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Great Eccentrics

… and the eccentricities of the Great


Theatre Royal Winchester, 17th July 2005, as part of the 2005 Winchester Festival

Theatre Royal Winchester, 13th July 2008 as part of the 2008 Winchester Festival


‘The characters featured in tonight’s entertainment might have been surprised by the company they are keeping, but it is doubtful that any of them would have been at all discomposed. The writers range from Sheridan and Shaw to Wilde and Waugh; actors from Barrymore and Bernhardt to Hermione Gingold and Ralph Richardson; musicians from Thomas Beecham to Madonna; not forgetting such pillars of the establishment as Wellington, Gladstone and Churchill; and many others whose names may have since escaped into oblivion, but whose deeds qualify them to be numbered amongst the Great Eccentrics of history.’ (taken from programme)

 Performed by 

Judi Dench

Michael Pennington

John Miller 

Devised and directed by John Miller


Producer’s Note 

Two years ago Judi Dench entranced the Festival audience in ‘Fond and Familiar’, which John Moffatt had originally devised at her request as an occasional recital to be performed with her husband Michael Williams. Afterwards she said to me, “John, you should write a new show for me on ‘Great Eccentrics’.” 

This felt more like a Royal command than a request, but it was one I was more than happy to obey. I set about ransacking the archives and libraries for stories on eccentrics, and one soon led to another, some of them famous, others which were previously unknown to me. 

I discovered that they came from all times and all walks of life, as well as all parts of the country. My old friend John Julius Norwich pointed me in a number of profitable directions, as did that other knowledgeable friend and cultural historian, Richard Hoggart. The eccentric rhythms of the American poet Ogden Nash provided a particularly rich source of material, and as I spread the net wider I captured some prime examples of very peculiar behaviour amongst the ranks of those whom we would normally regard as great rather than eccentric (hence the sub-title of this show). 

The resultant script required three voices, so we asked Michael Pennington to join us, with whom both Judi and I have worked very happily with on several previous occasions. Many of you will remember his brilliant performances at the Winchester Festival in ‘The Norfolk Connection’ in 1999, and in his own one-man show ‘Anton Chekhov’ in 2003. 

It was always my hope that ‘Great Eccentrics’ should receive its very first performance at Winchester, so I am delighted that these two distinguished actors who are in such demand happened to have this gap in their schedules. 

The end of the Festival may be nigh, but we leave you with this gift of laughter as a parting present. 

John Miller

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