This is the earliest surviving draft of The Deep Blue Sea, which Terence Rattigan submitted to the theatrical impresario Hugh ‘Binkie’ Beaumont of H M Tennent Ltd on 19 December 1950. Rattigan has labelled it ‘Version No 2’, a previous draft having been sent to Beaumont in September 1950. These drafts had moved on from Rattigan’s original idea of a play focussing on male homosexual relationships, as by this point the play’s protagonist was a woman – Hester Collyer.

Was there a gay version of The Deep Blue Sea?

Rattigan conceived the play as the story of a homosexual affair, but there is some doubt as to whether he actually wrote this version of the story. Rattigan’s biographer Michael Darlow thinks it probable that he did, a view based on the testimony of people who claim to have read the gay version. If this is the case, Rattigan cannot have progressed very far with the script because years later, after the end of theatrical censorship in 1968, he considered revisiting his original concept:

…at last I can write about my particular sins without Lord Chamberlain-induced sex-change dishonesty … Perhaps I should re-write Deep Blue Sea as it really was meant to be, but after 20 years I just can’t remember why I made all that fuss.[1]

How does this early draft compare with the finished play?

After reading the first draft of the play, John Perry of H M Tennent Ltd wrote to Rattigan praising the piece but pointing out some flaws: ‘I find the whole of the [last] act a bit over-written and too long, particularly after the admirable restraint and understatement of the first two acts’.[2] Rattigan subsequently revised the final act a number of times and was still making changes during rehearsals.

In this early draft the order of the scenes in Act 3 differs from the final version. There is some heavy-handed symbolism on display when a power cut plunges Hester into darkness just as Freddie leaves her, the lights only coming on again after Hester’s husband Sir William Collyer has returned. Collyer remarks ‘A symbol – for both of us’, as the electricity supply is restored (f. 136r). The ending is weak, with Mr Miller persuading Hester to go on living mid-way through the final scene, whereas later versions offer a more convincing turnaround and sustain dramatic tension until the end.

Was The Deep Blue Sea censored?

Writing at the mid-point of the 20th century, Rattigan pre-emptively censored his work in the knowledge that the Lord Chamberlain’s Office would not licence plays which dealt with homosexuality. In this early draft Mr Miller is clearly gay (see f. 146r, where Miller states that he is ‘impervious’ to the ‘charms’ of women), and it is implied that he has been struck off the medical register as a result of his homosexuality (f. 118r). In Rattigan’s final version of the text there is no overt reference to Miller’s sexuality, and he becomes a much more mysterious and powerful figure. When the Lord Chamberlain’s Office came to assess the finished script they recommended it for license without changes.

Did self-censorship affect the quality of Rattigan’s writing?

Many would argue that Rattigan’s self-censorship had a positive effect on The Deep Blue Sea. He has been praised by theatre director Peter Hall as a master of deception and concealment, and it is likely that the necessity of removing or hiding references to homosexuality prompted him to hone his skilful use of subtext. 

[1] Copy of an undated letter from Terence Rattigan to John Osborne in the John Osborne Papers, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas (Box 44, Folder 3).

[2] Letter from John Perry to Terence Rattigan, 11 September 1950. Terence Rattigan Papers, British Library Add MS 74357A.