The AETF was set up as the British Drama League (BDL) in 1919 under the motivation of Geoffrey Whitworth and his desire to make ‘Theatre everbody’s business’. The early years focused on play writing and this is commemorated today by the Geoffrey Whitworth Trophy, awarded annually for the best original one-act script.


In 1926 an offer to take part in the New York Little Theatre Tournament resulted in a selection procedure to decide who should go, this led to the setting up of an eliminating competition in 1927.


The BDL later became the British Drama Association (BDA) which eventually progressed to the All-England Theatre Festival (AETF) as we are today.


The AETF received charitable status in the early 1990’s.


The aims are:

  • To run an annual festival for amateurs that fosters a spirit of friendly competition, mutual respect, shared artistic purpose and provide creative opportunities for performers of all ages, abilities and ethnic backgrounds.

  • To select English Champions who represent the AETF at the British Final of One Act Plays.

  • To host the British Final of One Act Plays every four years.

  • To continually seek to expand the geographical spread of the festival and make it ever more representative of the cultural diversity of modern England.

  • To provide practical help and expert advice to the organisers of any existing AETF affiliated event and to those wishing to set up a new preliminary round festival.

  • To provide, through the use of professional adjudicators, practical, encouraging and educative feedback for festival participants and festival audiences alike.

  • To strive to raise the profile of the festival and increase its support base through such mechanisms as a membership scheme.

  • To keep abreast of developments affecting all aspects of amateur theatre.

  • To respond innovatively to problems posed by a national decline in the number of festival participants and organisers.

  • To manage the festival effectively and transparently and be responsive to the views and suggestions of affiliated festivals, members and audiences. 

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© 2017 Elmbridge Arts Council