Catherine Fleming Collection

Scope and Content

The Catherine Fleming collection documents the life and theatrical career of Catherine Fleming (1931-1978) from school productions, through drama school and on to work at the National Theatre and as a voice coach on films.

Administrative / Biographical History

Catherine Fleming was born on 17th February 1932 at Canning Town, Newham [CF/7/5] to parents, Michael and Charlotte Fleming. Her birth was registered in Silvertown, West Ham [CF/7/1]. Fleming's father worked in the local dock as a ship's rigger and her mother worked in a city office in accounts. Fleming had one brother, William and in 1939/40 Fleming and her brother were evacuated to Cobh, Co. Cork, Ireland, to live with her mother's sister [CF/6/1]. On her return to London she was educated at St. Angela’s Ursuline Convent in Forest Gate, London [CF/1/3-7]. She completed her education in 1950, sitting her Higher School Certificate in English, French and Modern History [CF/1/11].

In an interview for the Radio Times, in 1953, Fleming revealed that she had initially intended to pursue a career as a doctor. However, encouraged by Miss Watson, the Speech and Drama teacher at her school, she enrolled at the Rose Bruford Training College for Speech and Drama which was opening that year. Prior to completing her studies in 1953 [CF/2/2-3], Fleming won the John Masefield prize for verse speaking [CF/2/7] and the inaugural BBC Drama Students' Prize which brought her a contract to work for the BBC [CF/2/4-6].

From 1953-55 Fleming performed in several theatre and radio broadcast productions [CF/2/8; CF/2/10-15]. In 1955, Fleming became a supply teacher for speech and drama at Bishop Ward R.C. Secondary School, Dagenham, continuing in this role until 1957 [CF/2/16]. She then took the post as voice coach at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked there until 1961 [CF/2/19]. During that time she also worked at Donald Doggett's Rye Residential Summer School in 1960 [CF/2/20].

In 1964 Fleming joined the National Theatre Company [CF/4/13]. Her career with the company spanned thirteen years until her death. Throughout this period she undertook freelance work with various theatres, including the Abbey Theatre [CF/3/1] and the Genesee Valley Arts Foundation, New York [CF/3/23]. She became a highly respected and much sought after voice coach working closely with various well known directors and stars such as Laurence Olivier, Tony Richardson [CF/3/47], Peter O’Toole [CF/3/39], Ian McKellen[CF/3/32], Diana Rigg [CF/3/48], Maggie Smith, Mia Farrow [CF/3/20], Liv Ullmann and Billie Whitelaw. She also gave lessons to Margaret Thatcher between 1972-1976, when Thatcher was leader of the Conservative Party in opposition [CF/3/59].

On 4 October, 1978, Fleming died of bronchopneumonia [CF/7/5]. The last project she worked on was Roman Polanski's film 'Tess' [CF/5/18]. After her death, a group of actors, some of her former students, founded ‘The Kate Fleming Memorial Trust' which provided financial aid to students of the Rose Bruford Training College for Speech and Drama was founded in 1979 [CF/5/4, CF/5/13]. The Memorial Trust was wound up in 2005 [CF/5/17].

Access Information

Open by appointment.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Paper, mostly small format.

Conditions Governing Use


Custodial History

The Kate Fleming collection was donated to the National Theatre by her sister-in-law Sheila Fleming following the death of her husband and Kate's brother William in 2011.