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J M Barrie (1860-1937)

Patients in hospitals have long been entertained by in-house plays and performances, such as Peter Pan - the story of a boy who refuses to grow up. In the case of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, the theatrical arts have also made a difference to hospital finances. In 1929, J M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan (1904), was approached to sit on the hospital’s building committee. Barrie politely turned down the offer and decided to support the institution in another way. Before his death in 1937, he handed the rights to his famous play to the renowned children’s hospital. Expected to raise £2000, the hospital was thereafter entitled to royalties each time a performance of the play was staged. As part of the offer, Barrie requested the hospital board never reveal the amount raised, a promise they have to date honoured.

At the time of Barrie’s bequest, copyright normally lasted 50 years following the death of an author. But in the case of Peter Pan, copyright was extended to life plus 70 years. This was the result of an intervention by former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan, whose wife was chair of the Hospital Board. The play eventually entered the public domain in December 2007. A sequel, Peter Pan in Scarlet, was commissioned by the hospital in 2004 in order to ensure future income from Barrie’s original donation. The hospital also benefited from Steven Spielberg's 1991 film Hook.

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Bibliography

L Chaney, Hide and Seek With Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie (London: Hutchinson, 2003)

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