Olivier Awards, Special Recognition Winner: ABTT Fellow, Peter Roberts

15 March 2020

Special Recognition Awards recognise outstanding contributions to the theatre industry. ABTT Fellow, Theatre consultant and former Delfont Mackintosh Technical Director Peter Roberts will be recognised for his outstanding skill and effort in helping to consolidate theatre's access to radio spectrum.

” If anyone could be called an unsung hero of the entertainment industry’s backstage sector it is Peter Roberts. As well as his 40 years’ service as production manager and technical director for Bernard Delfont, and then Cameron Mackintosh, he was also responsible for revolutionary technical reforms and innovations.

In acknowledgement of these crucial services he will receive a special recognition award at the Oliviers this week, along with Jo Hawes, Thelma Holt, Stephen Jameson and Sarah Preece.

The 1960s, Roberts began as an assistant stage manager on  rock’n’roll tours for the producer Larry Parnes. Soon afterwards, he did his first show for Delfont – a tour with Harry Secombe – and never looked back.

Roberts’ long association with Cameron Mackintosh dates back to the 1990s, although their paths had actually crossed 30 years earlier when they were both working on a musical version of The Four Musketeers at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London – with Roberts as stage manager and Mackintosh as a box-office assistant.

Backstage practices have inevitably evolved in the past half century, Roberts says. “Things are much more efficient now. The technology has changed enormously and made it easier to accurately repeat the director and designer’s wishes night after night. It was a bit hit and miss when I started out, but automation and development in lighting technology has put an end to that.”

In terms of safety, Roberts is all for the tougher regulations in place now. “They are not to stop you doing things, but to ensure you do them safely. I always point that out to anybody who says: ‘But it gets in the way.’ ”

As if his workload for Delfont Mackintosh wasn’t heavy enough, in his 15-years’ service Roberts was also a key player in the refurbishment of seven out of the eight theatres under the Delfont Mackintosh banner.

Roberts says: “It is much more difficult altering an existing theatre than creating a new one. With a new theatre you can do what you want with it. Refurbishment was bloody hard work for all of us, including Cameron.”

Typical of Roberts’ commitment to the wider industry was his participation in a dedicated group of individuals drawn from Suppliers, Manufacturers, Engineers and Producers  who collectively achieved the allocation of enhanced radio frequencies for live entertainment, especially musical theatre, ensuring its needs were considered on a par with cinema, TV and the music industry. The eventual outcome  took  14 years of lobbying and negotiation with Ofcom, requiring sustained and diligent representation during the ongoing changeover from analogue to digital technologies and the search for viable alternative radio spectrum.

“It was essential for us to up our game, and radio microphones were very much the key to doing that,” he says. “Initially I was not in favour of performers being miked but the equipment is so sophisticated now that you hardly notice they’re wearing them. The quality of sound is brilliant now. We couldn’t do what we do in musical theatre without it.” “

Nick Smurthwaite -The Stage