SIR: Perhaps I can help answer Keith Webb’s question about how much public money has been used to fund the Theatre Royal (Chronicle, Letters, August 13).

Through the heroic efforts of all those (including Phil Yates) who saved the theatre from demolition, it was brought back into operation in the 1970s. However, it was non-viable. It still lacked the technical and audience facilities essential for theatres in the late 20th century. Consequently, in 1994 it failed due to irredeemable debts.

The option to build a much larger theatre elsewhere in Winchester was carefully considered, however, it was deemed unwise to try to compete with existing large venues in the region. What was required was a model for 21st century theatre to meet the needs of all sectors of the local community, through radical restructuring of the existing building and modernisation of all its facilities. The Arts Council England, Winchester City Council and Hampshire County Council endorsed that decision. Over the subsequent eight years they contributed more than £4.3m of public money to the project, including over £3m of Lottery funding. Local businesses, many national arts charities, and several hundred individuals contributed a further £0.8M.

It may not be The Bolshoi, Covent Garden or the Sydney Opera House, but since its re-opening in 2001, Winchester’s Theatre Royal has enabled many thousands of people to experience the euphoria that can be felt by participating in live theatre either as audience or performers. It has also generated substantial additional revenues for local businesses.

Mr Webb is someone who clearly understands and values the importance of the performing arts. Perhaps he could now consider making a generous contribution to ‘Play to the Crowd’. This would help to ensure that our relatively modest theatre will continue to provide opportunities for wide-ranging theatrical experiences to be enjoyed by all in our community.

Russell Fairchild,

Chairman of the Winchester Theatre Fund, 1994 to 2003,


SIR: I consider Keith Webb's curt dismissal of the Theatre Royal (Chronicle, Letters, August 13) insensitive, appearing as it did in the same edition as the very sad news that the theatre is being forced to make redundancies.

In an earlier letter Mr Webb asserted that people had been misled in the 1970s that the theatre could thrive without the need for any public subsidy - an allegation I have heard from others living here at the time. He asked how much public money had been spent on it since 1978 which your correspondent Phil Yates did not answer, probably because he did not have the information.

So I have attempted a "best estimate". The theatre received just over £300,000 in council grants (Winchester and Hampshire Councils) in each of the last two years to March 2019. This would suggest that it could have received over £10 million in "today's money" over the last 40 years. If anyone has the correct information no doubt they will provide it.

But this is history and the priority now is for the theatre to get back on its feet as soon as possible. However, once this is achieved there is an important issue - is it right that when councils are having to cut back on essential services that the theatre should continue to receive council grants of £300,000 a year? What other form of entertainment is subsidised in this way? None that I know.

Unlike Mr Webb, I want the Theatre Royal to continue to thrive once it has overcome the present crisis. But, bearing in mind seat prices at neighbouring theatres are much higher, I believe Winchester theatre-goers should and would be willing to pay a bit more. Keeping libraries and other essential services is surely a much higher priority for our council tax.

Andrew Beadle,

Milesdown Place,

St Giles Hill,