Richard Negri began teaching as a part time lecturer at Wimbledon School of Art in September 1962. Peter Bucknell was the Head of the Theatre Department at the time and, given the enormous success Negri was enjoying since the productions of 'Brand', 'As You Like It' and 'Peer Gynt', it was a considerable achievement to recruit such an influential and professionally active figure to the Department. It has yet to be discovered how Bucknell managed to bring Negri to Wimbledon but the audio clip below of Johanna Bryant recalling Negri's introduction to Wimbledon suggests it may simply have been a result of a direct invitation from Bucknell. (The interview took place outside a restaurant overlooking the harbour at Woodbridge, Suffolk, hence the background noise.)

Audio clip
3mb 06kb, 6 minutes 20seconds - resident designer at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre for several years, Johanna Bryant
, one of Negri's first students, recalls her early memories of his influence on her as a designer and teacher.

No one was to know, one surmises, what an influential and brilliant teacher Negri was to become. The seed was sown for generations of theatre design students to benefit from inspirational and life changing teaching under Negri's leadership.

By the end of 1963 Negri had become a senior lecturer and, from the beginning of the academic year 1964 he assumed the role of Head of Department with Bucknell moving on to become Principal of the School, following the retirement of Gerald Cooper.

Richard with his wife Jill leaving a performance of Pinero's 'The Gay Lord Quex'
performed in Wimbledon's theatre (built barely a year before) in June 1964.

(photograph by Bruno Brown)

Negri resigned in 1974 to fulfill his commitment to the Royal Exchange project but returned to Wimbledon in September 1982 as a senior lecturer working under Malcolm Pride who had earlier succeeded him as Head of Department.

Opening the present at the leaving party in 1974.
Negri's assistant in developing the models for the Exchange,
Peter Bennion, is seen, bearded, on the left and David Burrows,
former student and colleague on Negri's, is on the right.

An example of the profound influence Negri was to have on theatre designers trained at Wimbledon is Wales-based designer Martin Morley, a student in the early years of Negri's tenure as Head of Department who pays a considerable tribute to Negri here.

A fairly typical comment that students would make about Richard's teaching came as an item of feedback to this site from former student Riette Hayes-Davies:

"On presenting a not-terribly-good struggling early set design for a project while at Wimbledon School of Art to Richard Negri he said "This set is an apple trying to be a pear". It didn't make a lot of sense at the time but it does now."

and from Ellen Bell, (student from 1981-84), "I was delighted to come across your site. Richard had a profound effect on me as a student - though it was only with mature hindsight that I really became aware of it. It was his understated way of 'teaching' - or should I call it 'guiding' - that I remember best. Such a gentle, profoundly modest man. I was working at the Royal Exchange in the early 1990's when he directed 'La Ronde' - like him, so understated, and yet he didn't flinch from using nudity. His minimalism and attention to detail greatly inspired me."

From Sean Crowley, now head of the Theatre Design course at the Welsh Academy of Music and Drama, having seen Alan Perrin's recollections on this site:

"Just read the section by Reg, and thinking about those words of wisdom Richard gave to all of us, I still marvel at his ability to coin the appropriate poetic phrase. In the final year, final tutorial, he sensed my uncertainty at the future, "I see you're worried Sean, it's a stormy sea out there, full of strong currents and deep waters.... but don't worry you're a stout seal, I'm sure you'll stay afloat" ...... which gave me great comfort ... not so to ***** though, who had apparently "spent the last three years trying to catch butterflies to pin in a collection, but succeeded only in driving a six inch nail through them"!

Priceless memories, a wonderful, inspirational man, lost his temper at me and Helen in Skin of Our Teeth [link to 'Skin' gallery]... for trying to play it like Chekov ....

Stays with you always .... still give examples of his crows [The Story of Vasco] when teaching ..."

Cutting the cake at the retirement party in 1988.

The scale model figure of Richard Negri on the cake was made by a third year student at the time, Mark Tildesley (now working as a film production designer), who had performed in several student productions under Richard's direction. (See Night Out gallery) The 'life' as expressed in the scale figure was the most important aspect of any speculative theatre design as far as Negri was concerned, and the figure shown here, along with the theatre chair and red fire bucket, had pride of place on the mantlepiece in Richard's retirement home.

Negri finally retired from teaching at the end of June 1988, moving out of London with his wife Jill to a small cottage in Hempton, near Fakenham, Norfolk.

The only surviving video clip of Negri, linked below, offers more than eloquent evidence of his gifts as a teacher. The second part of the clip when he gives a personal account of the development of theatre architecture remains inspiring for many and rewards more than one viewing.

Quicktime movie, 8.4mb (go to Quicktime for download of free player)
NB The video clip will take 2 or 3 minutes to download using a 2mbs Broadband connection.

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