Hunt, Hugh (1911–93), theatre director and academic, was born 25 September 1911 in Camberley, Surrey, England, son of Capt. C. E. Hunt of the Indian army. Educated at Marlborough College, he spent time at the Sorbonne and Heidelberg before entering Magdalen College, Oxford. President of the Oxford University Dramatic Society in 1933, he was subsequently employed by the Maddermarket Theatre of Norwich, from where he was also responsible for occasional productions at the Croydon repertory theatre and the London Westminster Theatre. John Masefield, then poet laureate, recommended him to W. B. Yeats (qv) to help the Abbey Theatre compete with the popular Gate Theatre. Employed from 19 August 1935, he directed twenty-two new Irish plays in a three-year period. He enjoyed success with ‘Boyd's shop’ (1936) by St John Ervine (qv) in January 1936, but offended Yeats the same month with his decision not to stage Shakespeare's ‘Coriolanus’ in coloured shirts suggestive of a fascist organisation. Yeats forbade him to stage classic plays of the literary revival after his productions (July, Aug. 1936) of ‘Playboy of the western world’ (1907) and ‘Deirdre’ (1906). Hunt was trained to coach actors in Shakespearean delivery, and his methods clashed with Yeats's own ideas of poetic, Senecan delivery. He did, however, direct Yeats's ‘Purgatory’ (1938) in August 1938. A close ally of Frank O'Connor (qv) in the Abbey's internal disputes, he co-wrote three plays with O'Connor, ‘In the train’ (1937), ‘The invincibles’ (1937), and ‘Moses's rock’ (1938). He resigned his Abbey position in November 1938 and travelled to New York to direct ‘The white steed’ (1939) by his friend Paul Vincent Carroll (qv) on Broadway.
Returning to England in 1939, he received a commission in the Scots Guards. He also served in the King's Royal Rifle Corps and later worked with resistance groups in France and Germany as part of the Special Operations Executive. His first postwar appointment was as director of the Bristol Old Vic company (1945). Tyrone Guthrie (qv) made him director of the London Old Vic company in 1949 before his one-year appointment as artistic director in 1952. He adjudicated at the 1954 Canada Drama Festival and travelled to Australia in 1955 to produce ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’ as executive officer of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust. Returning to England in 1960, he was appointed professor of drama at the University of Manchester, where he encouraged the practical study of theatre through public productions. He returned to the Abbey in January 1967 to direct ‘The Shaughraun’ (1874) by Dion Boucicault (qv), and was made part-time artistic director in December 1969 at the instigation of Ernest Blythe (qv). He appointed Tomás MacAnna as director of the Peacock Theatre's productions in September 1970 and took ‘The silver tassie’ (1927) by Sean O'Casey (qv) on a European tour in May 1973.
Hunt retired from theatre production in the late 1970s and lived the rest of his life in Criccieth, Gwynedd, Wales. He was appointed CBE in 1976. Chairman of the dramatic panel of the Welsh Arts Council, he wrote a critical study, Sean O'Casey (1980). He died at home on 22 April 1993 and is buried in Llandystumdy. He married (1940) Janet Mary Gordon; they had two children.