Bottle Yard Studios founder to take up CEO role at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

May 21, 2020

Fiona Francombe, the director of Bristol’s hugely successful Bottle Yard TV and film studios, is to leave her role this summer after 10 years at the helm to join Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as principal/CEO.

Fiona, pictured, who started her career in theatre, founded the studio complex in 2010 in disused wine warehouses on a seven-acre site owned by Bristol City Council. 

She is widely credited with developing it into one of the UK’s leading film and TV facilities responsible for a huge range of productions from historical and contemporary dramas to quiz programmes and kids’ shows

The studios were set up in Hengrove, South Bristol, after Fiona had successful lobbied the council for support to retain TV production industries in the city following the BBC’s decision the previous year to relocate production of dramas such as Casualty to Cardiff.

Having since gone from strength to strength to attract major domestic and international productions from the likes of the BBC and Disney-ABC, they now contributing to the millions of pounds generated by the film and TV sector towards Bristol’s economy each year.

More than 60 titles have been produced at the studios over the past decade, including high-end TV dramas Poldark, Broadchurch, Fortitude, Wolf Hall, The Trial of Christine Keeler and The Pale Horse, films such as Hellboy and The Festival, light entertainment programmes The Crystal Maze and Tipping Point, and children’s favourites such as the green-screen series Andy’s Adventures.

In addition to establishing a creative hub of more than 20 creative business tenants, Fiona has also focused on improving pathways into the production industry for young people from all backgrounds. 

The studios have created onsite classrooms for more than 60 young people aged 16 to 19 to study for diplomas in Film & TV Production and Stage & Screen Production Arts Diplomas organised by Bristol training firm Boomsatsuma in a working environment.

Fiona has also consistently championed Bristol as an international hub for film and TV production and was instrumental in the city’s successful bids to become a UNESCO City of Film in 2017 and home to one of Channel 4’s two regional creative hubs last year.

She was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts from UWE Bristol last year for her ‘exceptional contribution to film and television’.

Deputy Mayor of Bristol Craig Cheney, who has responsibility for finance, governance, performance and culture, said: “Fiona has played a crucial role in establishing and developing the city’s international renowned film and TV sector.

“During this time she has been a key advocate for Bristol which has contributed greatly to our UNESCO City of Film status and being named as one of the new homes of Channel 4.

“Whilst we are sad to see her leave I am delighted to see her take up a post at one of the city’s key culture institutions where she can continue to play a leading role in developing Bristol’s cultural profile.” 

Producer and chair of the British Film Commission, Iain Smith OBE, added: “After 10 hard-working years Fiona is moving to challenges new. She will be sorely missed, as she alone was the sentinel who started the ‘impossible’ task of converting the facility from redundant bottling plant into the media centre it now is – the largest dedicated production space in the West of England.

“In that long journey, Fiona displayed incredible fortitude and commitment. She was not only persuasive, she was insistent in making sure that all of us in the industry were kept fully aware of the transformation she was making at the studio.

“Quite frankly, Fiona Francombe is The Bottle Yard. I wish her well in her new role and congratulate her on the remarkable achievement she leaves behind.”

Fiona said when the city council asked her to explore whether the site could be a viable alternative for studio space outside London, her verdict was ‘yes’.

“A stone’s throw from the diverse locations this part of the country offers, with an excellent established crew base, I believed that if we were resourceful, we could make it work.

“I was right. I have to say a huge and very heartfelt thank-you to my team at the studios for their own commitment and dedication to making the studios the success it is today, also to my colleagues in Bristol Film Office for their support and collaboration over the years.

“I have always wanted to make a difference for Bristol. This move will allow me to continue to do so, after 10 years developing The Bottle Yard Studios into a competitive film and television hub the city can be proud of.

“My career started in theatre and this new role brings it full circle. I have always respected and admired Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s extraordinary reputation for nurturing excellent talent so it will be an honour to lead the School into its 75th anniversary year in 2021 and beyond.”

Fiona, who has worked for the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as in the BBC’s Drama department and as a freelancer, will take up her new position in August. Bristol City Council will begin a recruitment process in due course.

Poldark photograph ©Mammoth-BBC

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