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Culture in Bristol

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Subject: Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Show of Strength Theatre Company, Sport in Bristol
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Culture in Bristol

Bristol is a city in South West England. As the largest city in the region it is a centre for the arts and sport. The region has a distinct West Country dialect.


In summer the grounds of Ashton Court to the west of the city play host to the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, a major event for hot air ballooning in Britain. The Fiesta draws a substantial crowd even for the early morning lift that typically begins at about 6.30 am. Events and a fairground entertain the crowds during the day. A second mass ascent is then made in the early evening, again taking advantage of lower wind speeds.

The annual Bristol International Festival of Kites and Air Creations,[1] featuring kite makers and flyers from around the world, takes place in September at Ashton Court.

From 1974 until 2007, Ashton Court also played host to the Ashton Court festival each summer, an outdoors music festival which used to be known as the Bristol Community Festival. Torrential rain during the 2007 festival and mounting costs incurred as a result of the Licensing Act 2003 led to the dissolution of the not-for-profit company which organised the event.[2]

The annual Bristol Harbour Festival features displays of tall ships and musical performances.

The St Pauls Carnival also takes place in Bristol during the summer and features a procession and late night music.[3]

The Bristol Slapstick Silent Comedy Festival celebrates silent film comedy every spring and the organisation also promotes screenings throughout the year.[4] In November the Encounters Short Film Festival offers a platform for new short films.[5]

The biennial Wildscreen Festival showcases wildlife filmmaking in the city that is home to the BBC Natural History Unit.[6]

The Bristol Festival of Ideas is an annual programme of debates and other events, which aims to "to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme of discussion and debate".[7] It was first set up in 2005 as part of the city's ultimately unsuccessful bid to become the European Capital of Culture for 2008, and awards an annual book prize, worth £10,000, to a book which "presents new, important and challenging ideas, which is rigorously argued, and which is engaging and accessible".[8][9]


The city's principal theatre company, the Bristol Old Vic, was founded in 1946 as an offshoot of the Old Vic company in London. Its premises on King Street consist of the 1766 Theatre Royal (400 seats), a modern studio theatre (150 seats), and foyer and bar areas in the adjacent Coopers' Hall (built 1743). The Theatre Royal is a grade I listed building and was the oldest continuously operating theatre in England. The Bristol Hippodrome is a larger theatre (1981 seats) which hosts national touring productions, whilst other theatres include the Tobacco Factory (250 seats), The Brewery (90 seats), Bierkeller Theatre (400 seats), QEH (220 seats), the Redgrave Theatre (at Clifton College) (320 seats) and the Alma Tavern (50 seats). Arnolfini stage a regular programme of experimental, physical and live art theatre and the University of Bristol Drama Department has a regular programme of visiting companies and in-house work at the Wickham Theatre.[10] Other venues which have hosted theatre productions include Hope Chapel (Hotwells) (formerly the Hope Centre), the Hen and Chicken pub (Bedminster) and PACTS (Easton).

Bristol's theatre scene includes a large variety of producing theatre companies, apart from the Bristol Old Vic, including Show of Strength Theatre Company, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, Myrtle Theatre, Cirque Bijou, Desperate Men, Theatre West and Travelling Light Theatre Company. Theatre Bristol is a partnership between Bristol City Council, Arts Council England and local theatre practitioners which aims to develop the theatre industry in Bristol.[11] There are also a number of organisations within the city which act to support theatre makers, for example Equity, the actors union, has a General Branch based in the city,[12] and Residence which provides office, social and rehearsal space for several Bristol based theatre and performance companies.[13]

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which originated in King Street as an offshoot of the Bristol Old Vic is now a separate company. Based in Clifton in a property bought with royalties from Julian Slade's musical Salad Days, the school trains actors, stage managers, directors, lighting and sound technicians, designers and costumiers for work in stage, television, radio and film productions. BOVTS is an Associate School of the Faculty of Creative Arts of the University of the West of England and an affiliate of the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama. Alumni include Annette Crosbie, Brian Blessed, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gene Wilder, Jane Lapotaire, Jeremy Irons, Miranda Richardson, Patrick Stewart, Pete Postlethwaite, Stephanie Cole and Tim Pigott-Smith.[14]

