Arundel Festival LogoIt started with a simple idea. A staging of the Bard’s work in the castle’s Tilting Yard to raise money for the Silver Jubilee celebrations. The one-off event sold out – as did the 120 extra tickets that went on sale.

The next year it seemed like a jolly good idea to do it all again. Once again, tickets sold out.

Arundel_Festival_Brochure_1979Which is how, in 1979, the “Arundel Festival” was officially born. And what an entrance it made! The New Shakespeare Company from Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre staged William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in the castle’s Tilting Yard.  Renowned Arundel artist Oliver Hawkins designed the Festival logo, which is still used today.

The following year, it was back to the 1920s for a production of The Boyfriend. Ticket prices were the stuff of memories too – each one cost just £1.

For those of you who can, cast your mind back to 1984…can you name any players from that year’s celebrity cricket match?

New York came to town in 1985, when The Trust Players staged Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which is inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film. According that year’s programme, champagne was “provided by Moet & Chandon”. Which suggests that it was free…oh, happy days!

In 1987, the Wildfowl Trust on Mill Road took a Gallic flight. The Trust Players staged The Prodigious Snob, an adaptation of the French playwright Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Sadly, Moliere himself was no longer around to play M. Jourdain as he had in the 1670s. So, a Mr. Frank Baker took on the role instead.

Arundel_Festival_Brochure_1991Forward wind to Monday 28th August 1989, and just £2 bought a ticket to the centennial celebration of Charlie Chaplin’s birth, during which the comedian’s early masterpieces were shown at the Priory Playhouse on London Road. This was also the year that the first ever Arundel Gallery Trail saw houses around town open their doors to art lovers – and anyone of a nosy disposition…

In 1991, a painting of the castle seen from Maltravers Street by Arundel architect and artist Neil Holland graced the festival programme cover. For the next three years, his paintings captured key scenes around town, including a rapt audience watching a play on the castle’s lower lawn.

To celebrate 20 years of the festival, 1997 was a bumper year. As part of the Arundel Fringe – which merited its own programme – there was a “Spot the Idiot” event. To quote the programme: “This is a new feature of the Arundel Festival Fringe where you are looking for the most hilarious, ridiculous, idiotic, eccentric person or persons spotted in Arundel Square during the festival week.” Would that, could that, happen today?


The first Street Theatre day was held in 1998, and was such a success that it was staged again in 1999, when The Times newspaper proclaimed this “The best of British festivals”. Writing in the festival programme, Major General The Duke of Norfolk KG GCVO CB CBE MC DL said, “The 1999 Arundel Festival brings for your enjoyment the most wide-ranging programme we have ever presented. In this, the year of our golden wedding anniversary, my wife and I wish you a very happy festival”.

Actress and activist Vanessa Redgrave CBE led the cast of “Planet Without a Visa”, a programme of readings, monologues, songs and music on the subject of fractured society, refugees, exile and the dispossessed. That was Wednesday 1st September 1999, but it would no doubt be just as relevant today.

Maybe because it struggled to contain the festival’s stellar cast, the 2005 programme was the biggest yet – and since. Bursting from its pages were Romeo and Juliet’s doomed romance played out in the Castle’s Open Air Theatre, the strains of La Traviata from the Baron’s Hall and a firework concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Singer songwriter Katie Melua, whose album “Call Off The Search” was the UK’s biggest selling album of that year, also performed.

Arundel_Festival_Brochure_2015In 2007, Girls Aloud rocked the stage on the lower lawns. Sharing the bill were Jamelia, X Factor winner Shayne Ward, Alfie Boe and Level 42.

Festival-goers got the chance to fly high in 2011, with balloon flights taking off from the Mill Road meadows and soaring over town.

In 2012, the first ever children’s area was opened opposite Jubilee Gardens. There were music workshops, crafts and face painting – which probably attracted some older visitors too!

Last year, the clever photo on the programme cover perfectly summed up the festival that we know today. An incredible 38 years after it first began, the Arundel Festival is now a fantastic mix of equal parts art, music, street theatre, kid’s fun and sporting events.

A huge thanks to Sian Lewis for compiling this page:

A selection of Arundel Festival Memorabilia.

(Click for larger images)
How many do you remember..?