Cookham Festival: A Celebration of the Arts By the Village, For the Village



Cookham – a historic and picturesque village on the Thames near London  – is holding its long-awaited festival in May. The organizers promise a feast of music, drama, talks, comedy, workshops, including a sculpture garden and much more. 

The theme of the Festival is “Our World: Our people, Our Passion, Our environment, a celebration of the arts by the village for the village.”

Residents are urged to make it genuinely participatory by doing something creative themselves by decorating their houses, window-dressing their shops and businesses, creating a mini-exhibition, flash mob a pub or restaurant, or even busk in the street.

According to the festival organizers: “The fortnight is about being able to express ourselves. Use your imagination; be spontaneous; throw off the shackles of lockdown, restrictions, and isolation; be creative and the enjoy the moment.”

Cookham may be a small village, but it is punching well above its weight by drawing in noted writers, artists, musicians, and celebrities from a range of fields which will feature in the packed program. These are some of the high points: 

Spoken Word and Poetry 

An Evening with Sir Michael Parkinson

The talk show host, Michael Parkinson, will be in conversation with his son, Mike, showing highlights from the Parkinson archive. An Evening with Sir Michael Parkinson will be an opportunity to get an intimate, entertaining, and informative look at his remarkable journey from a small mining village in Yorkshire to becoming one of the most popular talk show hosts on British TV. Parkinson will relive the best moments when he charmed and cajoled his celebrity interviewees to speak frankly about their lives and careers.

Robert Thorogood: From Death in Paradise to Death in Marlow

Robert Thorogood is a screenwriter best known for creating the hit BBC1 murder mystery series “Death in Paradise.” More recently, he’s written “The Marlow Murder Club,” a modern-day murder mystery novel set in his hometown of Marlow.

In this talk, Thorogood will discuss the challenges he faced getting anyone to believe in his “Copper in the Caribbean” idea, what it is really like to film in the Caribbean for months on end, and the questionable wisdom of setting a murder mystery in the town where he lives. 

Peter Wilson’s Comedy Club 

The festival will see a return of Peter Wilson’s Comedy Club featuring top performers from the London circuit. Among those who will be appearing on the Pinder Hall stage are:

Paul Sinha, an award-winning comedian and TV host who has become an established presence on the comedy scene. Sinha  is “The Sinnerman” in the popular ITV show “The Chase.” You may also recognize him from Channel 4’s Taskmaster, and he appears regularly on BBC quiz and comedy shows.

Glenn Moore appears regularly on BBC’s Mock The Week and can be heard every weekday morning on The Absolute Radio Breakfast Show. As a standup comic, Glenn has gone from strength to strength being nominated in 2019 for the UK’s most prestigious comedy prize, The Edinburgh Comedy Award. 

Ria Lina is regarded as one of the most exciting acts breaking through at the moment. She was recently invited to be on the latest series of Live At The Apollo and is becoming a fixture on Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You, and Steph’s Packed Lunch. 

An Evening with Dr James Fox: The Healing Power Of Art

We are, it seems, finally emerging from one of the gravest crises in centuries — a crisis that has killed millions of people, decimated the world’s economies, and changed our lives in fundamental ways. In this uplifting talk, Cambridge art historian, James Fox, argues that art has the power to help us come to terms with such disasters and perhaps even to recover from them.

He will illustrate his talk with some of history’s greatest artworks — including a selection of paintings by Cookham’s very own Stanley Spencer.

The Fashion Chronicles – Style Secrets of History’s Best Dressed: Amber Butchart 

Amber Butchart is a fashion historian, author, and broadcaster, specializing in the historical intersections between dress, politics, and culture.

At the Cookham Festival, she talks through her latest book “The Fashion Chronicles: Style Stories of History’s Best Dressed,” which crosses continents and over 5,000 years to show the importance of communication through clothing, featuring 100 people from Joan of Arc to Marie Antoinette, Karl Marx, and Emperor Augustus.

Antony Buxton – William Morris: The Life of Art and the Art of Life 

William Morris is celebrated as a designer and craftsman who as a young man decided to dedicate his life to art to counter the ugly industrial world he saw around him. He was also a deeply reflective man and held passionate views on the quality of life which should be available to all, expressed in his considerable output of poetry and political writings. This talk draws together the work of Morris the designer and artist, his own life experience, and his views on “the art of life,” and reflects on how the River Thames was an inspirational thread which ran through his creative life.

Antony Buxton is a Visiting Fellow and Lecturer in Design and Art History at Kellogg College, Oxford. He is also a furniture designer and his recent writing has focused on the social dynamic of country houses, the furnishing of workers’ homes, and furniture making in the twentieth century.

Queen Cynethryth’s Abbey and an Anglo-Saxon Power Struggle 

Gabor Thomas presents an update on the work carried out on the Holy Trinity Church paddock and the exciting discovery of Queen Cynethryth’s Abbey, and outlines the plans for further excavations. Gabor Thomas is Associate Professor of Early Medieval Archaeology, University of Reading, and Director of the Cookham excavations.

He has varied research interests in the archaeology of this period but is best known for conduction large-scale community-facing research excavations within the core of currently inhabited settlements to uncover lost Anglo-Saxon monastic and elite centers.

These are just a few of the talks on an array topics being addressed such as the history of the BBC and Roman Britain. 

Music and Dance 

The performers include James Church, a well-known local talent, who will present his Cabaret Night with Rosemary Ashe, a star quality performer from the West End. Rosie has played and created many roles in some of the most popular musicals of the past 40 years, including The Boyfriend, The Phantom of the Opera, Forbidden Broadway, Oliver!, The Witches of Eastwick, Mary Poppins, and Adrian Mole. She has also enjoyed playing a wide variety of roles on the stage in opera and plays, as well as on television, in cabaret, and in concert.

Also featuring in the festival is Martin Dickinson who has performed in shows such as the UK & international tour of Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You, and The Sound of Music. 

There will be workshops and other activities for adults and children on art, creative writing, poetry, singing, and dancing.

The Cookham Festival Sculpture Garden  

Following last year’s cancellation due to COVID, this popular sculpture exhibition set in the beautiful grounds of the Odney Club is back. Running for the full 2 weeks of the Cookham Festival, visitors will view an eclectic collection of sculpture created by talented artists from around the UK. Large- and small-scale works in a variety of media are carefully positioned throughout the grounds. 

Cookham has a rich and fascinating history, and in 2011 The Telegraph rated Cookham as Britain’s second richest village. This possibly explains how the festival has been able to put together such an ambitious program with so many star names and expert speakers. For a fortnight, residents and visitors will have an opportunity to escape from worrying about political scandals and other grim events dominating the news and revel in a feast of fun and creativity. 

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