The University of Bristol Drama Department offers undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in performance and screen studies.[15] The University of the West of England offers undergraduate and post-graduate drama and film programmes.[16] Circomedia is a training school for circus and physical theatre skills offering foundation degrees and BTEC courses.[17]

In addition there are around 25 active non-professional theatre companies in the Greater Bristol area listed in Bristol City Council's Leisure and Culture database.[18]


The music scene is thriving and significant. In 2010, PRS for Music announced that Bristol is the 'most musical' city in the UK, based on the number of PRS members born in Bristol relative to its population.[19] From the late 1970s onwards it was home to a crop of cultish bands combining punk, funk, dub and political consciousness, including The Pop Group, close friends of The Cortinas, who led the City's punk scene from 1976. Bristol's premier fanzine from this time through until early 1978 was Loaded. It featured all of the Bristol bands as well as those who visited the city, some of whom were promoted by the magazine.

Ten years later, Bristol was the birthplace of a type of English hip-hop music called trip hop or the Bristol Sound, epitomised in the work of artists such as Tricky, Portishead, Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack. It is also a stronghold of drum and bass with notable bands like the Mercury Prize winning Roni Size /Reprazent and Kosheen as well as the pioneering DJ Krust and More Rockers. The progressive house duo Way Out West also hails from Bristol. This music is part of the wider Bristol Urban Culture scene which received international media attention in the 1990s and still thrives today.

Other forms of popular music also thrive on the city's scene. In the 1980s the city gave birth to thrash metal band Onslaught who became the first non-American thrash band to sign to a major label. Other notable rockers from Bristol include folk rock outfit K-Passa, Stackridge, Act of Contrition, Chaos UK, Vice Squad, Wushcatte, The Claytown Troupe, Rita Lynch, Herb Garden, Doreen Doreen, The Seers, Pigbag, and The Blue Aeroplanes. More recently a new wave of Bristol-based bands have been promoting themselves across the UK underground, including New Rhodes,Santa Dog, Tin Pan Gang, The Private Side, Big Joan, You and the Atom Bomb, Riot:Noise, Two Day Rule, Alien Stash Tin, Osmium, Hacksaw, Allflaws, Bronze Age Fox and Legends De Early.

There is also a left field / experimental music scene in Bristol, which has built on the tradition of Bristol bands like The Pop Group, Third Eye Foundation and Crescent. These musicians are supported by record labels such as Invada, Farm Girl, Blood Red Sound and Super Fi, and promoters such as Qu Junktions, Illegal Seagull, Let the Bastards Grind, Noise Annoys and the, now defunct, Choke (music collective). Despite regular performances and the success of many of its members, this scene tends to be passed over in the national press' view of Bristol music which focuses on Trip Hop,[20] which represents only one aspect of the city's musical culture. Active bands include Gravenhurst (Warp), Team Brick (Invada), The Heads (Invada), Gonga (Invada), Joe Volk (Invada), Fuck Buttons (ATP - now moved to London), Hunting Lodge (Yosada), SJ Esau (Anticon, Twisted Nerve), Bronnt Industries Kapital (Static Caravan), Aut (Fällt), Geisha (Crucial Blast) and Defibrillators (Gravid Hands).

Bristol is home to many live music venues including the 2000-seat Colston Hall, named after Colston Street and the Colston School that once occupied the site, which can attract big names, the Trinity Centre (a community-run converted Church in the Old Market area of Bristol), the O2 Academy which is part of the national touring circuit for rock bands, the Anson Rooms (part of the University of Bristol Union), the Mothers Ruin, The Thekla, Fiddler's, the Bristol Folk House, Start the Bus, the Hatchet, the Fleece, the Croft, the Cooler and the Louisiana.

The city also has a popular jazz and blues scene with The Old Duke pub being a popular venue for bands such as Fortune Drive. Internationally recognised jazz and blues musicians active in Bristol include Eddie Martin, Jim Blomfield and Andy Sheppard. Other notable supporters of jazz include the Bristol Jazz Society, the Be-Bop Club and the East Bristol Jazz Club. St George's Bristol, on Brandon Hill, is notable for its jazz along with classical and world music performances.

