Time to Remember: London’s original TKTS

July sees the 40th anniversary of the Official London Discounted Ticket Booth – TKTS. In its time it has become a London landmark for theatregoers looking for a last-minute bargain. But did you know that there was a London TKTS before the one in Leicester Square?

Photo courtesy Society of London Theatre website.

In this look into the archives, my friend and colleague ANTHONY FIELD writes about his time as the pioneering Finance Director of the Arts Council (1957-1984) – and his first experiment with reduced price tickets – in a caravan in Covent Garden! This article dates from June 2010

As long ago as 1976 the Arts Council of Great Britain was concerned to bring together the commercial and subsidised theatre [NOTE: Something that Anthony himself had been working on since 1956!]. This concern manifested itself in the launching of the Theatre Investment Fund which was funded by £100,000 from the Arts Council and £150,000 raised from private sources by Lord Goodman, then the Arts Council’s chair.

The 1976/77 Arts Council Annual Report records that I launched a trial run of TKTS in London modelled on the scheme which had been running successfully in New York since 1973. The Times Square model was based on unsold tickets on the day of performance being made available at one-half of the face value plus a nominal sales charge. In 1975/76 the Times Square booth made a profit of $160,000 which was ploughed back into commercial producing managements on Broadway.

TKTS Times Square, New York, 1973

I proposed a similar scheme at a meeting of the Society of West End Theatre (SWET) and it was thrown out. Undeterred, I then borrowed a caravan from the London Tourist Board and placed it on a bomb site in Covent Garden and persuaded the Arts Council to finance a trial run. As the Arts Council’s Finance Director, this was considered to be one of my “capers”.

However, led by Sir Peter Saunders, then the SWET Chairman, the West End theatre managements did not want to encourage the sale of cheap tickets and certainly did not want to admit that any shows were not selling out.

The TKTS scheme was devised so that theatregoers could queue each day for any available tickets without having to visit each of the many theatres throughout London. However, as only the few managements who were not SWET members sent us tickets, we were forced to close down the trial run after three months. The Arts Council’s 32nd Annual Report wrote “the expertise is now there should SWET ever choose to interest itself in the existence of such a scheme”.

Luckily, after several years SWET did come to realise how useful a TKTS scheme could be and launched it successfully in Leicester Square where it is the official channel for unsold tickets – unlike the many unofficial tickets agencies now cluttering the West End.


With thanks to the Estate of Anthony Field for permission to publish this article.


AFTERWORD The recent news that the TKTS box office In Leicester Square is to close “for the foreseeable future” is a sad ending of a chapter in the life of a venue which has become a much-loved London landmark; it is horribly sad that this should occur on its 40th anniversary. It had been selling 400,000 theatre tickets a year – a very significant contribution to the West End. I sincerely hope that it will soon rise again to continue to serve London’s theatregoers for many years to come.


Watch Now: The National Theatre’s LES BLANCS

You can soon watch the National Theatre’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s LES BLANCS, available now until 7pm BST on Thursday July 9th.

An African country teeters on the edge of civil war. A society prepares to drive out its colonial present and claim an independent future. Tshembe, returned home from England for his father’s funeral, finds himself in the eye of the storm.

A brave, illuminating and powerful work that confronts the hope and tragedy of revolution. LES BLANCS was filmed for the National Theatre Archive in 2016.

The show marked the National Theatre debut of the multi-award-winning director Yaël Farber, whose productions include The Crucible (Old Vic) and the internationally acclaimed Mies Julie and Nirbhaya. This production is adapted by Robert Nemiroff and the restored text directed by Joi Gresham.

Presented in memory of Nofenishala Mvotyo, who played friction drum (masengwana) in LES BLANCS and was a preserver of the Xhosa culture, as well as an ambassador of the split-toned, throat deep sounds that normally echo in the mountains of Ngqoko.

Age guidance is 15+ This play is about imperialism, racism, and colonialism and contains scenes of racially motivated violence, that some people may find distressing.

The running time is 2 hours 30 minutes with a very short interval. The show is subtitled.

GUIDANCE: The BBFC rating is 12A with infrequent strong language.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the National Theatre – or you can text NTATHOME 10 to 70085 to donate £10 or NTATHOME 20 to donate £20 – to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed.

Watch LES BLANCS here


New York Lincoln Center’s FALSETTOS (SingALong version)

Directed for the stage by James Lapine, FALSETTOS centers on the lives of an eclectic, modern family in a hilarious and poignant story of love in its many facets. The production stars Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Andrew Rannells, and Brandon Uranowitz, all of whom received Tony Award nominations for their respective performances. Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, and Betsy Wolfe round out the talented cast.

This production was filmed live at the Walter Kerr Theatre in January 2017 for Live From Lincoln Center.

Available In the UK from 1am on Friday, June 26th (in the US, from Thursday 25 June at 8pm ET) and then available on demand for two days (until UK Sunday 28th at 1am – US Saturday 27th at 8pm)

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the Lincoln Center to enable it to reopen after this crisis has passed.

You can also donate to Broadway Cares’ COVID-19 efforts here

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Bristol Old Vic’s THE GRINNING MAN

A recording of the original Bristol version of hit musical The Grinning Man is now available online to watch for free for a week.

A strange new act has arrived at the fairground. Who is Grinpayne and how did he get his hideous smile? Helped by an old man, a lone wolf and a blind girl, his story must be told.

The epic tale of an abandoned child with a terrible secret. A disfigured youth who is desperate to hide and a sightless girl who longs to be discovered. Let the darkness seduce you.

Based on The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo and brought to life by director Tom Morris (Touching the Void) and writer Carl Grose (Dead Dog in a Suitcase), don’t miss this digital revival, captured during its original Bristol run by TVPP, and featuring a sensational original score by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler and puppetry from Gyre & Gimble – the original puppeteers of War Horse!

First seen at the Bristol Old Vic as part of its 250th anniversary season, the show then transferred to the West End late in 2017 to critical and audience success.

GUIDANCE: Suitable for ages 12+ Contains some sexual references and swearing.

The show lasts approximately two hours. The show is available until Friday 3rd July at 6pm.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to Bristol Old Vic to enable them to keep operating after this crisis has passed.

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The Bridge Theatre’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

You can now watch the Bridge Theatre’s magical and immersive production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, available now until 7pm BST on Thursday July 2nd.

‘Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream.’

Gwendoline Christie, Oliver Chris, David Moorst and Hammed Animashaun lead the cast as Titania, Oberon, Puck and Bottom, in Shakespeare’s most famous romantic comedy.

A feuding fairy King and Queen cross paths with four runaway lovers and a troupe of actors trying to rehearse a play. As their dispute grows, the magical royal couple meddle with mortal lives in the forest, to hilarious, but dark, consequences.

The running time is 2 hours 40 minutes with a very short interval.

GUIDANCE: The BBFC rating is 12A with infrequent strong language.

Although this production is free to watch, please strongly consider making a donation to the National Theatre – or you can text NTATHOME 10 to 70085 to donate £10 or NTATHOME 20 to donate £20 – to enable it to keep its doors open after this crisis has passed.

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