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The Television Workshop

November 2013

Ian Smith
HE had no idea she was going to be there. As far as Ian Smith knew he was at the family home of one of his ‘Workshoppers’ just for a spot of lunch. And then Angelina Jolie walked in.
“She said: ‘Oh my God, Ian Smith, I’ve heard so much about you, tell me about the Workshop.’” says Ian, the director of The Television Workshop for much of its 30 years.
“I thought, this woman knows more about me than I do about her!” he laughs.
“It was incredible.”
This was in Derbyshire earlier this year at the home of Jack O’Connell, who is currently in Australia filming with the megastar for her latest film as director, Unbroken.
“For him to be playing the lead in an Angelina Jolie film is pretty amazing for a lad from Alvaston,” says Ian, 58, at the Workshop in Stoney Street.
“Jack was training for the part of  Louis Zamperini, an American Second World War veteran and national hero. She came over to meet his family. As ridiculous as it sounds for her to helicopter in to the Priest House in Castle Donington... that’s exactly what she did.”
He adds: “We had lunch, which was slightly surreal. We talked about the Workshop, the plays we’d done, playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, about Jack and how amazing she thought he was and perfect for the part...”
Jack O'Connell
O’Connell, who had joined the Television Workshop when he was 13, had come to Ian to help him film a video audition for the part.
“That got him a screen test and she was infatuated by his talent, as was I,” says the Carlton born mentor.
Ian, who started out as a comprehensive school teacher, is not one for being starstruck.
“I’m as awed by some of the kids in my group for their talent than those who have made it. But stick me in front of a musician and I’m tongue tied. I remember meeting Desmond Dekker in the toilets at Gatwick. This man had been on my record deck most of my teenage life and I was all the shop. It’s because music is a mystery to me. It’s something I don’t have a gift in. But acting I know.”
He started out on stage himself with the Lace Market Theatre and did make an appearance opposite Bob Hoskins in Shane Meadows’ TwentyFourSeven.
“I was all right,” says Ian of his own acting ability.
“I do like acting. The problem is working with the likes of Vicky McClure, Jack O’Connell and Toby Kebbell; they’ve an incredible gift. I’m a better director, let’s put it that way.”
Ian was also running the youth theatre at the Lace Market Theatre.
“I was sending kids to the Workshop and they asked me to run their youth group there.”
Central Junior Television Workshop was started in 1983 at Central Telvision in Lenton Lane by the programme controller of children's TV, Lewis Rudd. Its aim was to train youngsters, aged from seven to 21, to act. Many appeared on the locally produced Central series Bernard’s Watch, Woof! and Press Gang.
“And 30 years down the line we’re not just surviving we’re thriving,” says Ian, who took control of the Workshop after four years.
Vicky McClure
The biggest success story is Samantha Morton, a two-time Oscar nominee who has worked with Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Woody Allen and Johnny Depp.
“As an actress she has done some amazing gigs,” says Ian, proudly.
“But she’s also a very talented director. I went to see her on the set of The Unloved in Nottingham and she was in her element.”
Others include Chris Gascoyne (Coronation Street), Joe Dempsie (Game of Thrones), Aisling Loftus (Mr Selfridge), Toby Kebbell (War Horse, Prince Of Persia, Wrath of Titans), Pui Fan Lee (Teletubbies), Rosamund Hanson (Life’s Too Short), Chanel Cresswell (Trollied) and Michael Socha (Being Human).
“They think of me as their dad, which is worrying,”  laughs Ian, who refers to them all as Workshoppers.
A few of them are taking part in this weekend’s 30th anniversary celebration at Broadway, which runs until tomorrow.
It’s another celebration that follows a gathering earlier this year at Nottingham Contemporary.
“That was one of the most amazing nights of my life; I was still dancing at 6.30 in the morning,” says Ian, who taught at Frank Wheldon School in Carlton and Fernwood School in Wollaton.
“There were people who hadn’t seen each other for 20 years. There was a Mexican wave of screams of recognition that went on all night. It was like a school reunion on Prozac.
“There were people texting and emailing the next day saying ‘it was the best night of my life’”.
The party is only eclipsed by the BAFTA in terms of his highlight of the past three decades. The Workshop was handed the gong in 2006, in recognition of its “outstanding development of young talent for film and television.”
Toby Kebbell
Classes run at Stoney Street six days a week. There are 200 who attend classes weekly and another 100 in the reserve group.
Does he know straight away that a youngster has acting ability?
“Give me five minutes,” he says, stressing how important the ability to improvise is.
“If they can improvise then you can see that they can act. It’s an ability to think of your feet and enter an imaginative zone with full commitment.
“And we like fearlessness. You have to get up and go for it.”
As intense as that sounds, the Workshop is, he insists, fun.
“It’s not school. It can be quite daunting but they are soon laughing in classes. Everyone has a good time but they manage to take the job seriously. Although not themselves too seriously. That defines what we’re about.”
He says the requests for youngsters to go for auditions for film, TV, theatre, radio and adverts come in every day.
“In my office at home in Calverton I was a wall of pictures of the current Workshoppers and I’ll look at them and think who’ll be the next Jack O’Connell or the next Vicky McClure.
“You recognise kids with the same sort of energies, who are something special.. With good luck and the right sort of casting they could well end up as another BAFTA winner. Or the one who will bring home that first Oscar to the Workshop.”
There have been times when the Workshop has faced the axe as Central became Carlton then ITV Granada before the Nottingham studios closed for good in 2005.
These days The Workshop is funded with a £300 annual subscription fee, for those who can afford it.
“No kid is turned away with talent,” insists Ian.
They also rely on donations from past Workshoppers.
He says: “Financially it’s incredibly tight and there are ex-members who are incredibly generous.”

For more about The Television Workshop go to

Nottingham’s biggest music star Jake Bugg is good enough to join the Workshop if he ever fancied branching out in to acting, says Ian, after watching his debut in the video for his latest single Slumville Sunrise. Directed by Shane Meadows, the video closes with the 19-year-old in a scene with Rosamund Hanson.
“If you see him being interviewed he’s monosyllabic at best. He’s not comfortable in that situation. But in the video... I think that’s Shane’s magic. And Ros is great fun to work alongside. I was pleasantly surprised.”

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