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Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, commonly referred to simply as the Footlights, is an amateur theatrical club in Cambridge, England, founded in 1883 and run by the students of Cambridge University.
Footlights' inaugural performance took place in June 1883. For some months before the name "Footlights" was chosen, the group had performed to local audiences in the Cambridge area (once, with a cricket match included, at the "pauper lunatic asylum"). They wished to go wider than the University Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC), founded in 1855, with its membership drawn largely from Trinity College, and its theatre seating only 100. They were to perform every May Week at the Theatre Royal, the shows soon open to the public. A local paper commended the Club's appeal to the "general public, the many different classes of which life in Cambridge is made up".
The club grew in prominence in the 1960s as a hotbed of comedy and satire. Having established a tradition of performing at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the club entered the mainstream when its members formed half of Beyond the Fringe, the hugely popular stage revue which toured Britain and America in 1960. The 1963 revue then followed in the footsteps of Beyond the Fringe, appearing in Edinburgh and London's West End, before travelling to New Zealand and the United States, where it made appearances on Broadway and The Ed Sullivan Show and received a full-page review in Time. Over the next decade, Footlights members came to dominate British comedy, creating and starring in shows such as I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, At Last the 1948 Show and That Was The Week That Was, forming comedy groups such as Monty Python and The Goodies, and generally fuelling the satire boom.
During the 1980s, Footlights reinforced its position at the heart of British comedy. The 1981 revue won the inaugural Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and spawned Fry and Laurie, the first in a long line of popular and successful double acts formed at the club. Many of its former members have gone on to win Oscars, BAFTAs and other awards and enjoy success in the entertainment and media industry.
Today, Footlights is recognised as a finishing school for many of Britain's most well-known comic entertainers.
During term, Footlights produce the regular and very popular Smokers – an informal mixture of sketches and stand-up – at the ADC Theatre. The club also performs plays, pantomimes and sketch shows and least one revue, usually in the spring. Outside of term, Footlights often go on tour, performing their best new material in the West End and abroad. For information about individual Footlights revues, see Cambridge Footlights Revue.
Notable former members
This is a listing of former members of Footlights who achieved notability after graduating from Cambridge University.
The elected leader of Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club is known as the president, who is assisted by a vice-president, treasurer, archivist and several other posts to form the committee.
Past notable presidents have included the following:
- Peter Cook (of Pete and Dud)
- Tim Brooke-Taylor (of The Goodies, I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue)
- Graeme Garden (of The Goodies, I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue)
- Eric Idle (of Monty Python)
- Clive James (Author of Cultural Amnesia and Unreliable Memoirs)
- Hugh Laurie (of Fry and Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster and House)
- Tony Slattery (of Whose Line Is It Anyway?)
- Sue Perkins (of The Great British Bake Off and Mel and Sue)
- David Mitchell (of That Mitchell and Webb Look and Peep Show)
- Richard Ayoade (of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and The IT Crowd)
- Simon Bird (of The Inbetweeners and Friday Night Dinner)
- John Oliver (of Mock the Week and Last Week Tonight)
- List of presidents
Information about the Footlights Revues during the first one hundred years of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club (1883–1983) and the people who appeared in them, with a foreword by Eric Idle.
- "Footlights history". Footlights.org. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
- Footlights!—'A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy'—Robert Hewison, Methuen London Ltd, 1983.
- From Fringe to Flying Circus – 'Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy 1960–1980' – Roger Wilmut, Eyre Methuen Ltd, 1980.
- The Broadway League. "Cambridge Circus". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
- "Why Footlights is a breeding ground for double acts". BBC News. 6 December 2010.
- "The South Bank Show: The Cambridge Footlights". University of Cambridge. 30 January 2009.
- "The Cambridge Footlights: First steps into comedy". The Independent. 28 January 2009.
- Hewison, Robert (1983). Footlights! – a hundred years of Cambridge comedy. Methuen London Ltd. ISBN 978-0-413-51150-8.