Alan Durband was born in the Dingle in 1927, the only son of shipwright Joseph Durband and his wife Edith (née Ashcroft). Remarkably, considering the odds against a working class child in the 1940’s, he attained a degree in English from Cambridge University and returned to Liverpool to pursue an outstanding career in education and to make wholly exceptional contribution to the cultural life of the city.
Durband’s mother had experienced the lows of poverty after her family’s business failed, and she was determined that her son should have the best possible opportunity to succeed in life. She was prepared to make sacrifices to ensure that he could attend grammar school, but this proved unnecessary when he won a scholarship to attend the Liverpool Institute. He secured a place at Downing College, Cambridge to read English but had to defer his attendance to undertake National Service. Durband was a committed pacifist and refused to serve in the armed forces, instead spending some 18 months as a ‘Bevin Boy’ working in the coalmines. It was during his time in the mines that he acquired the nickname ‘Dusty’ which would stick with him for the rest of his life.
After university he returned to teach English at the Liverpool Institute. He would stay there until 1962 when he moved to C F Mott College as Head of English. There are many accounts of Durband’s inspirational teaching ability, the most famous attestation coming from pupil Paul McCartney, who ascribed to Durband the origins of his facility with lyrics. On one occasion he related the words of Let It Be to the insights which Durban gave him to the poetry of Shakespeare.
His contribution to the study of English was felt beyond the classroom in the considerable body of Workshop series, followed up by a work for older students Contemporary English. He published plays in the series New Directions, often including early works by playwrights who would become household names. These, and the Playbill, Prompt and Wordplay series were extensively used in schools across the country and in the USA. The steady flow of royalties these generated helped to enjoy a somewhat higher standard of living than the average grammar school teacher.
His achievements as an educator alone are a significant legacy to the city of his birth but in 1964 he was instrumental in the beginnings of a hugely important cultural fount for the city. In that year he jointly founded the Everyman Theatre and would remain a staunch supporter in a variety of roles for the next 30 years. The actors and writers who owe the Everyman and Alan Durband thanks for support in their early days is considerable. In 1997 one of those, writer Willy Russell, organised an event at the theatre to unveil a plaque to Durband which was attended by such notables as Pete Postlethwaite and Brian Jacques. Amongst the many who sent messages was Paul McCartney, citing Durband as “the most important teacher of my school years”. In addition to the plaque he is remembered further along Hope Street in John King’s 1998 sculpture A Case History in which two of the luggage labels bear Durband’s name. His old classroom in what is now the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts is now named the Alan Durband Room.
He married Audrey Atherton in 1952 and from the mid-fifties onwards they lived in Woolton at 24 Hillside Drive L25. In his early years his family moved frequently around the south end of the city, living in Drysdale Street L8 at the time of his birth then 107 Cockburn Street L8 (1929-30) 14 Draycott Street L8 (1930-31) 38 Draycott Street L8 (1932-33), 107 Islington L3 (1936-39) and 12 Esher Road L6 (1946 until his marriage).
In his later years Alan Durband spent his winters at the small Spanish village of Finestrat, near Benidorm, where he continued to write, producing his Shakespeare Made Easy books. He had suffered heart complaints for some years and died in Spain in 1993 aged 66.
A 1960s view of Drysdale Street in Toxteth, the Durband home at the time of Alan's birth
The two houses in Draycott Street L8 occupied by the Durband family in the early 1930s. (Left No.14, Right No.38)
Alan Durband's Kensington home from c.1945 until his marriage in the 1950s
Alan Durband's home from his marriage in the mid-1950s until his death in 1994.
The work in Hope Street by John King 'A Case History'. The picture on the right shows the two cases with Alan Durband luggage labels.
© Liverpool Footprints