Living Archive's debt to Geoff Cooksey (1925-2012)

Stantonbury Campus Director

By Marion Hill

Dance in the City, Living Archive production at Stantonbury Theatre, 1997
Dance in the City, Living Archive production at Stantonbury Theatre, 1997

Geoff’s support of Milton Keynes’ Community Documentary Musical Dramas

Milton Keynes’ first community documentary musical drama, All Change, was about the impact on local lives of the coming of the railway to the Milton Keynes area in the mid-19th century. It was produced by Roy Nevitt, Director of Stantonbury Campus Drama, and first performed in 1976 (two years after the Campus opened) in the purpose-built Stantonbury Theatre which Geoff insisted should be an integral part of students’ lives on Campus. Teachers, parents, students and neighbours made up the cast; and teachers J Cunningham, Ruth Goldberg, Rib Davis and Marion Hill joined with Paul Clark – then a Physics don at the OU – and were among those who performed the first creations of original music for the play, mostly written by J, Paul and Rib. The play was later revived in 1988 and again in 1999 when it was the first drama to be staged in the newly opened Milton Keynes Theatre. ‘Geoff was so keen on All Change that, until the last month of his life, he was trying to set up a meeting for us with the residents of Lovatfields Retirement Village about the making of All Change and to show the Look East video which featured this.’ (Roy and Maggie Nevitt).

The second community documentary musical drama was Your Loving Brother Albert, based on the letters home written by a New Bradwell lad who lied about his age to join the Great War and was killed a week before his 17th birthday. Geoff played the piano – a considerable skill of his – when the play was first produced in 1978 in the Campus Drama Studio. It was revived at Stantonbury Theatre in 1984 and at Madcap in 1998, and more recently again at Madcap in November 2011 for a visiting party of Belgians – when it was produced by Caz Tricks, LA Board Member and former Stantonbury student.

Since those beginnings, hundreds, probably thousands, of local people have been involved in performances celebrating the lives and experiences of both ‘natives’ and ‘settlers’ of the new city area. People of all ages and backgrounds have been actively involved in all stages of the work – interviewing, researching, writing, performing, creating songs and music, sewing textiles, making costumes and stage props, organising exhibitions and editing books.

Subsequent large-scale community dramas included Days of Pride (1981 and 1993), based on the reminiscences of local man Hawtin Mundy, followed by nine others: Sheltered Lives (1983) – Wolverton between the wars; Nellie (1984) – life on the home front during the Great War; The Jovial Priest (1986) – the idiosyncratic life of a New Bradwell cleric; Worker By Name (1992) – the life and times of Tom Worker in Stony Stratford; The Rockets (1993) – about a local rock ‘n’ roll group who found fame in the 1950s; The Fabric of Milton Keynes (1994) – a collaboration of many community groups across MK borough who created mixed media celebrations of their communities – dance, music, tapestries – all broadcast live on BBC Three Counties radio; The Works (1994) – a radio programme of reminiscence and songs based on the experiences of being at Wolverton Works; Bigger Brighter Better (1996) about post-war Bletchley; and Milton Keynes the Musical (2000). Since then, the Living Archive Band has been performing miniature versions of the shows to local groups and at festivals – reminiscences interspersed with the original songs – on average, twice a year.

Geoff’s early support for the Living Archive Project

Whilst Roy Nevitt worked with colleagues and members of his community drama group to devise and direct these documentary plays and documentary-based school curriculum materials, Roger Kitchen was a community worker with Milton Keynes Development Corporation, collecting the oral reminiscences of people whose lives were being changed by the influx of newcomers to the places where they lived. These reminiscences were transformed into radio documentaries and, by means of a community publishing venture, into books. Roy and Roger’s partnership led to the foundation of the Living Archive Project in 1984 …… and Geoff gave them their first office!

Throughout the three decades since then, with Roger as its first General Manager, Living Archive has produced many books of local reminiscence, many photographic and other exhibitions, as well as CD-ROMs, radio and video documentaries, sculpture and textile projects.

None of this would have happened without Geoff’s direct support and enthusiasm from the beginning.

Do you have any film of Geoff or early Stantonbury for the Archive?

Comments about this page

  • Geoff interviewed me for my first teaching post and our encounter was so unexpected that it remains the only interview I remember clearly.

    I also had the privilege of working on the living archive project interviewing survivors at Bletchley Park. Another highlight was working with Roy Nevitt who recruited me to suspend angels from giant rotating scaffolds in a performance of the mystery plays.

    Like many of my experiences at Stantonbury these times were to shape the rest of my career and I hope that I managed to propagate, in my own way, ripples of Geoff’s brilliance.

    By Steven Siddell (26/01/2020)

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