The book, which is described as an epic yet intimate portrait of two theatrical dynasties — charting the lives of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, and of their remarkable families and the world of Victorian theatre — won the award from a shortlist that also featured Judith Mackrell's "Bloomsbury Ballerina" (a biography of ballerina Lydia Lopokova, whose story has never been told), Peter Gill's "Apprentice" (an autobiographical account of the early years of the writer/director, when he acted in an RSC production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle) and Christopher Bigsby's "Arthur Miller" (a biography of the late playwright). Holroyd collected his award – which includes a cash award of £2,000 – at a ceremony held May 5 at the Garrick Club. In a press statement, Ruth Leon, chair of the judging panel that also included last year's winner, Dominic Dromgoole (who won for his book "Will and Me"), actress Patricia Hodge and publisher/literary agent Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, commented, "Michael Holroyd's book is a brilliant and readable encapsulation of a period peopled by remarkable characters, not only is it a fine piece of theatre history; it invites the reader into a period of our English past, which might otherwise go unnoticed. All four of the books on our shortlist are page-turners, which exemplify what the Sherry's are all about. They open a window into the world of the artist and the time they lived in."
The annual award, now in its second year, is presented to celebrate exellence and originality in a theatre biograpy, autobiography or diary and aims to continue the legacy in this field of literary endeavour of the late critic, biographer and broadcaster Sheridan Morley for whom they are named. Morley, who wrote some 37 theatrical biographies including his own autobiography, was also former London correspondent to Playbill magazine.