Matthew Pamm (1914-79) was the theatre, ballet, film (and occasionally music) critic of the daily newspaper Cape Times in the 1940s and 50s. He wrote under the pseudonym MP or MSP, a common practice at the time. (He had apparently felt obliged to insert the "S" to avoid confusion with another writer who also used the initials "MP" as his pen name)
He was born in Cape Town to Lithuanian Jewish immigrant parents. A second cousin of his was the ballerina Phyllis Spira.
After having volunteered for World War Two military service in early 1940 and having been found medically unfit for military duties, he engaged in a journalistic career with the Cape Times from 1941 to 1953, during which time he was their ballet , theatre , film and music critic, and would also a from time to time locum for the Entertainments Editor. As his circumstances did not permit of a fulltime University Degree education in Literature and the Performing Arts, he was entirely self educated in these spheres.
By 1953 his personal and family circumstances had changed to such a degree, inter alia with marriage and the birth of his two children, that he left journalism entirely, to enter into a fulltime occupation in commerce and industry, becoming a manufacturers' representative and then a Director of the "Hellas" and "Tavetta" clothing manufacturing firms.
Criticism and the promotion of the arts
His reviews of performances and films were subject to the constraints of writing for a general daily newspaper and not a specialised publication. He was very conscious of the general level of theatrical literacy of his readership, and the need for his writings to be intelligible to , and adequately inform , the "woman on the Kloof Street bus". In the words of Eve Borland "He was known for the literacy of his reviews and for his natural feel for good taste , artistry and quality " (Cape Times Obituary: Matthew Pamm, 1979).
During his journalistic career he had contact with a variety of Capetonian arts organisations whose gratitude he earned by his efforts to assist with , and promote their endeavours through his position in the press . These include the Cape Town Ballet Club ( the forerunner of CAPAB Ballet ).
He also befriended and sought to foster upcoming younger talent in the field of criticism where possible.
In 1944-45 he attempted ( initially in partnership with Neville H. Romain and thereafter on his own, when Romain pulled out of the venture in favour of safer paid employment) to found and publish a monthly magazine ( to have been titled the "South African Arts Review"), a journal devoted to the advancement of the Arts and Creative Writing in South Africa. Unfortunately, despite receiving the recommendations and support of various prominent persona, this venture did not get off the ground due to wartime paper rationing and the refusal of a government paper usage permit due to uncertainties of paper supplies at the time.
In 1951 he contributed a chapter entitled "Ballet visits South Africa" (pp 16-27) to Ballet in South Africa (edited by John Worrall and published in 1951 with a foreword by Anton Dolin.).
In 1944 he wrote the book for the ballet Fete Gallante to the music of Prokofieff. This was produced at the Alhambra Theatre, Cape Town, in November and December 1944 , with choreography by Dulcie Howes, decor and costumes by John Dronsfield. It was repeated in December 1945.
He also wrote draft scenarios for filmlets for African Consolidated Films Limited in 1946
The Matthew Pamm collection of peforming arts materials
Of great importance to researchers is a collection of Matthew Pamm’s critical writing for the Cape Times, was been edited by his son Anthony Pamm (with help from Mrs Joan Pamm and Mrs Marjorie Evelyn Gregory) and was donated to the South African Library in Cape Town by the Pamm family. (It originally appeared in their catalogue under Clippings References 09551 and 09552.) The original cuttings were then presented to the Centre for South African Theatre Research (CESAT) at the Human Sciences Research Council by the Pamm Family and were catalogued by them under Reference 1000 / 1-6.
Matthew Pamm also retained all the programmes of performances that he had seen and these were sold to Percy Tucker, who indicated that they would later be entrusted to the National English Literary Museum (NELM) in Grahamstown.
Personal correspondence with Anthony Pamm
A biography written by Anthony Pamm , Cape Town , January 2014 ( an extract from a fuller biography covering his entire life experience.)
Who's Who of Southern Africa , 1966 Edition , page 661.
Obituary: Matthew Pamm , Cape Times, 5 November, 1979 and 6 November, 1979 (the latter a correction of an incorrect photograph that was published on 5 November )
Obituary: Matthew Pamm, The Argus, 5 November, 1979.
E-mail correspondence Brent Meersman 06 January 2014 11:18 AM
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