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> Italia Conti - A Champion of Stage Children  


The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts is Britain's and the world's oldest theatre arts training school. It grew out of the first production of the play that was to become a children's classic "WHERE THE RAINBOW ENDS". Italia Conti who was then an established actress was invited by the producer Charles Hawtrey to teach the children for the first production of 'Where the Rainbow Ends' which opened at the SAVOY Theatre in 1911.


After the Hawtrey engagement, during which Italia discovered her natural gift for managing children, she virtually gave up her career as an actress and devoted her time to teaching young people to dance, sing, act and speak! So the school was born in a basement studio in London's Great Portland Street.

Italia Conti became an important figure in the theatre, she was known as the British Theatre's Governess, being instrumental in changing the 1903 Employment of Children Act. The value of her work was recognised in 1918 when she was asked by the then Minister for Education to sit on the advisory committee to deal with regulations affecting children on the stage. It was largely because of Italia Conti's unimpeachable authority as a teacher that her main points were carried and the licensing of children was transferred from local magistrates to the individual child's own education authority, which remains the procedure today.

In 1931 Italia's young niece Ruth Conti arrived from Australia. Ruth, who was a gifted singer, thought it was an excellent opportunity to spend time with her famous aunt and further her interest in the performing arts. In between her singing lessons with the celebrated FARINI she studied with both her aunts, Italia Conti & Bianca Murray. Their unbreakable bond was to continue for many years. Ruth Conti was soon taking charge of 'Where the Rainbow Ends' rehearsal tours and deputising for Italia & Bianca in classes. The school continued to produce stars of the theatre and British film industry even as war was declared in 1939. Ruth joined the ATS and rose to officer rank. She worked tirelessly as an officer and volunteered for, and was put in charge of troupe entertainment. However, on the night of 10th May 1941 German bombs blasted the Italia Conti Stage School building out of existence. 14 Lambs Conduit Street was destroyed. Although all documents and records were lost, luckily the cast and children were absent as 'Rainbow' was on tour in the provinces.

It was a devastating blow for the schools future, but ever enterprising, Italia & Bianca moved the school to their home in Bournemouth. As the war news improved so did Italia's and she relocated back to London and managed to keep the 'Rainbow' on the road. This saved the school from extinction. It did not miss a season in London despite the bombing and the loss of the Holborn Empire Theatre that had been home to 'Rainbow' for 19 years.

The wars years and the continued running of the school took its toll on the 72-year-old Italia Conti. She did not recover from a serious illness and died in 1946.

Italia Conti said in a news paper interview as far back as 1930: - "- that her day-dream is for some nice, kind millionaire to come along and offer to 'back' her, and then she would start a real academy, a type of boarding school where everything from the three R's to stagecraft would be taught…"