Founding members visit Octagon Theatre construction site

Founding members visit Octagon Theatre construction site

Gerry Russell and Dr. Phillip Butterworth, two of the five students who oversaw the original development in 1967, visited the Octagon Theatre construction site last week.

L to R: Cllr Linda Thomas, Roddy Gauld, Dr Phillip Butterworth, Mark Whittaker, Gerry Russell, Graham Lee, David Jennings.

In 1967, five students alongside their drama lecturer, Robin Pemberton-Billing, laid plans for a new theatre in Bolton. Taking only seven months of construction, the theatre was officially opened on 27 November 1967 by Princess Margaret.  

Last week, two of the original co-founders, Gerry Russell and Dr. Phillip Butterworth were joined by Leader of Bolton Council Cllr Linda Thomas and Chief Executive of the Octagon Theatre Roddy Gauld, to be given a tour of the site by lead architects from JM Architects David Jennings and Mark Whittaker, and Wilmott Dixon site manager Graham Lee.

Photography by Bolton Documentary Photography

One of the founders, Dr. Philip Butterworth commented on the visit “As you might imagine, this was a nostalgic and inspiring tour conducted by the architects and builders whose commitment and enthusiasm for the project is obvious.

Most of the building work will take place at the rear of the auditorium on the site of the old rehearsal studio and achieve a height of six stories. The decisions to re-allocate the internal spaces have been very well considered. The auditorium space will not change. After all, this is the heart of the theatre as it was created as the first fully-professional flexible theatre in the country in 1967.”

Gerry Russell said “When, with Philip Butterworth and three other Loughborough College students, together with Robin Pemberton-Billing, our drama lecturer, and I first came to Bolton in the 1960’s with the somewhat crazy idea of building and opening a new theatre in the town, I was staggered by the reception we received. In a whirlwind few months we went from an idea, met civic leaders, went through planning consent, fundraising, etc., to a new building, taking just seven months from foundation stone laying to opening.

That was 50 years ago and I still remember as though it were yesterday that first night in November 1967 when the Octagon opened its doors for the first time to a ‘full house’.

After a site visit yesterday, I was left with no doubt that this is an amazing, exciting project with so much vision, which will take the Octagon forward - hopefully for another 50 years! I cannot wait to see the final outcome of this very ambitious scheme and wish all involved every success.”

Photography by Bolton Documentary Photography

Roddy Gauld, Chief Executive at the Octagon Theatre spoke “The Octagon is a remarkable story of a college lecturer and five students who designed a revolutionary new theatre.  That theatre became the Octagon, and now over fifty years on, it’s an absolute honour to show Gerry and Phil, two of those students, around the site.  The theatre they imagined was flexible, innovative and had community at its heart.  This redevelopment will continue those principles including creating more space for our youth and community work. 

 I’m really happy that Gerry and Phil are supporting the changes we’re making, and can’t wait to welcome them to the re-opening next year.”

Leader of Bolton Council and Greater Manchester Portfolio Lead for Culture, Cllr Linda Thomas said: “The Octagon has been a jewel in Bolton’s crown for more than half a century and it was great to see the founders’ enthusiasm for the plans and reminisce about the theatre.

“We have supported the Octagon every step of the way from its conception and it is exciting to see the work being carried out to transform the theatre for its next chapter.

“It is a crucial part of the town’s culture and heritage and we can’t wait to see it open its doors to the community once again.”

The new town centre building is set to reopen in 2020 and the Octagon still has £600,000 to raise to complete the work.

Find out more about how you can support the Octagon Reimagined project and ways you can help fundraise by visiting