A LAST-DITCH bid is set to be launched to bring rare Thomas Hardy typescripts home to Dorchester.

Dorset County Museum aims to lead a campaign to raise £50,000 to buy the items – including annotations in the writer’s own hand on scripts for plays.

The move comes after the culture minister Margaret Hodge slapped a temporary export ban on the sale of the collection until February 17 to give domestic parties first option and keep the works in this country.

Museum director Jon Murden said he would talk to trustees after Christmas but was optimistic that they would bid for the documents.

He said: “The documents really show Hardy’s relationship with the people of Dorchester. Some are annotated by him and show his personal view about how written words should be translated in actual performances.”

Mr Murden added: “The important thing is that they remain in the UK and for us to try to bring them back to the county.”

The museum is likely to work with the British Museum and Dorset History Centre. Mr Murden said that it would apply for money from the Heritage Memorial Fund money and a Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant. Exeter University may also help as well as other organisations such as the Thomas Hardy Society.

Oscar-winning screenwriter and actor Julian Fellowes, president of the Thomas Hardy Society, said: “I think the collection would be a marvellous asset to Dorset.

“I can’t think of too many major figures in the world of creative arts who are children of Dorset.

“Thomas Hardy was not just born here but celebrated Dorset in all of his work. He has taken Dorset to the greater world and it makes him a case apart.”

Mr Fellowes, who lives at West Stafford, near Dorchester, added: “I do not think it would be misspent funds for some public bodies in Dorset to get behind this bid.”

The collection, which belongs to a collector in London, includes typescripts from contemporary dramatisations of Hardy’s works.

The archive features annotated typescripts, prompt copies, actors’ parts, programmes, posters and miniature mock-up scenery.

The prompt copies are particularly important because they give the dialogue as actually delivered, and the stage directions and are the closest scholars can now get to the experience of an original Hardy Players production.

The Hardy Players staged performances with input from Hardy himself between 1908 and 1924.

One of the players was Norrie Woodhall, of Owermoigne, who has just celebrated her 104th birthday.

Town crier Alistair Chisholm said: “It’s worth going for this collection. It would be great if they come back to Dorchester.”

Hardy society secretary Mike Nixon added: “This is excellent news. It gives us a bit of breathing space to see what we can do.”

The museum and Hardy Society gave evidence to the committee but was unable to express an interest in the purchase until after a decision was made.