An RAD journey that leads to running the same premises as Phyllis Bedells.
My name is Angela Redgrave and I was born in Church End Finchley, London on 21 September 1917.
I was born in a boys’ college that my father was running at the time, he was actually a minister in the Church of England. About five years later we moved out to Watford where I did most of my growing up.
I had the ambition to perform from a very early age and wanted to perform, either sing, dance or act. In those days there weren’t the opportunities we have these days such as a prolific amount of dance schools, colleges, and musical theatre schools.
So it really was quite late in my life, I was about 10 when a girl joined my school called Molly Wood who was obviously training in ballet. I was absolutely fascinated by this, I watched every move she made, whether during a concert at the school or when she was showing the teachers. I was so pleased when after doing a little dance show for some of the parents, one of them said, “Do you go to the same school as Molly Wood, because you are doing the same steps”.
I was delighted.
Eventually, my father realised that he had to do something about this and so I was enrolled in the Watford Academy of Dancing. I must have had a very good teacher who was very technical in every way. I stayed there for quite a few years taking most of my examinations.
When I was 16 I transferred to what was then regarded as the leading London performing arts school. It was run by Miss Euphen Maclaren who was a member of the Pavlova Company.
I was there for quite a time, we learned all types of dance, mainly classical ballet but also what we called musical dance in those days, and tap and all that type of dancing that I really loved.
I did take my examinations with the ISTD and achieved my Licentiate in four or five subjects. During that time we also did quite a few auditions in London and I got into various London shows, mainly pantomime and of course the one really big production of the year, the wonderful Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall. A musical that is now too expensive to stage. We had Sir Malcolm Sargent playing the music, what more could I have asked for? I do believe that on one of the occasions this was staged, Miss Phyllis Bedells was the principal dancer.
After this, I continued to audition successfully and worked in many summer shows throughout the country. These shows were very good and extremely popular.
But then came World War II and everything changed. This is another very long story that I will not go into now for obvious reasons, but suffice to say I worked and danced through some pretty hair raising experiences as I was living in London, and had to regularly dodge air raids, running as fast as I could into the nearest underground station.
After the war, I relocated to Somerset where I decided to restart my teacher training so that I could open my own dance school, using the syllabus of the Royal Academy of Dancing, as it was known in those days, and that I dearly loved and respected.
So I went to a very well-known school in Bristol, The Maddox School. This was the RAD school in the area. I studied and really worked hard, although I didn’t take any examinations, but I did study all the work including the Vocational levels.
I then opened my own very successful school in Somerset, that of course was all RAD. During that time I heard that the well-known Bristol School of Dancing was up for sale. The owner was retiring. So I made an offer and actually obtained it.
It was far from easy, as the premises, two huge Victorian houses that had been knocked into one property had already been sold, so there were no actual premises. This meant hiring various church halls, working around things like church meetings, the Brownies, the quilting club, etc.
Then an opportunity came to buy premises in Clifton, literally a stone’s throw from the original premises. It was in Lansdown Road and the premises were up for sale because the teacher, who was a Ballroom teacher had very bad arthritis and wanted to retire. So I managed to secure that and this changed things completely.
It was after quite a few years that I discovered that this was actually the same building in which Phyllis Bedells (a Bristol-born girl) had started her own school. At that time she and her husband lived in the large house in Vyvyan Terrace, in the garden of which stands the studio, or Swedish Gymnasium.
Phyllis Bedells started her school in 1924 that I understand was very, very successful, and known as The West of England Academy of Dance.
After a time she returned to London to perform, handing her school over to a friend of hers who lived in Portishead, a town just outside Bristol. That continued for many successful years.
I was fortunate enough to purchase the premises and transferred my school as well as pupils from the Bristol School to its new home where it continues to this day. The studio still has the barres that Phyllis Bedells herself had fitted, as well as a music stand.
The whole building is extremely special and the atmosphere exudes to the memory of Phyllis Bedells.
About Phyllis Bedells
Phyllis Bedells trained in the French, Italian, Danish and Russian schools of ballet, developing her own versatile British style. Engaged at London’s Empire Theatre in 1907, she became the first British ‘prima ballerina’ in 1913. Her talent was recognised by Anna Pavlova who invited her to join her classes at Ivy House and her successful partnership with Anton Dolin in the late 1920s showed the strengthening popularity of English dancers at the time. Bedells was the youngest of the original RAD committee members and had her own school, but remained involved with the Academy until her death.