Candlelight installation by Brighton beach surrounded by onlookers.

Our History

From humble beginnings to the South East’s biggest curated Festival.

'An event that gets more ambitious by the year...'
Sunday Times

In 1964 the first moves were made to hold a Festival in Brighton, and Ian Hunter, the eventual Artistic Director of the Festival, submitted a programme of ideas. This was followed by a weekend conference in 1965, and the Board of the Brighton Festival Society was born. The first Festival was held in 1967, and featured performances by Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins and Yehudi Menuhin.

In the introduction to the 1968 Festival programme, Ian Hunter explained the original intentions of the Festival:

“The aim of the Brighton Festival is to stimulate townsfolk and visitors into taking a new look at the arts and to give them the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture where the serious and the apparently flippant ride side by side.”

Brighton Festival, now the largest arts festival in England, is one of the major milestones in the international cultural calendar. It has a long tradition for attracting the most exciting performers from across the globe, as well as promoting local artists, and bringing fresh, challenging new work to Brighton..

Highlights from across the years include:


Performances by Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Yehudi Menuhin, The Who, The Pink Floyd, Concrete Poetry, ‘Kinetic art, discussions on the future of music, theatre and visual arts

The 70's

Jacqueline du Pre, No Theatre of Japan, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald, Margot Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet, Festival of Japanese Films


Scottish Ballet, Moscow Philharmonic, Philharmonic Orchestra


Ballet Rambert premiered Pribaoutki by Robert North, a dance based on the works of Pablo Picasso, who was the theme for the 1982 Brighton Festival


Sir Richard Attenborough was President of Brighton Festival Society, Warsaw Chamber Orchestra, Warsaw Sinfonietta, Trestle Theatre Co, The Cult. Ballet Rambert premiered ‘Wildlife’ on 17 May, at the Theatre Royal, Brighton


Ballet Rambert, Electric Phoenix Workshop & Discussion with the Society for the Promotion of New Music (explorations of live electronic music), Quentin Crisp

1986 - 1989

Pavilion Music Room returns to full use 10 years after arson attack, Yes/No Company (Stomp), Michael Clark and Company, George Melly, Suzanne Vega, Julian Clary as ‘The Joan Collins Fan Club’,, Pianist Alfred Brendel, Corin Redgrave, Red Shift Theatre Co, Michael Foot

1990 - 1994

Bolshoi Ballet, Emo Phillips, Lily Savage, Eddie Izzard, Rory Bremner, Alan Bennett, Harry Connick Jr, Michael Clark, Stomp, Phoenix Dance Co, Dr Johnathan Miller, Mark Thomas, Steven Berkoff, Etta James, Elvis Costello & Brodsky Quartet, Stomp, Cheek by Jowl, V-Tol Dance Co

1995 - 1999

The Wrestling School, Will Self, David Lodge, Tony Benn, Adrian Mitchell, Trisha Brown Company, Spike Milligan, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, DV8, Siobhan Davies Dance Co, Beryl Bainbridge, Iain Banks, James Lovelock, Fiona Shaw, John Inman, CandoCo, Helen Fielding, Douglas Adams, RSC, Nederlands Dans Theatre, The Michael Nyman Band, Fay Weldon

2000 - 2003

Willard White, Michael Ondaatje, Michael Grade, Peter Hitchens, Courtney Pine, European Chamber Orchestra, dreamthinkspeak’s Who Goes There?, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Mo Mowlam, Hanif Kureshi, Groupe F, Ballet Theatre Munich, Kathy Lette with John Mortimer, Edward Said, dreamthinkspeak’s Don’t Look Back


Mark Haddon, Harold Pinter, Doris Lessing, Asian Dub Foundation" The Battle of Algiers, Hal Willner’s Come So Far Beauty (An Evening of Leonard Cohen Songs by the Sea: Martha & Rufus Wainwright, Linda & Teddy Thompson, Kate & Anna McGarrigel, The Handsome Family, Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave)


Martin Bell, George Galloway, The Brighton Book, David Starkey, The City Reads, Seymour Hersch, 26 Letters, Frantic Assembly’s Dirty Wonderland in Saltdean’s artdeco hotel, dreamthinkspeak’s Underground at Theatre Royal


Groupe F at Preston Park with audience of 50k, Wildworks’ Souterrain, Spymonkey’s Cooped, The Stomp Company’s Lost and Found Orchestra


Hydrocracker’s The New World Order in the Town Hall, The Maids with Neil Bartlett, Henry V with live orchestra, 41 Places, Run Lola Run with The Bays


Fevered Sleep’s An Infinite Line, Rider Spoke and iconic figures: Miriam Makeba, Jarvis Cocker, Gore Vidal


Anish Kapoor - (first Guest Director); C Curve on the South Downs; Hofesh Shechter's The Art of Not Looking Back ; Hydrocracker's The Erpingham Camp

50th Festival Video