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The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, opened by Laurence Olivier in 1946, is an affiliate of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama, an organisation securing the highest standards of training in the performing arts, and is an associate school of the Faculty of Creative Arts of the University of the West of Englandmarker.


The theatre school only accepts 14 people out of some 2500 applications a year,for the three-year BA acting course making it one of the most selective drama schools in the world.Applicants are purely judged on talent alone in two rounds of intensive auditions.It has its own premises in Cliftonmarker, bought with proceeds from the London success of Salad Days.It previously had working links with the Drama Department of the University of Bristolmarker, 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 Buildingmarker 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 others' formal lectures and a number of the Department's graduates went on to continue their studies as full-time students at the School.

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 Collegemarker (named after the actor Sir Michael Redgrave, an old boy of the College) and the Bristol Old Vic theatre complex, including the Theatre Royal, New Vic Studio and The Basement. 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 Hallmarker in South Devonmarker 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. The school also has a scenic workshop in Bedminster, South Bristol 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 and 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 and Jeremy Irons and multiple Academy Award nominee Miranda Richardson.


The School began life in October 1946, only eight months after the founding of its parent Bristol Old Vic Theatre Companymarker, in a room above a fruit merchant's warehouse in the Rackhay near the stage door of the Theatre Royal. (The yard of the derelict St Nicholas School adjacent 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. Former students from around the world gathered in Bristol for his funeral at which the eulogy was delivered by former student 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, 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 as Principal and Sue Wilson in the newly created 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.


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

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