Partner Robert Camac

Queer Places:
The Pheasantry Bramshill Park Bramshill Hook Hampshire RG27 0JN

Michael Northen (May 12, 1921 - March 18, 2001) was a lighting designer. He was the first person in Britain to be credited as a theatre lighting designer. In 1952, he worked on John Gielgud's production of King Lear, at Stratford. The painted scenery of the time required his sensitive approach, and he knew how to make that scenery look beautiful... he literally painted with light and understood the way it could connect directly with an audience's emotions.

He collaborated with some of the most remarkable designers and directors of his day, including Peter Brook, Sophie Fedorovitch, John Gielgud, Tyrone Guthrie, Robert Helpmann, Tanya Moiseiwitsch and John Piper.

He worked on the world premiers of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, Gloriana, and The Turn Of The Screw, numerous Stratford and Glyndebourne seasons, countless West End plays and musicals, a son et lumiere following the investiture of the Prince of Wales, and Noel Coward's 70th birthday gala.

Northen was born in London and educated at Canford school, Dorset. In 1938, the stage-struck youngster was apprenticed as stage manager to the Q-Theatre, at Kew Bridge, for £100... a sizeable investment on the part of his parents, but one that reaped great returns.

He developed a model theatre in his studio at Cheyne Row, Chelsea, where he was able to mock up productions, from the smallest stage to that of the Royal Opera House, and could even light them with an astonishing degree of accuracy.

Northen was that wonderful mix of a charming man, an innocent enthusiast and a pioneer. He helped to create the role of the modern lighting designer, and his influence is still felt in the profession. When he, and a handful of others, decided to meet for lunch at Rules restuarant once a month... telling their stories of veteran switchboards, recalcitrant lighting equipment and elderly chief electricians... it was the begining of the Association of Lighting Designers and the Society of British Theatre Designers.

Northen was chairman and president of the 500-strong association until his death in 2001 when he was awarded an MBE for services to the theatre. It was typical of his generosity that he chose to mark the occasion by funding a scholarship for a young trainee lighting designer. His 1997 autobiography is called "Northen Lights."

He is survived by his partner of 52 years, Robert Camac.

BACK TO HOME PAGE


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2001/apr/28/guardianobituaries1