Old Vic saviour Mirvish dies

Published April 17, 2008

Edwin Mirvish, who bought and restored the Old Vic in 1982, died in St Michael's Hospital, Toronto in the early hours of 11 July. He was 92, and only weeks away from his 93rd birthday.

Mirvish, known as 'Honest Ed', a name he shared with his world-famous Toronto discount store, was awarded a CBE for his efforts in saving the Old Vic and, with his son David, received the Society of London Theatre's Special Award at the 1998 Laurence Olivier Awards.

Mirvish owned the Old Vic, with his son, for 16 years, outbidding Andrew Lloyd Webber and paying £550,000 for the Waterloo venue in 1982. During the first year Mirvish paid £2.5 million on restorative work; he had the façade restored based on an 1830 engraving and renovated the auditorium to the 1871 designs. While the work was carried out, the Canadian entrepreneur, impresario and producer erected a sign on the scaffolding reading: "Lilian Baylis, you're going to love this. Honest Ed."

The Mirvishs sold the Old Vic to Sally Greene's Old Vic Theatre Trust in 1998, allaying fears that the historical theatre, the original home of the National Theatre, would be converted into a themed pub, bingo hall or lap-dancing club.

Among the shows staged at the Old Vic while owned by the Mirvishs were Kiss Me Kate, Carmen Jones, The Wind In The Willows, The Seagull and Waiting For Godot.

In his native Canada, Mirvish saved the Royal Alexandra Theatre from demolition in 1963, buying and restoring the venue. He went on to open a number of restaurants around the theatre, so that patrons had somewhere to eat before or after a show. In 1993 the Mirvishs added to their theatres, building the Princess of Wales in Toronto. Mirvish productions also produced and co-produced Canadian productions of shows including The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, The Producers and Hairspray.

Mirvish is survived by his wife Anne and son David.

MA