Peter Plouviez FRSA, 30th July 1931 - 5th October 2017
Attended Monoux 1943 - 1950
The son of a Post Office official of French descent, Peter William Plouviez was born on July 30 1931 at Leytonstone, East London, and educated at Sir George Monoux grammar school, Walthamstow, and Hastings grammar school. After National Service with the Royal Sussex Regiment, he started work with the Prudential insurance company before becoming Greater London organiser of the National Union of Bank Employees.
He joined the British Actors’ Equity Association in 1960, becoming general secretary in 1974. As union leader he merged it with the Variety Artistes’ Federation and forged closer ties with American Equity and the Screen Actors Guild in the United States. Under his leadership, membership of the union grew from 10,000 to 46,000, although about 80 per cent were out of work at any given time.
Plouviez retired in 1991, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts the following year.
He served as a Labour councillor in St Pancras between 1962 and 1965, and stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as a Labour candidate against the Conservative Quintin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) at the St Marylebone by-election of 1963. In the 1970s he served as national treasurer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. During his time as Equity secretary he was also vice-chairman of the Confederation of Entertainment Unions and vice-president of the International Federation of Actors (1989-92).
Following a breakdown in negotiations with provincial theatres in 1979, Plouviez prepared Equity for its first national strike since the union’s formation in 1932. Although this was averted, three years later Equity voted to boycott television commercials on the newly launched Channel 4, which argued that since they had fewer viewers than the main networks, they should pay actors in their commercials less. For six months, this resulted in adverts being hosted by company reps in a suit, or no commercials at all.
By the late 1980s Equity was locked in a battle with Mrs Thatcher’s government, which had determined to outlaw the “closed shop” inside an entertainment industry which (as Plouviez regularly pointed out) had too many actors and actresses chasing too few parts. In 1989 an independent survey commissioned by Equity found that most were living on the poverty line. While a handful of big names earned spectacular salaries of up to £700,000, more than half the union’s members earned less than £5,000 a year, figures that struck Plouviez as “stark”.
He found himself at the centre of several controversies, not least in 1986 when Michael Lush, an unemployed hod-carrier, fell 70ft to his death while rehearsing a stunt for Noel Edmonds’s Late Late Breakfast Show on BBC Television. “I know you could argue that the public quite like seeing people take real risks,” declared Plouviez, whose members included professional stuntmen, “and if they are willing to, why not let them? But the Romans quite liked seeing people thrown to lions and surely we wouldn’t expect to see that again, despite the ratings.”
In another row in 1990, Equity ruled that the role of God in a West End production of the Biblical musical The Children of Eden could be portrayed on stage by a black American after the producers failed to find a British actor for the role. Equity had asked them to prove they had tried to find a British actor before approving the choice of the American Ken Page.
“British Equity welcomes talented foreign artists working in our country,” declared Plouviez, “even when they are required to play such an obvious British part as God”.
He dismissed speculation that the wrangle was a tit-for-tat dispute with American Equity over the casting of the British actor Jonathan Pryce as a Eurasian pimp in a Broadway production of the hit musical Miss Saigon. Although American Equity banned Pryce from playing the male lead, saying it should go to an Asian, it relented after the British producer Cameron Mackintosh cancelled the run, and in the event the show went ahead.
Plouviez was one of the architects of the subsequent one-for-one talent waiver agreement between British and American Equity.
In retirement he chaired what is now the Equity Charitable Trust until 2006. When it moved to new premises in Hatton Place, EC1, the building was renamed Plouviez House after him.
Peter Plouviez’s first marriage, to Nairne Cardew in 1957, was dissolved. In 1978 he married, secondly, Alison MacRae, who survives him with two daughters from his first marriage.