Ex-St Catz Thesps Celebrate the College’s 50th Anniversary

2012 marks fifty years since St Catherine’s became a college and this momentous occasion was celebrated in true Oxonian style: with a series of lectures delivered by prestigious alumni and guests. One of the discussion panels commemorated and explored St Catz links with the arts, in particular theatre and television, and brought together some well-known faces from both fields.

Michael Billington is the Guardian’s theatre critic, and has been for over forty years, graduating in 1958 before Catz became a college and was instead St Catherine’s Society. Sara Ramsden, a commissioning editor at Channel 4 and also a Catz graduate was also something of a pioneer, arriving shortly after the college began accepting women. Thelma Holt, well known as the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre amongst Oxford thesp circles, and as “an actor whose been out of work for 38 years” to her colleagues provided a performer’s perspective. Libby Purves completed the panel, using her considerable experience of a variety of mediums and careers to round out the perspectives on fifty years of stage and screen.

Moments selected included the selection of Laurence Olivier as Director of the National Theatre in 1962, the founding moment of reality television in the broadcast of Paul Watson’s documentary The Family and the beginning of the International Season at Aldwych Theatre, which brought Ibsen and Chekov into Thelma Holt’s life and started a life-long exploration of foreign theatre techniques, the benefit of which is still reaped by OUDS in the form of the Japan tour.

There was not always complete accord, Libby Purves at one point challenging Billington’s suggestion that the last fifty years had seen “the transition of power from the commercial to the subsidised sector,” by citing the success of Lloyd-Webber musicals and the growth of film and television. There was stimulating intellectual debate over reality in both theatre and television, including over what reality itself might be in those mediums. Anecdotes from all parties kept the hour entertaining, particularly Thelma’s description of her years at RADA as being “stuffed like a Christmas turkey with Shakespeare, Restoration Comedy and George Bernard Shaw.” The whole event demonstrated clearly how in a mere fifty years St Catherine’s has created a community and college to be proud of, with alumni and guests to match.

PHOTO/ St Catz