Fiona Francombe will depart her position as Director of The Bottle Yard Studios this summer after 10 years at the helm of the production facility, to join Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as its new Principal/CEO.
Francombe founded The Bottle Yard Studios in 2010, in previously disused warehouses on a seven-acre site owned by Bristol City Council situated on the southern outskirts of Bristol. This followed her successful lobbying of the Council for support to retain production industries in the city, given the BBC’s 2009 decision to relocate production of dramas such as Casualty to Cardiff. The Council-owned studios are now established as one of the leading production facilities in the country, attracting major UK and international productions and significantly contributing to the millions 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, Francombe has also focused on improving pathways into the production industry for young people from all backgrounds, creating on site classrooms which now house more than 60 16-19 year old’s studying Film & TV Production and Stage & Screen Production Arts Diplomas delivered by Boomsatsuma in a working environment.
Francombe has 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 a Channel 4 creative hub in 2019. Last year Francombe was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts from UWE Bristol for her ‘exceptional contribution to film and television’.
Councillor Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor of Bristol with responsibility for Finance, Governance, Performance and Culture, says: “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. I wish her all the best in her new role and look forward to working with her to continue our city’s development journey.”
Producer and Chair of the British Film Commission Iain Smith OBE says: “After ten hard working years Fiona Francombe is moving from The Bottle Yard 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 the long journey she made 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 Francombe says: “When Bristol City Council asked me to explore whether the site could be a viable alternative for studio space outside London, my 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 ten 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. ”
Francombe trained in technical theatre at Rose Bruford College, before embarking on a career in stage management, working at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company. She moved into the TV industry in 1990 in London, joining the BBC’s Drama department as a runner. Following her move to Bristol in 1993, Francombe worked both for the BBC and as a freelancer for a variety of television dramas as a location manager and producer, before going on to manage production liaison for South West Screen and Creative England. She established the Council-owned Bottle Yard Studios in 2010.
Francombe will take up her new position at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in August. Bristol City Council will begin a recruitment process in due course.