John Major's music hall history makes Theatre Book prize shortlist

John Major – or at least his fictional equivalent – is weeping nightly onstage at the Gielgud Theatre as part of Peter Morgan's new play The Audience.

But his real-life counterpart has reason to cheer, after finding himself shortlisted for this year's Theatre Book prize.

The former Conservative prime minister is one of five authors in contention for the award, presented annually by the Society for Theatre Research. In My Old Man: A Personal History of Music Hall, Major charts the career of his father, comedian and singer Tom Major, while elaborating on the historical context of a popular art form that originated in the Elizabethan era before swelling in the 19th century and dwindling out with the advent of radio and cinema.

Reviewing the book for the Guardian, actor Simon Callow described it as "an uncommon book about one of the most extraordinary, vital and creative chapters in British theatrical history". He particularly praised its acute handling of the political and social context in which music hall was able to thrive in Victorian times.

Major is nominated alongside three biographies – Kate Bassett's of director Jonathan Miller, In Two Minds; Ian Kelly's Mr Foote's Other Leg, about the playwright Samuel Foote; and Lena Ashwell: Actress, Patriot, Pioneer by Margaret Leask. The final shortlisted book is The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Drama, edited by Thomas Betteridge and Greg Walker.

The prize was first awarded in 1998 and is confined to books about British theatre, excluding playtexts and literary criticism. This year's judging panel is Evening Standard theatre critic Henry Hitchings, actor Penelope Keith and Gavin Henderson, the principal of Central School of Speech and Drama. The winner will be announced on 2 May.

Powered by article was written by Matt Trueman, for on Wednesday 3rd April 2013 12.03 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Trodel