Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was founded by Elsie Fogerty in 1906 to offer a new form of training in speech and drama for young actors and other students. It became a constituent of the University of London in 2005. It is a member of the Federation of Drama Schools.[3]

Royal Central School
of Speech and Drama
The Embassy Theatre, home of the school
Other names
Central, CSSD
Former names
Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, Central School of Speech and Drama
TypeDrama school and public university conservatoire
Established1906 (1906)
2005: Incorporated into the University of London
Parent institution
University of London
Budget£19.4m (2016/17)[1]
ChairmanJohn Willis
ChancellorThe Princess Royal (University of London)
PresidentMichael Grandage CBE
Vice-ChancellorPeter Kopelman (University of London)
PrincipalGavin Henderson CBE
PatronPrincess Alexandra
Students1,100 (2016/17)[2]
Undergraduates675 (2016/17)[2]
Postgraduates420 (2016/17)[2]
Embassy Theatre, Eton Avenue


The school offers undergraduate, postgraduate, research degrees, and short courses in acting, actor training, applied theatre, theatre crafts and making, design, drama therapy, movement, musical theatre, performance, producing, puppetry, research, scenography, stage management, teacher training, technical arts, voice, and writing.

On 9 October 2008 the school announced that Harold Pinter (1930–2008), the 2005 Nobel Laureate in Literature and Central alumnus, had agreed to become its president and to receive an honorary fellowship in the school's graduation ceremony on 10 December 2008,[4][5] but Pinter had to receive it in absentia, because of ill health,[6][7] and he died two weeks later.[8] Michael Grandage, a Central graduate and artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, has now been appointed President.


1906 – 1992

Elsie Fogerty founded The Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art at the Royal Albert Hall in 1906. Fogerty was a specialist in speech training and held a firm belief in the social importance of education. She was committed to advancing the study of theatre as an academic discipline.

In 1957 the school moved from the Royal Albert Hall, having acquired the lease of the Embassy Theatre at Swiss Cottage and its associated buildings. By 1961 three distinct departments had been established within Central. The stage department was running its three-year course for actors, with alumni including Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft already a part of its history, and a two-year course for stage managers. The teacher training department was preparing students for its own diploma, which was a recognised teaching qualification, and for the London University Diploma in Dramatic Art. That diploma had been instituted in 1912 as a result of Fogerty's campaign for the recognition of drama and drama teaching as subjects worthy of serious academic study. By this time, the school was as known for its speech therapy department as for its work in training actors.

In 1972 Central became grant-aided by the Inner London Education Authority. In 1989 it was incorporated as a higher education college in its own right and funded directly by government. Central had been offering degrees since 1986, firstly validated by the Council for National Academic Awards and from 1992 by the Open University.

2004 – A University Conservatoire

In 2004 the Privy Council granted the Central the power to award its own taught degrees. In 2005 students from the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art transferred to Central after a 100-year history of significant contributions to stage and screen. In the same year, the school was designated as the Higher Education Funding Council for England's Centre for Excellence in Training for Theatre. With effect from September 2005 Central became a college of the University of London, finally realising the ambitions articulated a hundred years earlier by its founder Elsie Fogerty.

Apart from its notable alumni, who include Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench, Cameron Mackintosh, Harold Pinter, Jason Isaacs and James Fox, the school has had some notable staff. In the 1960s Yat Malmgren taught movement, based on principles derived from Laban; Cicely Berry taught voice to students and later the Royal Shakespeare Company, John Allen, principal from 1972 to 1978, founded the Glyndebourne Children's Theatre, was the leading organiser of the Communist Party's Unity Theatre, London, where he coordinated the first Living Newspaper, Busmen (1937), and was a founding member of the Group Theatre, also in the mid-1930s; Litz Pisk was Head of Movement (1964–1970), having previously worked with Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in Vienna, and then Michel Saint-Denis at the Old Vic Theatre School.

On 29 November 2012 the adjective Royal was bestowed on the school by Elizabeth II in recognition of its reputation as a "world-class institution for exceptional professional training in theatre and performance studies". It is entitled to use it in official documentation, although it continues to be colloquially referred to as "Central". The school's Patron, Princess Alexandra of Kent, played a role in recommending the institution for the adjective.[9]


The school is located at Swiss Cottage in North London, an area which is being redeveloped as a "civic and cultural quarter" which includes a new extension building for the school, replacing 1960's accommodation. The school's theatre is located inside the new building which was awarded a BREEAM rating of "very good". [10]


On 9 October 2008, the school announced that Harold Pinter, who attended the school in 1950–51, had agreed to become its president,[4] succeeding Labour Party politician Peter Mandelson, who had rejoined the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown; previous presidents of the school included Dame Judi Dench and Lord Laurence Olivier.[5] Current president of Central is Michael Grandage, Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse and alumnus of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Current Principal Gavin Henderson is an English arts administrator, conductor and trumpeter. Deputy Principal / Deputy CEO / Clerk to Governors, Deborah Scully; prior to joining Central, Debbie held a number of roles in the former Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). These included Deputy Senior Administrative Officer (1985–1987) and Registrar (1981–1985) at Southwark College, London; Divisional Office Management Clerk (1980–1981); and roles at Westminster College, London 1976–1981) and ILEA Accounts (1974–1976).

