Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen , the chairman of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada), has confirmed to the JC that he is standing down from the role - insisting the time was right for a younger person to take over from him at the world famous drama school.
The 74-year-old theatre-owner and producer said he had asked Rada’s council to begin the process of finding his successor. He has served as chair since 2007, which he said was a longer period than that recommended by the Charites Commission.
Sir Stephen, who is president of the JCA charitable foundation, which supports projects in rural Israel, said his decision to stand down was now generally known within Rada and had “no connection to any specific events or activities”.
The JC had been contacted by two sources claiming Sir Stephen had previously voiced objections to comments made by the actress Maxine Peake - a member of Rada’s Council - in which she falsely blamed Israel for the killing of the American George Floyd.
Sir Stephen, who previously stood as a Conservative Party election candidate, also faced claims earlier this year, made by director Edward Kemp, that "Rada has been and currently is institutionally racist".
But Sir Stephen said on Thursday: “Your assumptions – including the statement that I had an objection to her remaining on the council – concerning Maxine Peake are incorrect and have no bearing” on his decision to quit as chair.
In a statement he added: “I have asked the Council of Rada (through their Nominations and Successions Committee) to begin the process of finding my successor, as I have been Chairman since 2007, which is longer than recommended by the Charities Commission for holding such a position; also I will, during next year, reach the age of 75, and in my view it would be right for a younger person to lead Rada as it moves forward to a very successful future.
“This position is generally known within Rada. It’s an orderly succession process with no connection to any specific events or activities.”
In recent months Rada’s student body openly criticised “our inadequate response to the Black Lives Matter movement”.
A statement published on the Rada website added: “We apologise unreservedly for failings of action, leadership and our systems in making Rada a safe and inclusive environment for black staff and students.
“Rada needs radical change and must work together as a community to achieve it.”
But sources told the JC that Sir Stephen was left surprised by the lack of support he received from within Rada when he raised concerns over actress Ms Peake’s remarks relating to Israel and the wider criticism she has received from the Jewish community over her support for Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism allegations.
Sir Stephen, who has previously worked as a journalist and within insurance, has been a theatre owner since 1984 as joint CEO of the Mybox Group. He has been involved with the management of numerous West End theatres including the Donmar Warehouse, Criterion - and later the St Martin’s Theatre and the Ambassador’s Theatre.
He is also the producer of The Mousetrap – the world’s longest running play, which opened in 1952 and ran continuously until March 16, 2020, when the stage performances had to be discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sir Stephen’s daughter, Tamsin, is a respected violinist, and the pair have appeared together in the past discussing their respective careers at events such as Jewish Book Week.
He has five children from two marriages. As a hereditary baronet, his title was not gained from a knighthood.