John Blackmore, one of the UK’s foremost Champions of Regional Theatre and longest serving Chief Executive of the Octagon Theatre died peacefully on 20th February following an illness illness at the age of 77.
John made a massive contribution to British theatre in an extraordinary career that spanned six decades. John was born in Singapore, but spent much of his childhood in Africa. He studied Psychology at Hull University, before taking to directing in his early 20s, becoming Artistic Director of The Library Theatre in 1967. He admitted he was far from gifted as a director, but became passionate about theatre and its capacity to improve the quality of life for everyone, not just the privileged few. His career took him the length of the UK, impacting communities and supporting artists who would shape the fabric of UK Theatre for the next generation. He founded Northern Stage (in its first manifestation) and he ran companies in Manchester, Leicester, Newcastle, Lancaster and Bolton. He made a significant contribution to the English Shakespeare Company, Warwick Arts Centre and the West End, and developed co-producing partnerships with companies across the UK.
John came to the Octagon in 2000 and served as Chief Executive until 2012, seeing the theatre through highs and lows during his 12 years of leadership. Asked by Arts Council England North West to resolve a financial and artistic crisis threatening the Octagon’s producing status. When he took over, the Octagon had no reserves or guaranteed funding from ACE or local authorities. He raised £200k from ACE Theatre Review in 2000 and restored full producing status, 8-9 shows per year. From 2000 onwards, the Octagon finished with a surplus every year and became one of the most celebrated theatres outside London.
“John was one of the Octagon’s most indelible characters. Witty, irrepressible, deeply loyal and fiercely passionate, he always left a huge impression on those who met him. He took charge of the Octagon at a time of hardship, when its future was in doubt. He determinedly rebuilt the finances, ambitions and morale of the organisation, and served as the longest leader in the theatre's history.
He cared deeply about those who worked at the Octagon and was at his happiest encouraging and supporting others, especially at the beginning of their careers. His belief in the importance of theatre inspired all those who worked with him. He will be remembered not just for his resolute leadership, but his kindness and good humour too. He will be deeply missed by all those who knew him, and our thoughts are with his family.”
Roddy Gauld and Elizabeth Newman (Current Octagon Chief Executive and Artistic Director)
John will be missed by everyone at the Octagon who knew him and his legacy will remain at the Octagon for many years to come. Our thoughts are with John's family and friends.