He founded and had run the King’s Head pub theatre in Islington since 1972, most of that time balancing the reputation of one of London’s more prestigious fringe venues with an always-desperate need for funds to keep it going (a hat was passed around for donations at the end of each performance).
The New Jersey resident moved to the UK in 1969 and converted the dilapidated back room of a down-on-its-luck Victorian pub into what became recognized as a vibrant venue, both as a drinking hole and as an arts venue. Crawford and his then-wife Joan ran both sides of the operation, combining them to serve meals before the show.
The Arts Council cut its funding in 1984, and commercially, the task of running the King’s Head couldn’t have been made any easier by the ultra-prestigious Almeida’s presence just around the corner. But Crawford managed to keep the doors open and quite a few big names coming.
Stars who went to the King’s Head either to act or direct included the comedian Mel Smith, Corin Redgrave, Steven Berkoff, Susannah York, Leigh Zimmerman and Lesley Joseph. He gave early boosts to many careers, among them Hugh Grant, Anthony Sher and Victoria Wood. The Daily Telegraph attributes Crawford’s love for many neglected English plays as being “almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of the reputations of writers as diverse as Terence Rattigan and Vivian Ellis.”
Crawford himself lived frugally. He bought cheap clothes from charity shops, and his shoes were at times falling apart (held together by tape). He took an intense interest in every aspect of the pub theatre, working on tasks as varied as lighting, bar-work and even buying the vegetables for the pre-show dinners. The King’s Head had attracted attention again shortly before his death, for scheduling the satirical play Who’s The Daddy? (which opened July 15), about the UK’s political scandal du jour which involved an affair between the publisher of the Spectator Magazine and the British ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett.