There’s no archives like show archives: Introducing the Northcott Theatre Archive

EUL MS 348 – Programmes from the Northcott Theatre Archive

It’s new cataloguing project time here at Special Collections and I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be cataloguing the Northcott Theatre Archive as part of our 21st Century Libraries initiative. It’s a fascinating collection spanning from the theatre’s opening in 1967, to its threatened closure in 2010. Quite simply, everything about it is appealing (alright, I’ll stop with the show tunes now!).

Exeter has a long history of theatre; with evidence of a possible Roman amphitheatre on Dane’s Hill. In 1721 the first regular theatre venue in Exeter opened in the Seven Stars Inn and a series of theatres followed (often destroyed by fire) until the Theatre Royal opened in 1889. Many Exeter residents still remember this theatre, which was demolished in 1962, and a small amount of records survive in the Northcott Theatre Archive relating to its productions.

EUL MS 348 – Printing plate for Theatre Royal jubilee production of Mother Goose

After the demolition of the Theatre Royal, G.V. Northcott was offered a site at Exeter University and the Northcott Devon Theatre and Arts Centre, as it was originally known, was established. The theatre opened its first production on 2nd November 1967, presenting The Merchant of Venice, which starred the theatre’s first Artistic Director Tony Church. The abolition of the official censor in 1968 enabled a new artistic direction and early directors fostered new writing talent. Edward Bond’s controversial play ‘Bingo’ was performed in public for the first time at the Northcott under Artistic Director Jane Howell. The theatre also fostered acting talent and many famous actors performed there early in their careers: including Honor Blackman, Celia Imrie, Robert Lindsay, John Nettles, Diana Rigg, Imelda Staunton and David Suchet.

EUL MS 348 – Production photographs by year from the Northcott Theatre Archive

In recent years the theatre has faced the threat of closure twice, in 2008 and 2010, both sparking community campaigns to save the theatre. On 5 June 2010 a new company was set up as the Exeter Northcott Theatre Company, formed with the University of Exeter, and the immediate future of the theatre is now more secure, with its fiftieth anniversary celebrations taking place last year.

EUL MS 348 – Tree from a campaign to save the Northcott Theatre with leaves written by the public saying what the theatre means to them

The archive contains a wealth of records relating to the Northcott’s productions and administration. Show files, prompt books, administrative records, programmes, posters, photographs, press cuttings, and much more illustrate the work behind bringing a production to the stage and the changing trends in theatre going. The archive is a wonderful piece of South West theatre history and I look forward to sharing more gems with you as the project progresses.

Caroline Walter (Project Archivist)

9 thoughts on “There’s no archives like show archives: Introducing the Northcott Theatre Archive

  1. Mark Brooks

    I was in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1976.
    I would love to see some photos if any exist!
    Many thanks
    Mark Brooks

    1. Caroline Walter Post author

      Hi Mark,

      If you can give me a little more info I will see what i can find. Was this an amateur dramatic group production or one of the repertory company productions? I can’t find a rep production of Joseph in 1976, but there were productions in 1977 and 1979. Could one of these be the one you are thinking of?

  2. Kevin Mcclaughlin

    Hi too was in this production and would love to see any existing photos. I was at St Thomas high school at the time. The rehearsals were done at Emanuel hall in St Thomas. The lead role was played by Jonathon kylie (not sure of spelling). The chariot of gold was a triumph on loan from bridge motorcycles in Exeter. Maybe this will help you?

    1. Caroline Walter Post author

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for this additional information and apologies for the delay in replying. Your information confirms that it was the production that premiered on 5 May 1977, with Jonathan Kiley in the leading role. I’m afraid that we don’t seem to hold a set of production photographs but we do hold a programme from the production and press cuttings; some of which include photos showing some of the school children involved. You would be welcome to come and look at the material in our reading room if you were interested. More information on booking a visit can be found at

      Caroline (Project Archivist)

  3. Tim Parry-Clarke

    Hi. I was in a musical production of Samson in 1978 or 1979 at the theatre. I believe one of my Teachers from St Thomas High School was involved in writing the music for it and there were quite a lot of children from the school involved. I do seem to remember that one of the performances was in front of the Lord Mayor and this was a big deal for all of us !. I cant seem to find any record of it and wondered if this is something that there might be a programme or press cuttings of ? I’m sorry I don’t have more information. Any help would be appreciated.

    1. Caroline Walter Post author

      Hi Tim,
      The Northcott events calendars record Samson being performed by the Young Opera of Exeter company, with the first night on 11 Jun 1978. Is this what you are looking for? We don’t seem to have a programme for it but there may well be press cuttings about this in the archive.
      The archive is held in University of Exeter Special Collections which is currently shut due to Covid-19. We do not currently have a date for re-opening, but you would be welcome to come and search the press cuttings for yourself in our reading room when we do. Keep checking for news of our re-opening.
      Caroline (Archivist)

  4. Paul

    Hi, I am also just casting my mind back to being a kid and going to the first live production i had ever seen. this was Joseph at Northcott , I remember the drummer throwing his drumsticks into the crowd and I went home with one. My question also is when was it on at Northcott as I see in earlier post it might have been in 76 or 77. Can you confirm the tour dates?

  5. John Curtis-Rouse

    I worked at NT as 3rd Electrician from November 1967 till March 1968. Christmas was snowy. Between shows of Fort Issimo on Boxing Day my friend Paul Hepworth (Asst Carpenter, working in the Victorian Potting Shed) and I built a big sled. I remember, after the evening show, Tony Church leading us all out and across the road for some of the scariest sledging down the hill in the field opposite the theatre.

    1. Caroline Walter Post author

      Hi John,
      That’s a fantastic memory. I know that hill, it must have been a white knuckle ride!


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