The International Classical Season at the Colston Hall features regular performances by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as well as other leading British orchestras such as the Philharmonia Orchestra and visiting orchestras from abroad, including the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Berliner Symphoniker in the 2011-2012 season.[21] Bristol Choral Society also stages at least three concerts annually at the Colston Hall, as it has since its foundation in 1889.[22] The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Brodsky Quartet, among other internationally renowned ensembles, as well as local groups such as Bristol Bach Choir and the Bristol Ensemble, regularly perform at St George's Bristol, which also hosts BBC Radio Three lunchtime concert series. Bristol University's Victoria Rooms also have a seasonal programme of classical concerts, and other concerts are frequently staged at Bristol Cathedral and various Bristol churches.

Museums and galleries

The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery houses collections of natural history, local archaeology, local glassware, Egyptology, Chinese ceramics and art, including the Bristol School. Touring exhibitions from other galleries are regularly hosted.

The City Museum is also responsible for

  • The Tudor Red Lodge, built in 1580 as the lodge for a 'Great House' which once stood on the site now occpied by the Colston Hall. Displays include Tudor and Georgian rooms and a Tudor knot garden.
  • The Georgian House was built by slave trader and plantation owner John Pinney in 1790 and is preserved in the style of a Georgian era town house.
  • The Blaise Castle House and estate on the northern outskirts of the city houses the social history collections. The grounds were designed by 18th century landscape gardener Humphry Repton and John Nash designed the dairy and conservatory.
  • The remains of Kings Weston Roman Villa which is open on request.

Bristol Record Office in Hotwells houses the extensive city archives.

The former Industrial Museum, housed in former warehouses at Prince's Wharf has been extensively re-built and, now called M Shed opened as a museum of Bristol life in 2011.

The Watershed Media Centre exhibits photography, digital arts and cinema. Arnolfini specialises in contemporary art, live performance and dance and cinema. The Royal West of England Academy in Clifton was founded in 1849 and exhibits works by William James Müller and Francis Danby amongst others.

Smaller collections include those of Spike Island, the Alexander Gallery, F-block at the School of Creative Arts, Bower Ashton, Bristol Architecture Centre and Glenside Museum. The Bristol Guild of Applied Art also has a small gallery. Science interests are catered for by the At-Bristol complex at Canon's Marsh, which includes 'hands-on' exhibits and a planetarium.


From the early twentieth century, Bristol had a number of cinemas including the Whiteladies Picture House, Academy, Bedminster Hippodrome, Ashton Cinema, Prince's Theatre and Coliseum Picture House.[23]


Bristol's architecture includes many examples of mediaeval, gothic, modern industrial and post-war architecture. Notable buildings include the gothic revival Wills Memorial Building, and the tallest building in the city, St Mary Redcliffe. The city is noted for its Victorian industrial architecture of the Bristol Byzantine style, characterised by deep red and polychrome brickwork and Byzantine style arches.

Examples of most of the stages of the Architecture of the United Kingdom from the mediaeval era onwards are present in the city. Little remains of the fortifications of the walled city and castle, although several churches from the 12th century have survived. The Tudor period saw several large mansions and estates being built for wealthy merchants outside the traditional city centre. Almshouses and public houses for the rest of the population remain mixed in amongst areas of more recent development. In the eighteenth century, several squares were laid out for the prosperous middle classes in the expanding suburbs which grew to take in many of the surrounding villages. The development of the floating harbour provided a focus for industrial development and the local transport infrastructure including the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Temple Meads railway station, the original part of which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The twentieth century saw further expansion of the city, with the growth of the University of Bristol buildings and the aircraft industry. During World War II the city centre suffered from extensive bombing during the Bristol Blitz and redevelopment of shopping centres and office buildings continues into the twenty-first century.



Main article: Sport in Bristol

Bristol is the home of two major football clubs - Bristol City FC and Bristol Rovers FC, the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, and Bristol Rugby Football Club. It also hosts an annual half marathon. The city has a large number of amateur football, cricket and rugby clubs and many active participants in a range of sports from tennis to athletics, and rowing to golf.


News and magazines

Bristol is the home of the regional morning newspaper, the Western Daily Press, local evening paper the Evening Post and a weekly free newspaper, the Bristol Observer. A Bristol edition of Metro is distributed for free on buses and on the streets. The local listings magazine, Venue, covers the city's live music, theatre and arts scenes. It survived a threat of closure in 2011,[24] and is now published as a free monthly (jointly with lifestyle magazine Folio).[25] All of these papers are owned by the Northcliffe Group.

