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News > Memories at Hymers > The Judi Dench Theatre

The Judi Dench Theatre

The theatre was officially opened by Dame Judi Dench in July 1995
Dame Judi Dench meeting students outside the theatre
Dame Judi Dench meeting students outside the theatre

On 4 July 1995, Hymers College welcomed Dame Judi Dench to the school to open the 'new' school theatre, which was to be named after herself.

Headmaster at the time, John Morris showed her around the new theatre and she was introduced to students of the school, who were to take part in the first production, "Albert's Bridge" by Tom Stoppard.

Prior to the theatre being built, school plays were carried out in the Dining Hall, where a removable section of the floor revealed a drop-down seating area.

Dining Hall used for a school production:

Judi Dench Theatre as it is now:


Neil King, former Director of Sixth Form and Head of English was involved in the planning of the theatre and provided the following recollection:

I sat on a committee which planned the theatre, and when asked to suggest a name for it I suggested, "Not someone dead - go for a living artist. If male, I'd recommend Derek Jacobi. If female - and that seemed appropriate given that by 1995 Hymers was becoming almost completely co-ed - I'd go for Judi Dench." I had some previous contact with her via the telephone about writing an introduction for an edition of Shakespeare which I had edited.

When I approached her about giving her name to the Hymers theatre she was delighted. The day we chose coincided with her passage up to Scotland on holiday with her late husband, Michael Williams, so she planned to stay en route at her family home in York where it was agreed that I would collect her. I took along my youngest daughter, Eleanor, to help me break the ice; but it was needless - as if I didn't already know it, Dame Judi is the warmest of people ("Don't for Heaven's Sake call me 'Dame'"). She is the most unpretentious of people. In the car all her talk was not of her but about me and 12 year old Eleanor sitting in the back. I remember saying that as a student at Durham and Cambridge, I had sacrificed better degrees by spending too much time in the university theatres and thought of a career in theatre, but decided that I liked teaching instead which I enjoyed and which offered a more stable life. She replied, "You made the right decision. Don't go into acting unless nothing else matters."

It was a most beautiful day, and when we called at my house in Beverley to pick up my wife and mother-in-law she jumped out of the car and started to admire the flowers and trees in our garden - folk may have gathered her love of trees from a recent TV programme. 

When we arrived at Hymers I took her to the Head's study to meet John Morris, Richard Grayson and others, and then handed her over to Richard to host her for the evening. In the theatre Judi made what I suppose you might call an acceptance speech - brief as, for all her acting skill, she did not relish self-promoting speeches. We then saw Stoppard's short piece Albert's Bridge in which Andrew Plaistowe (OH 1985-95) took the lead, followed by a reception in the old junior school dining room where she was introduced to many of the leading lights of Hymers drama including Amitava Banerjee, Sue Clarke and Kate Francis, who were to star in Guys & Dolls later in the year.

Richard Grayson drove Judi back to York, and as we were about to drive away she ran over to my car and said to my mother-in-law, who was about to go to the Chelsea Flower Show, "Do look out for a new variety of rose that has been named after me!" Not a boast - just irrepressible enthusiasm.

Su Harper-Clark and Amitava Banerjee were the Head Girl and Boy at the time of the opening and were introduced to her:

I remember feeling very excited and rather star-struck at the thought of meeting her. When the day came, Ami and I had to greet her at the entrance to the theatre. I remember her warmth and her genuine surprise at having a theatre named in her honour. She seemed somewhat bemused but also delighted to see her name over the door. Ami and I were just about to appear in 'Guys & Dolls' and I remember her saying she had always wanted to perform in that production but never got cast! 

Su Harper-Clarke, OH 1991-96

Judi Dench remains one of the most impressive people in British public life and even then she was a national treasure.

It was and is amazing that such a prominent star of stage and screen opened and gave her name to our Hymers theatre.

It was such a privilege to meet her! I remember being very starstruck and letting Su do most of the talking."

Amitava Banerjee, OH 1986-96

Jeremy Campbell, OH 1986-96, recalls:

Dame Judi Dench was there and I recall that Neil King brought her to Hymers  in his car.

Dame Judi was very much in the public eye at the time because the James Bond film GoldenEye had just been released - and this was the first of the JB films in which she appeared as 'M'. So she was an exciting guest to have.

One of the first plays to be performed at the theatre was Guys and Dolls and I remember Dame Judi being interested in that and was keen to chat to the performers.

Kate Francis, OH 1994-96, who was also in Year 12 at the time of the opening, remembers the evening well:

The opening of the theatre was very exciting!  Judi Dench was so gracious and read something beautiful.  I remember feeling very star struck!  We all felt very lucky to be there, and to have such a wonderful, real live theatre to work in.

I could not have had a better grounding or inspiration for my own 20 year acting career.

The building of the theatre was constructed at the same time as the dining hall was given a facelift and a new Staff Room was built. The Junior Common Room was also refurbished and in the place of the old Staff Room, were two new IT suites.

In The Hymerian magazine for 1995, the building of the theatre was referenced, along with the challenges that it faced in its construction.

The school itself has undergone significant changes during the last eighteen months. A theatre has been created - the Judi Dench Theatre is now the centre of dramatic activity at every hour of the school day and beyond. We have faced placard carrying local demonstrators outside the gates, and cranes, diggers, pedestrian crossings and new traffic controls within.

The opening of the theatre itself is also recorded in the magazine, with Head of Drama, Richard Grayson providing the welcome speech to Dame Judi Dench.

A write-up on the performance of Albert's Bridge was also provided to The Hymerian:

Below is the programme from the Opening Evening:

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