Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is a drama school in Bristol, England that provides training in acting for film, television and theatre.

Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School logo.svg
TypeDrama school
Established1946; 75 years ago (1946)
PrincipalFiona Francombe
Artistic DirectorJenny Stephens
AffiliationsFederation of Drama Schools
Conservatoire for Dance and Drama
University of the West of England, Bristol
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is located in Bristol
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School within Bristol

The Old Vic Theatre School is an affiliate of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama.[1] Its higher education awards are validated by the University of the West of England, and its students graduate alongside members of UWE Bristol's Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education.[2] It is a member of the Federation of Drama Schools.[3]


The School opened in October 1946, eight months after the founding of its parent Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company, in a room above a fruit merchant's warehouse in the Rackhay near the stage door of the Theatre Royal, with support from Sir Laurence Olivier. (The yard of the derelict St Nicholas School, next to the warehouse, was still used by the Company for rehearsals of crowd scenes and stage fights as late as the early 1960s, notably for John Hale's productions of Romeo and Juliet starring the Canadian actor Paul Massie and Annette Crosbie, a former student of the School, and Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac with Peter Wyngarde. Students from the Theatre School frequently played in these crowd scenes and fights.)

The School continued in these premises for eight years because of the Old Vic's lack of funds in the post-war decade until 1954 when the Company produced a small-scale end-of season topical musical for the entertainment of regular patrons and to allow the actors to 'let their hair down' after a season of mainly serious productions.

This musical, Salad Days by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds, proved very popular with Bristol audiences and was subsequently transferred to London's West End where it was an instant hit and played for more than four years, making it the longest running production in West End history at the time. £7,000 from the Salad Days profits – a large sum in those days— was given to the School towards the purchase and conversion of two large adjoining Victorian villas at 1 and 2 Downside Road in Clifton. In 1995 the enduring benefit to students of that donation was formally recognised when a new custom-built dance and movement studio in the School's back garden was named the Slade/Reynolds Studio.

Many distinguished members of the theatrical profession have taught at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Perhaps the best known was the legendary Rudi Shelly, who joined the teaching staff only two weeks after the School opened in 1946 and was still working into his nineties. Alumni from around the world gathered in Bristol for his funeral at which the eulogy was delivered by alumnus Stephanie Cole. Apart from students of the School, over the years many established actors from around the world sought out Rudi Shelly's master classes when visiting or working in England.

At the time of the School's move to its current premises in Downside Road, Clifton, in 1956, the Principal was Duncan (Bill) Ross, who had succeeded the first Principal, Edward Stanley in 1954. After guiding the School through seven difficult years that are nonetheless still regarded by his former students as a golden age, Ross left in late 1961 to take up a teaching post in the USA. Soon after the departure of this much-loved principal, other key staff members resigned, including Daphne Heard and Maggie Collins, and Paula Gwyn-Davies, the School Secretary.

After a short interregnum under the actor Richard Ainley, in 1963 the post of Principal was taken by Nat Brenner, a distinguished actor and theatre technician and, at that time, general manager of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre. Brenner's stewardship was regarded by students of the time as another golden age. He remained in the post until 1980, when he was succeeded by Christopher Denys, who retired in the summer of 2007 to be replaced by Paul Rummer[4] as Principal and Sue Wilson in the new post of Artistic Director. Until the 1990s the Theatre School was part of the Bristol Old Vic Company, but it is now a financially independent organisation.[5]


The theatre school accepts just 28 people out of approximately 2,500 applications per year for the three-year BA acting course,[6] making it one of the most selective drama schools in the world.[6] Applicants are purely judged on talent alone in two rounds of intensive auditions.[6] It has its own premises in Clifton, bought with proceeds from the London success of Salad Days.[4] It previously had working links with the Drama Department of the University of Bristol, which still holds many papers of the Theatre School in its Theatre Collection. For many years it presented regular student productions in the Department's experimental Drama Studio converted from an indoor tennis court off a corridor in the Wills Memorial Building behind the University's Bell Tower at the top of Bristol's fashionable Park Street. Students from the School and the Drama Department shared many of each other's formal lectures and a number of the Department's graduates went on to continue their studies as full-time students at the School.

The Scenic Workshop

Having struggled with limited resources until the 1960s, the School now has access to a number of local performance venues, including the Redgrave Theatre at Clifton College (named after the actor Sir Michael Redgrave, an old boy of the College) the Bristol Old Vic theatre complex, including the Theatre Royal, New Vic Studio and The Basement, and Circomedia in Portland Square. It also takes productions on tour to various locations in the West Country, a tradition dating back to the 1950s when for several years students moved to Dartington Hall in South Devon for two weeks each spring where they rehearsed and presented a public production in the Barn Theatre. The School was able to use broadcasting studio facilities at the University Drama Studio for radio drama training in the 1950s and also ran occasional courses in conjunction with the BBC at their Bristol Studios in Whiteladies Road. In 2002 the Theatre School bought the former BBC Christchurch radio studios in Clifton and has further developed the facilities there which include sound studios and sound and video editing suites which are used by students and also by music and media industry clients.[7] The school has scenic workshops in Bedminster and on Spike Island used by the technical courses.

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, as its name suggests, is not simply a school for actors. It provides comprehensive training courses for all theatre, radio, film, and television professionals.

Its graduates are to be found in key positions as actors, directors, set designers, costumer designers, lighting designers and stage and company managers throughout the world. Among the most notable of the many distinguished actors on the School's list of alumni are the Academy Award winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Jeremy Irons and Olivia Colman; and multiple Academy Award nominees Miranda Richardson, Pete Postlethwaite, Cary Grant, Gene Wilder, Brian Blessed, Mark Strong, and Naomie Harris.

Notable alumniEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Affiliate schools". Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. Archived from the original on 3 March 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  2. ^ "Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education: About Us". UWE Bristol. Archived from the original on 23 October 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  3. ^ Granger, Rachel. "Rapid Scoping Study on Leicester Drama School" (PDF). De Montfort University Leicester. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b "BOV Theatre School website". Archived from the original on 18 November 2007. Retrieved 3 December 2007.
  5. ^ "Date of report : 23 February 2009". Charity Commission. Archived from the original on 18 February 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  6. ^ a b c "BOV Theatre School website" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 July 2007. Retrieved 3 December 2007.
  7. ^ "+++Christchurch Studios+++". Archived from the original on 10 August 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2009.

Further readingEdit

  • Shirley Brown, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School: the first 50 years, BOVTS Productions Ltd, 1996 ISBN 1-85459-395-1

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 51°28′01″N 2°37′12″W / 51.467°N 2.620°W / 51.467; -2.620