Smile Census (%)
Bristol 70
Glasgow 68
Exeter 54
Manchester 54
Wrexham 42
Cardiff 41
Liverpool 41
Norwich 35
Newcastle 32
Birmingham 31
Southampton 24
London 18
Edinburgh 4
Nottingham 0

In 2003 several local publications reported Bristol the "smiling capital of Britain" due to a study being conducted by the BBC before Red Nose Day on 14 March. Psychology students from universities in the cities surveyed, found that 70 out of every 100 Bristolians returned a smile from Comic Relief researchers. This put Bristol first in their "smiles per hour" census, the table makes interesting reading with Londoners only returning a smile 18% of the time. Bristol comedian Tony Robinson said: "We do smile a lot in the city, but sometimes it is not really a smile - we are just a little bit constipated."

Bristol has a flourishing independent media scene, including The Bristolian, Bristle magazine and a local Indymedia website. The Spark is a magazine that was established in 1993 and is published quarterly. It covers the surging interest in all things green, ethical and complementary.[26]

The Bristolian news sheet achieved a regular distribution of several thousand, pulling no punches with its satirical exposés of council and corporate corruption. The Bristolian, 'Smiter of the High and Mighty', even spawned a radical independent political party that polled an impressive 15% in Easton ward in 2003. In October 2005 it came runner up for the national Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism[27]

The anarchist-oriented Bristle, 'fighting talk for Bristol and the South-West', was started in 1997 and celebrated its twentieth issue in 2005. Its pages especially feature subvertising and other urban street art to complement news, views and comments on the local activist scene as well as tackling issues such as drugs, mental health and housing.

1970s women’s liberation Feminist movement paper Enough, was succeeded in the 1990s by the environmental and pagan Greenleaf (edited by George Firsoff), West Country Activist, Kebelian Voice, Planet Easton, the anarcho-feminist Bellow and present-day punk fanzine Everlong, all of which have been published in Bristol.

The Bristol Indymedia website,[28] like the wider Indymedia network, provides a mix of news and articles that often tend towards a left-wing, progressive or anarchistic perspective. Bristol Indymedia volunteers have also produced films[29] and run community media days[30] (often at the Cube Microplex).

Local broadcasters

Bristol is in the ITV West and BBC West television regions.

BBC Radio Bristol is part of the BBC Local Radio network broadcasting on AM and FM. Commercial stations include Heart (previously known as GWR and Radio West), Classic Gold 1260 (AM), Kiss 101 (FM), Star 107.2 (FM) and 106 Jack FM, which replaced Original 106.5 (Bristol) in December 2009.[31] Two community stations have been launched in the 21st century:BCFM and Ujima 98 FM,[32] as well as two student radio stations, The Hub (University of the West of England) and BURST (University of Bristol).

Urban radio projects such as the 1980s pirate, Savage Yet Tender and Dialect Radio (ceased October 2004) have proved to be more short-lived.[33] However, in February 2007, a unique online station, Radio Salaam Shalom was launched by a combined team of Muslim and Jewish volunteers allowing the two cultures to talk together and share their experiences.[34]

Film and television production

Stop frame animation films and commercials painstakingly produced by Aardman Animations and high quality television series focusing on the natural world have also brought fame and artistic credit to the city. Aardman films Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Creature Comforts and Robbie the Reindeer were all produced in the city, and their premises in St Phillips Marsh hit the news in 2006, when a fire destroyed many of the sets from past productions.

Broadcasting House in Clifton is the headquarters of BBC West and the BBC Natural History Unit (NHU). Natural history TV programmes produced a in Bristol include Life on Earth, The Living Planet, The Trials of Life, Life in the Freezer, The Private Life of Plants, The Life of Birds and The Life of Mammals. The NHU also produced Animal Magic, many episodes of which were filmed at Bristol Zoo.

Popular television programmes filmed in Bristol include BBC dramas Casualty and Being Human, Channel 4 comedy-dramas Teachers and Skins and the ITV series Afterlife, a number of which used local actors and residents as extras. Several games shows also film in the city, including BrainTeaser and Deal or No Deal. Other prolific series to be filmed here include Shoestring (1970s), Robin of Sherwood (1980s) and The House of Eliott (1990s). The sitcom Only Fools and Horses was filmed in Bristol, despite being set in London as was The Young Ones.

