1 Aug 2023

Avid readers of the BOV blog, who knew a month could fly by so fast?

You’d be amazed by the amount of complete collections we receive from people through the decades.

 In the Heritage cupboard yesterday we found at least four entire collections of playbills, each meticulously compiled chronologically. What sets these collections apart is the moments of personality that shines through. Notes written in the margins, an autographed programme here and there, or the odd newspaper article, scissored out of the page and slid into the programme. 

It is these articles that has inspired our donation of the month...


Next up in our new Heritage feature is a pair of season brochures dating from 1956 and 1957. 

Historical Significance: 7/10

These two seasons are packed full of famous plays. On the centenary of Bernard Shaw’s birth in 1956 we programmed not one but TWO of his absolute classics – Pygmalion and Major Barbara. Bafta-winning household name Alec Guinness’s adaptation of Dickens also graced our stage that year. What’s more, the seasons feature no less than three UK premiers: Don Juan or The Love of Geometry and OH! MY PAPA! from Switzerland, and Peter Ustinov’s The Empty Chair.

In 1957 we were the first regional theatre to programme Look Back in Anger, which we received as an early transfer from the Royal Court in ‘reciprocation’ for the transfer of our UK premier of The Crucible. The programme alludes to controversy over this riskily political and provocative play that many believe changed the face of modern drama “Whether they are for or against it, no one can afford to miss the most discussed play of the year…”.

Aesthetic: 7/10

These little programmes earn big cute points. Palm sized, their green and blue titles made all the more impactful by the surrounding beige. And readers, if you doubted for one second that our Director of Marketing was not worthy of that title, let me assure you that he was able to identify the font of the 50s lettering at a glance. It’s Gill Sans, a lettering worthy of the BBC itself, (though its creator does not deserve the accolade). 


Age rating: 5/10

Older than some grandmothers, younger than most great-grandmothers – these little beauties have seen a fair amount of history. They’ve witnessed England winning the world cup, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and all of the Beatles top hits. By the time this season came around however, our theatre had already been lit by electric lights for a good 53 years, so on the scale of our existence, they’re still relatively youthful… 

Rarity 9/10

These are definitely some of the older, rarer programmes that we get donated. In fact we’ve only ever really seen a handful from this period, so they score high points in this category. 

Celebrity Rating: 9/10

For two tiny programmes, these little gems are bursting with iconic BOV stars. They feature a stock company comprised of legends such Last of the Summer Wine’s Michael Aldridge and the marvellous mother to Emma & Sophie Thompson, Phyllida Law. Not to mention our most frequent name drop – Peter O’Toole himself - taking the lead in King Lear, Look Back in Anger, and a Midsummer Night’s Dream

Backstage Gossip: 6/10

Audiences of our 1957 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream would have got more than they bargained for as one of the earliest ever Shakespeare productions to feature modern costume – second only to Hugh Hunt’s scandalous 1949 production of Much Ado About Nothing. If they though modern Shakespeare costumes were bad, little did they know that the mini skirt was right round the corner… 


Small, significant and star-studded, these mini marvels offer a glimpse into the world of UK Theatre in the 1950s. We''re sending a big thank you to Mr R Baker for keeping them in such beautiful condition for so long!

For more information on any of the productions referenced, check out our online catalogue at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

And with that we say "Go thou further off; Bid me farewell, and let me hear thee going…"


…but tune in next month as we have Great Expectations for our next donation…