ArtsEd Remembers Brian E. Cook


No one could have predicted the pivotal role Brian E. Cook would play in ArtsEd’s history, particularly following his first encounter with the school. Stepping in to cover a handful of drama classes for a friend in 1966, Brian felt that the actor training lacked focus and depth, particularly compared to the dance provision at the time. Much to his surprise, just one year later, he was asked to help set up ArtsEd’s first dedicated drama course to address these very observations.  A mutual agreement was made that Brian would be given two years to get the course established, and he in turn would guarantee the same. Brian ended up staying for ten years, creating a renowned drama training programme and lasting legacy.

Alongside Lisle Jones and Hilary Wood, Brian launched the drama course in September 1968. Calling on his experience and contacts as an actor and director, Brian brought in tutors and guest directors from the industry, an important aspect of the training that continues today. Having previously worked with Brian Way, Founder of Theatre Centre and pioneer of Theatre in Education, Brian was amongst the first to provide students with the opportunity to explore this work and perform in local schools. He led the team during the school’s move to the old Cripplegate Institute at the Barbican in 1969, which would become known as Golden Lane House. It was here that Brian helped to cement the course’s future by securing course validation from the Department of Education. This recognition was critical in providing vital access to tuition fee funding for a number of students and it wasn’t long before funding was made available to all students, thanks to further accreditation through the Conference of Drama Schools, also established by Brian.

In just a few short years under Brian’s leadership, graduates of the newly formed drama course were entering the industry and securing professional work, despite the tough competition at the time…

“In view of Equity’s report in 1970 that more people are being trained for the theatre than the profession can absorb, it is encouraging that few of the drama students have found difficulty in obtaining employment.” Mr V.B.V Powell, Secretary to the Arts Educational Trust, May 1972

In 1976, Brian and Bridget Crowley (Head of Dance) saw a missed opportunity in drama school training and created what’s believed to be the first dedicated musical theatre course, restructuring what was known at the time as the mixed ‘Fifty Fifty’ course. This musical theatre course would grow into the internationally renowned training that we are known for today, thanks in part to Brian’s role in clarifying and strengthening the school’s offering of dedicated courses.

In 1978 Brian left ArtsEd to take his place at theological college and train as a Priest. Even after his departure, the legacy of his work lived on and he remained connected to ArtsEd for many years through Yvette his wife, who also taught on the drama and musical theatre courses.

Brian E. Cook will be remembered as an important and influential figure in ArtsEd’s 100 year history. He helped lay the foundations for the school as we now know it and left a lasting impact on those who were fortunate enough to be taught by him.

With thanks to Yvette Byrne and Bridget Crowley

Picture: Hilary Wood, Bernard Douglas, Brian Cook, Yvette Byrne, Lisle Jones at ArtsEd’s Campbell-Orde Memorial Lecture, 1974

For further reading, please enjoy Francis Wright’s blog on ‘As You Like It’ and the ArtsEd Class of 1976.