Theatre rights to Damned United go to Red Ladder

It was 44 days that became infamous in the history of Leeds United Football Club.
SHOWING SUPPORT Author David Peace.SHOWING SUPPORT Author David Peace.
SHOWING SUPPORT Author David Peace.

And now the story of Brian Clough’s managerial stint at Elland Road is to become the saviour of a Yorkshire theatre company - thanks to the generosity of Batley-educated author David Peace.

He has sold the theatre rights to his critically-acclaimed Leeds United novel The Damned Utd to Red Ladder, which lost 100 per cent of its Arts Council funding in July, for a nominal fee of just £3.68. The fee, “the minimum amount possible,” represents the 368 pages of the book, and allows the company to produce and tour a play that could it afloat.

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Red Ladder, which was founded in London in 1968 but moved to Leeds in the 1970s, where it is still based, is now trying to raise the money to pay for the book to be adapted and the play to be produced.

Ossett-born Mr Peace, who also penned The Red Riding quartet, released The Damned Utd in 2006, based on Brian Clough’s fateful spell as manager at Leeds United in 1974. In 2009 it was turned into a film, with Michael Sheen playing Clough. Mr Peace, who attended Batley Grammar School and Wakefield College, moved to Tokyo, Japan, in 1994 and returned to the UK for two years in 2009, when he was first connected with Red Ladder, joining a writers’ group.

Mr Peace said the “inspiration and support” he received from Red Ladder at the time, and the “enthusiasm and interest” of artistic director Rod Dixon and producer Chris Lloyd showed in his work was behind his donation. He added: “They were so helpful and inspiring when I was writing Red or Dead - offering the theatrical rights for The Damned United for the minimum amount possible was the very least I could do to try, even in a such a small way, to help ‘Save Red Ladder.”

Red Ladder’s current funding runs out in July, and the company only receives one regular annual grant - £5,000 from Leeds Council. The Save Red Ladder campaign, launched after the Arts Council cut funding, aimed to raise £80,000 to fund a touring production in 2015. More than £12,000 has already been raised. It is only now they have been given the rights that they know what this production will be - The Damned Utd.

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The campaign has received support from the likes of Monty Python director Terry Jones, comedian Phill Jupitus and The Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton, but Mr Peace’s donation is perhaps the most high profile - and valuable - so far.

Mr Dixon said rights to a book like The Damned Utd would be worth “in the tens of thousands.

“It’s a massive gesture for us,” he said. “David is an incredibly generous man. Now we have to find the money to make the work.”

As well as performances in Leeds, Mr Dixon hopes to take the play to Nottingham and Derby, where Brian Clough is still a revered household name.

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“The book divides opinion - but in Nottingham you still get people naming their dogs Cloughie,” he said. “Whatever we do with the script, it will be completely different to the film - a theatrical version, and true to what David imagined with the book.”

Mr Dixon already has a wish-list of actors he can imagine stepping into the shoes of Ol’ Big Head. “We would love to have a big name actor play Cloughie,” Mr Dixon said. “David Peace’s book could attract the very best. It would be great to have a Yorkhire, or even a Leeds, actor in the main role.”

The first £10 of any donation to Save Red Ladder will be match-funded by giving site Localgiving. To donate, visit

Save Red Ladder is also offering ‘a piece of the play’ to every person who sets up a direct debit (minimum of £5 for six months) from today to the end of the Grow Your Tenner campaign. The company is yet to decide what this might be – a page of the script, a physical piece of the set, but it will include an invite to a party with David Peace, Red Ladder and the cast, which is likely to include a ‘name.’