A notable alumnus of the Drama Department, Bob Carlton, has died at the age of 67 following a short illness. Bob was an acclaimed theatre writer and director who will be remembered as the writer of the Olivier award-winning Return to the Forbidden Planet Inspired by the 1956 science-fiction film classic Forbidden Planet (itself a reworking of Shakespeare’s The Tempest), the show was a huge international success, enjoyed two runs in the West End and pioneered the jukebox musical. It was the purest form of what Carlton called “populist theatre”. He directed the productions in Australia, Japan and the United States.
Bob’s career began at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, as the Assistant Stage Manager. Before coming to the University in 1971, he was Deputy Stage Manager at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. He did a great deal of work while at Hull, including a well-remembered production of Joe Orton’s The Ruffian on the Stair in 1974, his year of graduation, with Jonathan Kydd and Pat Monks.
After Hull, his career was rich and varied. He was Associate Director of the Duke’s Playhouse in Lancaster and then held the same position at the Theatre Royal in York. He was Artistic Director of the London Bubble Theatre Company from 1979 until 1984, during which time he created Return to the Forbidden Planet.
Bob then spent several years working in television and his credits include directing 40 episodes of Brookside over two-and-a-half years and its 1987 spin-off Damon and Debbie. He was also engaged as a director on Emmerdale Farm, as it was then known, Streetwise, and an episode of Porterhouse Blue (1987).
From 1997 to 2014, he was artistic director of the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch. In addition, he freelanced as a director at Liverpool Everyman, Oxford Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre, Watford Palace Theatre, Live Theatre, Newcastle, Newcastle Playhouse, Edinburgh Fringe and Birmingham Rep.
The Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch was no more than surviving before Bob tripled its average audience in his first three years there and saw it readmitted to Arts Council England’s national portfolio. In 1998, he persuaded the local borough council to clear the venue’s deficit of £371,000 and relaunch it as a producing house with its own touring company, Cut to the Chase, which claimed to be the first to entirely comprise “actor-musicians”.
His regular work at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia led to him being twice nominated for a Barrymore award for his productions of the Heather Brothers’ Restoration musical, Lust (which he also directed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1993) and Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers.
Bob is survived by his second wife, Sally Carpenter, and their step-son, his former wife, the actor Caroline Wildi, and their daughter.