Peter Coxhead, who has died at the age of 79, was the founder principal of one of the country’s best known drama schools, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. The institute was developed from the amateur theatre club which he had created shortly after his demobilisation from the Royal Navy.
Early in 1946 – aged only 21 – he borrowed from a number of sources the £2,300 necessary to buy Cecile House, a large derelict property in Crouch End. There was a substantial amount of work to be carried out including the conversion of a gymnasium/store room in to what is now the Mountview Theatre. Peter, his friend and colleague Ralph Nossek and a handful of friends who devoted every moment of their spare time to building the theatre, dressing rooms and rehearsal space, did all the work. The opening production in 1947 was The Importance of Being Earnest.
Peter realised that the skills of his amateur actors would be improved by a more strict training. Courses in acting and stagecraft were quickly introduced and 11 years later Mountview Theatre School was formally constituted. In the following years, fuelled by Peter’s initiative, passion and unflagging commitment, Mountview flourished as an amateur theatre club providing performance opportunities and training courses in a wide range of theatre arts and crafts for local people of all ages.
In 1969 Mountview accepted its first full-time students and the school rapidly expanded and by 1985 Mountview leased additional premises in Wood Green.
Maurice Peter Coxhead was born in north London on February 22, 1925. Although there were no theatrical influences in his family, he joined his school drama group and developed a love of drama and music – passions which never left him.
When the Second World War broke out he joined the Royal Navy, believing it would give him the opportunity to entertain. He got his wish and for two years performed for the troops in South Africa. Later, when he was posted to Ceylon he and Nossek formed The Theatre Club which was remarkable for being open to civilians as well as military personnel. During this period Peter charmed his way into borrowing an army jeep to travel to the other side of the island to see John Gielgud in a touring production of Hamlet. Peter always said that it was at this moment that the idea of a drama school was born.
Back in London, and resolved to continue what they had begun overseas, Peter and Nossek discovered that there was already an organisation called The Theatre Club. Peter suggested the name of the local telephone exchange – Mountview – as an alternative.
By 1996, having presided over Mountview’s development from a small amateur theatre club to one of Britain’s leading drama schools, Peter retired as principal. He was succeeded by Paul Clements. Peter retained his association with the institution he loved by becoming chief executive and chairman of the board. The board formally changed the name to Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in 2000. Peter retired from active participation in running Mountview in October 2003 when Alan Cox succeeded him as chair. As he stepped down he told everyone, “Mountview has been my life”.
In recognition of his contribution to drama education and training in Britain, Peter was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of East Anglia in 2000. The following year he was awarded an MBE for services to drama.
Although in recent years Peter had suffered from ill-health, he never ceased to amaze his friends with his boundless energy. A keen theatregoer throughout his life, he was never happier than when he was watching a good piece of theatre – especially if a Mountview graduate was in the cast – or attending the ballet or opera.
Peter, who died peacfully at home on July 10, will be very much missed by Mountview staff and graduates past and present.
Paul Clements and Yvonne I’Anson