Cary Ellison Theatre Programme Collection

Scope and Content

Cary Ellison was a talent spotter who worked for Spotlight. As part of his work from 1953-1980 he went on twice yearly tours of repertory performances around the country 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 notes on the actors, plays and directors he saw. They cover repertory productions from around the UK as well as several shows performed in London's West End.

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 casting directory Spotlight in 1953. When Ellison joined 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 as 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

Access Information

Open to researchers by appointment- please email Appointments typically offered Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9am - 4.30pm. For more information on Kingston University Archives and Special Collections please see our website at

Other Finding Aids

Also see our archives catalogue here

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

The collection is currently in a very fragile condition, and requires very careful handling. Advice on how to handle the collection without damaging it further will be given to those consulting the collection by the Archivist.

Conditions Governing Use

Due to the extremely fragile nature of the collection, copying is not allowed at this time. Any queries regarding copying should be sent to the Archive at