Olivier Awards – History

More about the History of the Olivier Awards coming soon.


The first Olivier awards were called the The Society of West End Theatre Awards, and were held at a ceremony at the Café Royal on a Sunday in December 1976.


The awards became the Laurence Olivier Awards in 1984 as a tribute to one of British theatre’s greatest ever practitioners.  In his 60 year career Lord Olivier proved himself as a outstanding actor, an accomplished director and he was appointed as the first Artistic Director of the National Theatre in 1962. Read more about Laurence Olivier here.


Originally a blue Wedgwood urn (hence why they were originally dubbed the Urnies!), the award is now a solid bronze statuette of Laurence Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937, affectionately known as the Larries.


The Awards started in 1976 at the Cafe Royal in London. The Grosvenor House Hotel is the venue most associated with the awards. West End theatres to host the awards include the Victoria Palace, the Lyceum, the National Theatre, the Albery (now the Noël Coward), the Shaftesbury, the London Palladium, the Dominion and the Piccadilly Theatre.


See a full list of past  Olivier Awards winners by award category, here.


The first awards were broadcast by the BBC as part of their Nationwide programme in 1976. In 1981 the BBC produced the first dedicated  Olivier Awards programme, which aired on BBC1 and continued each year until 1992, when it moved to BBC2. The BBC dropped the awards from TV after the 2003 ceremony. In 2010 the awards were broadcast online. 2011 will see the awards return to television, via the BBC’s red button service for digital, satellite and cable viewers.

Date: 18 February 2011
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