In film, Bristol has been the location for:

Bristol is also the birthplace of the actor Cary Grant. In 2001 a statue was erected in his honour in Millennium Square (Bristol) next to At-Bristol in Canons Marsh. [35]


Older Bristolians and those that live in areas which have had less influence from students and immigration, such as Southmead and Hartcliffe, speak a distinctive dialect of English (known colloquially as Brizzle or Bristle). Uniquely for a large city in England, this is a rhotic dialect, in which the r in words like car is pronounced. It is perhaps this element of the dialect which has led outsiders to dub it "farmer speech".

The most unusual feature of this dialect, unique to Bristol, is the Bristol L (or Terminal L), in which an L sound is appended to words that end in a letter a. Additionally, -al is drawn out as -awl, and an l may be added within a word with an aw. Thus "area" becomes "areawl", "cereal" becomes "cereawl", "drawing" becomes "drawling" etc. This may lead to confusions between expressions like area engineer and aerial engineer which in "Bristle" sound identical. Other examples include 'Americawl' and 'Canadawl', and, when unsure, the answer 'I have no ideal'. In the same way, the Swedish Ikea is known by some as "Ikeawl", and Asda supermarket as "Asdawl". This is how the city's name evolved from Brycgstow to have a final 'L' sound: Bristol.[36]

Another feature is the addition of S to verbs in the first and third person. Just as he goes, in Bristle I goes and they goes. As with other west country accents, H is often dropped from the start of words, th may become f, and -ing become -en.[36] Bristolians often add a redundant "mind", "look" or "see" to the end of sentences: "I'm not doing that, mind." A redundant "like" may be placed in the middle of a sentence, a feature that has become more common throughout the country.[36] Another Bristolian linguistic feature is the addition of a superfluous "to" in questions relating to direction or orientation. For example, "Where’s that?" would be phrased as "Where’s that to?" and "Where’s the park?" would become "Where’s the park to?". Interestingly, this speech feature is very predominant in Newfoundland English, where many of that island's early European inhabitants originated from Bristol and other West Country ports. They lived on the island in relative isolation in the centuries to follow, maintaining this feature. These linguistic features can also be heard in Cardiff.

A (slightly General American than most other accents in Britain.

RP English Bristol
/ɑː/ as in 'bath' [a]
/ɑː/ as in 'start' [ar]
/e/ as in 'dress' [ɛ]
/iː/ as in 'fleece' [i]
/aɪ/ as in 'price' [ɑɪ]
/əʊ/ as in 'goat' [ɔʊ]
/eɪ/ as in 'face' [ɛɪ]
/ɔː/ as in 'thought' [ɔ]
/uː/ as in 'goose' [u]
/ɪə/ as in 'near' [ir]
/eə/ as in 'square' [ɛɪr]
/ɔː/ as in 'force' [ɔr]
/ɜː/ as in nurse [ɛr]
/uə/ as in 'cure' [ur]
/ə/ as in 'letter' [ər]
/ə/ as in 'comma' [ə] or [əl]


There are several graffiti artists active in Bristol, probably the most known is Banksy, who produced the album cover for Think Tank by britpop band Blur. Other Bristol graffiti artists include Nick Walker, Sickboy, Inkie, Stars,[38] Lokey, cheo.

Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja was also active as a graffiti artist with the nicknames of "3D" and "Delge" in the early 1980s. He appeared in the UK documentary called "Bombin'" alongside Wolverhampton artist and later DJ and producer Goldie.

Children of the Can: 25 Years of Bristol Graffiti by Felix Braun (FLX) and Steve Wright, is a book illustrating and documenting the street art scene in the city.[39]

900,000 people visited an exhibition of Banksy's work at the Bristol Museum in 2009. In August 2011 Bristol City Council finally recognised the importance of graffiti to the city's culture by allowing an entire street to be painted by various international street artists. In August 2011 the See No Evil public art event was installed in Nelson Street, transforming it into a walk-through graffiti gallery. Among other works, it includes a 20-metre tall mural.[38]

See also


External links

  • Bristol City Council: Leisure & Culture
  • Flickr
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