Phillip Morgan shares fond memories of Brighton Festival

Phillip Morgan, a long-standing employee of Brighton Festival looks back at his fondest memories...

When I was asked to write and deliver a talk on the history of Brighton Festival I agreed promptly. Being a freelance writer I’m always looking for the next job but I didn’t realise the extent to which this would become part of my own personal history.

While I am getting on a bit, I’m not quite old enough to remember the first mention of a Festival in Brighton. That was in 1814 during the Summer of Peace when a huge open-air party was held on the Level to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic wars. Seven thousand people were given a free meal of roast beef and plum pudding washed down with beer and porter,. followed by dancing, exploding hot air balloons and free access to the Theatre Royal (I’m mounting a personal campaign to get this re-staged!).

My first Festival encounter was in 1984 working with Gavin Henderson. At the time Gavin occupied a small room in Marlborough House which was almost entirely filled by his desk, with two and a half people in an office up three flights of stairs. I helped as Concert Manager for three weeks which mainly involved moving chairs. So I never imagined that some 30 years later I would have been client representative on Brighton Dome’s refurbishment that opened in 2002, Technical Director of Brighton Dome and Chief Producer of Brighton Festival. We went from two tiny rooms to offices in Pavilion Buildings to three arts venues and well over 100 employees – quite a trip!


There are so many memories that it’s impossible to pick out any as more significant than others so here’s just a small selection. Standing arms spread to protect Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror artwork in Pavilion Gardens during an anarchist riot. Travelling to Lithuania to liaise with a director and carrying various grades of artificial snow and being, fortunately briefly, taken for a drug dealer. Having to hand over cash in Gatwick airport to an orchestra who wanted to be paid in Swiss Francs: a totally legal exchange I hasten to add. Having to import a clown as a Swiss national treasure as we hadn’t finalised his visa. My first experience of Russian negotiation skills: a long lunch of turbot with vodka served like water before signing contracts. Working with a Polish opera company whose technicians straightened bent nails to use them again. Travelling across Russia by train in the snow with a translator and a group of actors, discussing death and Stalin.

Ultimately the greatest memories are the thousands of people thrilled, delighted (and possibly disgusted) but always stimulated by the art I was proud to be involved in bringing to this city.

Do you have any stand-out memories of Brighton Festival? Did you attend any of the events at the first Brighton Festival in 1967? Or have you taken part in the opening Children's Parade? We'd love to hear from you, share your memories at brightonfestival.org/memories

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