The Theatres Act of 1843 stated that a copy of every new play intended for performance
in Britain must be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain's Office in order to obtain a
licence. It was the task of the Examiners of Plays to read the submitted scripts, write a
synopsis of their plots, draw the Lord Chamberlain's attention to any doubtful or
offensive scenes, language or 'business' and, finally, to recommend whether or not the
play in question should be licensed. A hundred years later, the enforcement of the Act
had relaxed only to the extent that a licence would quite often be granted on condition
that material considered offensive was altered or cut out of the text - a state of affairs
which frequently led to heated discussion between playwrights, directors, theatre
managers and the Lord Chamberlain's representatives.

In 1968 a new Theatres Act abolished the Lord Chamberlain's powers of censorship. In
response to concern about what would happen to the manuscripts of new plays (formerly
held in the Lord Chamberlain's Office) it also decreed that a copy of every new play
performed in England, Wales and Scotland should be sent to the British Library within
one month of its first performance. So a copy of each new play is being preserved; the
Modern Playscripts Collection, numbered in chronological sequence and with a regularly
updated index, is available to readers in the Manuscripts' Students' Room. The scripts
of plays - licensed and unlicensed - submitted to the Lord Chamberlain between 1824 and
1968 are also now held by the British Library, with related correspondence and
Examiners' Reports for the period 1900-1968.

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