in the founding of Unity Theatre in 1936, of which van Gyseghem became President.

 

With Montagu Slater and Alan Bush (see separate entries), he was a prime mover in mounting the mass arena pageants of the 1930s, such as the Pageant of Labour at Crystal Palace in 1934,a Pageant of Co-operation at Wembley in 1938, and a Festival of Music for the People staged at the Albert Hall.

As well as directing, he continued to act (sometimes as himself!). His first appearance on television was as early as 1939 and he was in several cinema films over the next decade.

 

From around 1951, he appeared in over 50 British television dramas and was in the 1960s cult classic television series The Prisoner.

 

Van Gyseghem died on the 13th October 1979 in London.