Peter Williams Collection

Scope and Content

The Peter Williams Collection documents the professional life of Peter Williams for the period c1950-1980 when he was the editor of the journal Dance and Dancers. The collection consists of c40,000 black and white photographs of dancers and dance companies from all over the world, as well as dance theatre programmes, articles, administrative papers and dance company press books.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter Williams was educated at Harrow School and the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. He established his own fashion design business in Ebury Street, London, which flourished from 1934 to 1939 when it was closed on the outbreak of war. He was Head Designer for Jantzen Ltd, then the leading swimwear and sportswear manufacturer, where he was employed from 1945 to 1947. He designed for American choreographer John Taras for Designs with strings (Choreographic work: Taras), which Taras was creating for the English Metropolitan Ballet Company. This was followed by designs for a revival of Prince Igor (Choreographic work) by the same company (1948) and for Selina (Choreographic work: Howard) for Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet (1948), for which he also wrote the scenario. He became editor of Dance and Dancers in 1950 and continued in this role for thirty years. In addition he was dance critic for the Daily Mail from 1950 to 1953 and later for the Observer from 1982 to 1983, having been deputy there since 1970. He was responsible for the dance section of A Report on Opera and Ballet in the United Kingdom 1966-69, London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1969, which profoundly changed the nature and status of the dance profession in Britain, leading to the establishment of regional companies such as Scottish Ballet and Northern Dance Theatre. He served on the Arts Council itself as chairman of its dance advisory committee (1973-80), and was chairman of the British Council's drama and dance committee (1976-81), encouraging the overseas tours of British companies.
Williams founded the Dancers' Pensions and Resettlement Fund, which he chaired from 1975 to 1992, helping dancers to face new challenges after their performing days were over. He also chaired the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund from 1984, and in 1986 was appointed a governor of the Royal Ballet. He helped in 1979 to found, and for five years was first chairman of, the Creative Dance Artists Trust, organising and adminisitering the international course for professional choreographers and composers. Williams was appointed OBE in 1971, and in 1981 published his definitive Masterpieces of Ballet Design, Oxford: Phaidon, 1981. He died on 10 August 1995. In his memory the Central School of St Martin's College of Art and Design, London, instituted the Peter Williams Design for Dance Project in 1996 as a practical annual performing element in its BA honours studies in theatre design. An entry for Peter Williams can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,Oxford University Press, 2004.


The Peter Williams Collection is divided into two series

  • A Photographs
  • B Paper files

Access Information

Temporarily closed to the public.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Peter Williams.

Other Finding Aids

The photographs series A is partially catalogued and can be searched and box lists are available to search for the paper part of the collection on the Laban Archive catalogue.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Jane Fowler, Archivist, Laban.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies can be made according to copyright law and depending on the condition of the documents. Please consult the Archivist.

Appraisal Information

Large runs of dance theatre programmes of national ballet companies which did not contain any annotations by Peter Williams were discarded or transferred to other archives. The remainder of the dance theatre programmes have been transferred to the Dance Theatre Programmes Collection in the Laban Archive.

Custodial History

The Peter Williams Collection was donated to the Laban Centre London by Peter Williams. It was sorted into papers and photographs by Peter Bassett, the then Head Librarian at Laban.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

Many of the dance theatre programmes from this collection have been transferred to the Dance Theatre Programmes Collection in the Laban Archive.


The collection was compiled during the administration of Williams, P., ed., (1950-1982) Dance and Dancers. London.