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.)
6 minutes 20seconds - resident designer
at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre for several years, Johanna
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
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
(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
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:
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"!
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 ....
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,
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