Tom Erhardt, who has died aged 91, was a leading theatrical literary agent and right-hand man to Peggy Ramsay, whose office in Goodwin’s Court, Covent Garden, was one of the powerhouses of British playwriting talent from the early 1950s to the beginning of the 1990s.
Peggy Ramsay’s clients included Alan Ayckbourn, Joe Orton, Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Martin Sherman and Willy Russell. After she died in 1991 the firm merged with the Casarotto company, which also looked after film and television dramatists, to form Casarotto Ramsay & Associates. Erhardt stayed on as a company director and head of theatre.
Born Thomas Joseph Erhardt in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on March 13 1928, he came from a Roman Catholic family of Polish ancestry but with a German surname – which caused problems for him from other children of a similar background, especially after the Germans invaded Poland in 1939.
Though his family had no theatrical connections, the stage was, from an early age, the love of his life. Joining the US army at 17, he was posted to Manila in the Philippines. Even at that age his administrative flair (and rapidly learnt typewriting skills) saw him allocated to office work rather than anything more physically demanding.
After his military service he returned to the US, moving first to San Francisco, then to New York, where he could better indulge his desire to soak up as much theatre as possible.
There he was employed by Lucy Kroll, a leading literary and theatrical agent. As with Peggy Ramsay in later years, he formed a close bond with his employer – working for strong, intelligent women seemed to suit him.
Many of the company’s clients also fitted this description – including Bette Davis, who one day phoned and briskly announced she was cancelling that day’s lunch with Miss Kroll owing to a toothache, then slammed the phone down before Erhardt was able to make alternative arrangements.
His ability to type quickly, allied to his appreciation for good writing, led to his being loaned to various companies when script changes needed to be made in the course of productions. One such was in Philadelphia, for Noël Coward’s Sail Away. Erhardt took a friend with him for a weekend visit, hoping to introduce him to Coward and perhaps catch Coward’s private rather than professional interest – only to find that the Master would be away for both days. The weekend was not wasted, however, as Coward left a note saying they were welcome to use his hotel room – so he got to sleep in the great man’s bed after all.
One occasion when Erhardt’s typing skills were called for was when Oscar Hammerstein II was working on the lyrics of The Sound Of Music. Erhardt had handed over a sheet of paper with How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? neatly typed, only to have Hammerstein storm back into the room in a display of mock outrage, exclaiming; “Tom, that’s not how you spell ‘Flibbertigibbet’!”