Deputy Principal (Academic)and Professor of Theatre, Simon Shepherd, joined Central in 2001. Previously a Professor of Drama at Goldsmiths, University of London, and before that Professor of Drama at the University of Nottingham, which he left in 1996.

Dean of Studies and Professor of Sound, Ross Brown, formerly a painter, then a professional composer, performer and sound designer in theatre, Ross holds the first Chair in Theatre Sound in the UK. Since 1994, the aim of Ross' research has been to establish the subjects of theatre sound and aurality and advance their study by located them within a broader epistemology of sound and a framework of relevant theories and histories.

Director of Research, Robin Nelson, is a long-term member of the IFTR’s Theatre and Intermediality research group. Nelson joined Central in 2010 to support research development. In this context his work championing "practice as research" (PaR) is particularly relevant, but he has broad interests in theatre and media. Robin has held a range of posts in the HE sector; he is an Emeritus Professor of Manchester Metropolitan University where for over a decade he has been a member of the senior staff, finally involved in research management. He was an invited member of the Drama, Dance & Performing Arts RAE sub-panel in 2007/08.


In addition to being an acting school, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama offers training and education in a broad range of vocational and applied theatre specialties available, providing courses in acting, voice studies, producing, design for the stage, costume design, applied theatre & education, drama and movement therapy, lighting design and production, media and drama education, musical theatre, performance arts, prop making, puppetry, scenic art, scenic construction, costume construction, scenography, set design, theatre sound, stage management, technical and production management, directing and writing.


In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise the majority of Central's submission was judged "world leading" or "internationally excellent". The school has been ranked highly by The Guardian, placing it sixth in its league table of specialist institutions[11] and ninth for Drama and Dance.[12]

Central has more than 55 academic staff and a wide range of visiting lecturers and artists.

The school has over 20 doctoral candidates[13] and the first graduate of the programme, Broderick Chow, was awarded his PhD at the December 2010 graduation ceremony.[14]

Notable alumni


  1. "Where Our Money Comes From" (PDF). The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  2. "2016/17 Students by HE provider, level, mode and domicile" (CSV). Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  3. Granger, Rachel. "Rapid Scoping Study on Leicester Drama School" (PDF). De Montfort University Leicester. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  4. "Central Announces New President" (Press release). Central School of Speech and Drama (University of London). 9 October 2008. Archived from the original (Web) on 28 December 2008. Retrieved 15 October 2008.
  5. Alistair Smith (14 October 2008). "Pinter Replaces Mandelson as Central President" (Web). The Stage. Retrieved 15 October 2008.
  6. "Degree Honour for Playwright Pinter" (Web). Press Association (Hosted by Google). 11 December 2008. Retrieved 11 December 2008.
  7. "Central's 2008 Graduation Ceremony". The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (University of London). 12 December 2008. Archived from the original (Web) on 29 December 2008. Retrieved 1 January 2009. Honorary Fellowships for Harold Pinter, Jo Brand and Penny Francis.
  8. Mark Taylor-Batty, comp. "In Memoriam". Harold Pinter Society Webpages. The Harold Pinter Society and the University of Leeds. Archived from the original (Web) on 10 February 2009. Retrieved 1 January 2009. Harold Pinter – playwright, poet, actor, director, political activist – died on 24 December 2008, aged 78.
  9. "Central School of Speech and Drama celebrates new Royal Title".
  10. Page on Central School building, Ellis and Moore Consulting Engineers.
  11. "University guide 2011: Specialist institutions league table". The Guardian. London. 8 June 2010.
  12. "University guide 2011: Drama and dance". The Guardian. London. 8 June 2010.
  13. Student profiles.
  14. "Central awards its first PhD" (Web). Central School of Speech and Drama. 12 January 2011. Retrieved 8 February 2011.
  15. "Ryan Hawley CV". – Creative Artists Management. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  16. Wilson-Dickson, Andrew (18 October 2015). "Julia Wilson-Dickson obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 November 2015.

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