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The most generous gift: Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie, and Great Ormond Street Hospital

By Library.IT Services, on 1 December 2015

Peter Pan statue

Statue of Peter Pan & Tinkerbell at Great Ormond Street Hospital taken by Grazia Manzotti

Early in 1929, Sir James Barrie was asked to join an Appeals Committee to try and buy some of the estate of the Foundling Hospital for Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). He replied that on principle he never lent his name to appeals, but he would see whether he could do something for the hospital. A few months afterwards he gave the copyright of Peter Pan – both the book and the play – which proved to be one of the most generous donations ever to the hospital.

These arrangements should have expired in 1987, fifty years after the death of Sir James Barrie. But special measures were made in the Copyright Designs & Patents Act (1988), so that a single exception was made for the ongoing benefit of GOSH. At the time, Audrey Callaghan (wife of James Callaghan) was Chairman of the Hospital’s Special Trustees, which owns the copyright. The hospital has a right to royalty in perpetuity in the UK. This applies to stage productions, broadcasting and publication of the whole or any substantial part of the work or an adaptation of it in the UK. This right does not apply to derivative works such as sequels, prequels, spin-offs or to extracts. The play is in copyright in America until 2023, and in Spain until 2017. This applies to stage adaptations of the story. However, the copyright has expired everywhere else so, apart from the play in the US and Spain, it may be considered to be in the public domain.

GOSH continues to enjoy an ongoing association with Peter Pan. The book has gone through edition after edition in many formats, and continues to do so. The hospital commissioned Geraldine McCuaghrean to write a sequel to Peter Pan. Published on 5 October 2007, Peter Pan in Scarlet offers readers of all ages the opportunity to return to Neverland. Its publication ensures that GOSH will benefit from Barrie’s legacy for many years to come.
Barrie’s play was first produced in December 1904 with Nina Boucicault in the title role. Its success was immediate. It has run in London (and elsewhere) ever since, broken only by the war years 1939 and 1940. Peter Pan has also attracted eminent actors including Wendy Craig, Dorothy Tutin, Fay Compton, Anna Neagle, Glynnis Johns and Sarah Churchill, to name but a few.

Peter Pan has often been performed in the hospital. At the suggestion of Sir James Barrie, a special performance was given by Jean Forbes-Robertson in December 1929. Only the nursery scene was performed. It took place in Helena Ward, to the great delight of a large gathering of patients and nurses. Gerald du Maurier narrated the story in his own words and Sir James Barrie was in audience.

A statue of Peter Pan stands at the entrance to GOSH, blowing fairy dust at all visitors, young and old. It was sculpted by Diarmund O’Connor and was unveiled by Lord Callaghan in 2000. Tinkerbell was added to Peter’s uplifted arm in 2005. Tinkerbell is London’s smallest statue.
A Peter Pan collection is maintained at GOSH by Christine De Poortere. The ICH Library holds biographical and related material on J M Barrie, and the hospital’s website posts further information on Peter Pan. He also has his own facebook page, as does Sir James Barrie.

John Clarke, ICH Librarian

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