Time to Remember: the birth of BRIT School

Today the BRIT School is internationally-known, fast approaching its 30th birthday in September next year and with an enviable track record. Over 100 million albums have been sold worldwide by former BRIT School music students, including top selling stars Adele, Leona Lewis, Katie Melua, Jessie J, The Kooks, The Feeling, Katy B and the late Amy Winehouse. Alongside these achievements, the school has fostered the talent of a wide variety of stage performers such as Tom Holland, Cush Jumbo and Louis Maskell.

In this article from October 1989, ANTHONY FIELD, the first Chairman of the Trust which established the school, looks back on the work involved to create a game-changing institution.

A great many confusing statements have been published in various newspapers recently about the so-called “Fame” school, so that it would appear useful for everyone to have a brief, accurate history of how the various parties came to be involved in this exciting venture.

The original concept, pioneered by Mark Featherstone-Witty, led to the formation of the Schools for the Performing Arts Ltd. I was pleased to be asked to be the first Chairman of this Trust, since I had already seen two smaller projects fail to proceed. Indeed, during my time as Finance Director of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the then Secretary-General, Sir Roy Shaw, and I met Tommy Steele about the possibility of establishing a School for Performing Arts on a site in Soho. Andrew Lloyd Webber was also reported as having envisioned such a school being developed within the site of the Palace Theatre.

However, here, at last was the possibility of creating a School which could respond to the current needs of the present arts and entertainment industry. Since the end of World War Two Great Britain has earned an international standing in the performing arts which is pre-eminent, because it is the outcome of many specialist schools. Our magnificently talented singers, dancers, actors, musicians, directors, composers, dramatists and technicians have largely flowed from such schools as RADA, LAMDA, The Guildhall School, The Royal College of Music and others. However, these are all post-18 schools.

Further, for all the brilliance of the talents streaming from these schools, the whole new stream of British (and American) musicals, such as CATS, LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, MISS SAIGON and ASPECTS OF LOVE has put a great strain on the new style of talents required from performers. It is no longer simply a matter of being a supreme ballet dancer or actor or opera singer or jazz musician; one has to be able to sing and dance and act and play instruments and deal with new sound and lighting technology (and if you’re in BARNUM, tightrope walk!).

It was to meet this new demand that the philosophy and new curriculum for the Schools for Performing Arts Ltd was established, and attracted the flow of star names as our Patrons with a view that this support would be for a national programme of schools to be launched in a number of cities across Great Britain. Cameron Mackintosh recently joined as a Patron, precisely in the knowledge of his problem alone in casting and re-casting his musicals.

All this has required an incredible input of hard work donated by all our Trustees over a period of some seven years. This culminated in the British Phonographic Industry Trust donating £2.36 million towards the cost of launching the first of such schools and the Department of Education and Science responded with an additional £3.54 million.

At this stage, the London School for Performing Arts and Technology Ltd was incorporated (and known as the BRIT School) to administer the first of such schools on a site at Selhurst, offered by Croydon Council. LSPAT Is a completely separate and different company from the Schools for Performing Arts Ltd and our Patrons.

The investment of some £6 million in the first school, being launched in Croydon, is a major national achievement. it is hoped that another school may be established in Liverpool, spearheaded by Paul McCartney, in collaboration with the SPA Trust.

The confusion which has recently been caused locally in Croydon emanates from local political and educational issues which the Croydon Local Authority will need to resolve. However, the Schools for Performing Arts Trust is enormously grateful to the profession and, in particular, to its many Patrons, who have endorsed and continue to support our new national philosophy of approach to education in the performing arts and technology.

Article published by kind permission of the Estate of Anthony Field

“I have never been to a school like this anywhere in the world; I think it’s that unique… it’s a very special place.”

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

AFTERWORD After the opening of BRIT School, Mark Featherstone-Witty and Anthony Field turned their attention to creating the second performing arts school in Liverpool. With another raft of industry support and many Patrons and individual donors (including HM The Queen who made a private donation to the establishment of the Liverpool School), The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (now famous as LIPA) was created in the next few years, opening in 1996. LIPA is now amongst the most respected educational establishments in the country, regularly appearing in top 20 lists of the best in the UK.

To view the BRITSchool’s website, click here

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