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Ellison, Cary: The Cary Ellison Theatre Programme Collection

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2108 KUAS75
Held at: Kingston University
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Full title: Ellison, Cary: The Cary Ellison Theatre Programme Collection
Date(s): 1953-1981
Level of description: Collection (Fonds)
Extent: 11 boxes
Name of creator(s): Ellison | Cary | 1915-2002 | talent spotter
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Cary Ellison was originally named Ellison Bayles, however he started using his stage name on the advice of his agent, shortly after starting his career as an actor in 1939. He spent many years touring in theatrical productions, and on one such tour met actress Olive Milbourne who he married in 1944. Eventually Ellison decided to move on from acting, and after trying a number of different jobs, he joined the staff of Spotlight in 1953. Spotlight is a major casting directory. When Ellison joined in 1953 he was given the task of improving the number of subscribers- within a few years the directory had more than doubled in size and new actors and actresses were added to its pages every year. As part of his work Ellison would tour the repertory theatre companies twice a year, making notes on the cast, director and play, to help match the actors and actresses with suitable parts, and to spot future theatre stars. Actors he spotted early on include Derek Jacobi, Richard Briers, Judi Dench, Patricia Routledge and Leonard Rossiter. He would also make notes on the performances of such well known actors as Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Vivien Leigh when at the peak of their fame. His influence was not only confined to Spotlight, he also held an advisory service for performers looking to improve their career prospects, and founded 12- an association of those interested in supporting the future of the acting industry. He retired from Spotlight in 1980, at which time many of those whose careers he had helped shape held a tribute concert in his honour. Even after his retirement Ellison continued to advise up and coming actors at Guildford School of Drama. He died in 2002.


Scope and content/abstract:

Cary Ellison was a talent spotter who worked for Spotlight. As part of his work from 1953-1980 he went on twice yearly tours around repertory performances across the UK to locate the up and coming performers, directors and plays. The Cary Ellison Theatre Programme Collection consists of the theatre programmes collected by Cary Ellison on these trips, complete with his added notes on the actors, plays and directors he saw. He commented on a number of well known actors in the early stages of their careers, as well as offering his view on several well known plays.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Original order. Ellison kept the programmes in files according to their year, with the programmes kept in chronological order of when he saw the performances.

Conditions governing access:

Available to view by appointment in the Kingston University Archives and Special Collections search room.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Owing to their fragile nature, no copying is allowed from the programmes at the current time.

Finding aids:

A box listing is available to consult within our reading room. A full listing of the programmes will be available on our archives catalogue at

Archival Information

Archival history:

Cary Ellison compiled the collection over many years and kept it with him as a reference tool when he was working. After his death the Collection eventually passed into the hands of his daughter and son-in-law, who donated the collection to Kingston University.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Donated by Tim and Angela Combe.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:

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