Famous alumni

TV stars, Hollywood actors or sports stars: the University of Birmingham has numerous alumni who rose to fame in their chosen disciplines. Below is a selection of famous faces.

Chris Addison (BA English, 1994)

Chris AddisonChris is one of Britain's best loved comedians. 

He has since been involved with the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival 11 times, performing stand-up comedy and in 2004 he was nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award for comedy for his show, "Civilisation".

He is best known for his current role as a regular panellist on Mock The Week. He is also known for his lecture-style comedy shows, two of which he later adapted for Radio 4. In addition to stand-up, in television he plays Ollie in the BBC Two television satire The Thick of It and Toby in its spin-off film In the Loop, and he co-created and starred in the BBC Two sitcom Lab Rats. On radio, he previously hosted the weekly comedy news satire show 7 Day Sunday on BBC Radio 5 Live from 2009 to 2010.

Arthur Bywater GC GM (BSc Chemistry, 1935; MSc Chemistry, 1936)

Arthur  was one of only eight people, and the only civilian, to be awarded both the George Cross and George Medal for his bravery and courage.

On 22 February 1944 there was an accident at an arms factory in Kirby. 19 workers were filling fuses when one exploded, killing one woman immediately and wounding two others. The fuse had exploded because of a defective striker and Arthur realised that the whole building, which contained 12,000 highly explosive fuses, was in danger of igniting. He led three other volunteers in the dangerous work of clearing the wrecked factory of 12,724 fuses over the next three days, plus another 4,000 which were believed to be defective.

Arthur was awarded the George Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 24 October 1944.

A few months after his exploits for which he was awarded the GC, Arthur was involved in another explosion in the same factory. This occurred during the filling of ammunition, the initial blast was followed by others which put out all the lights. The only illumination at the site was provided by the numerous fires.

Once the fires had been extinguished and the salvage work was finished a team was needed to clear the wrecked building. Arthur and three colleagues volunteered. The ammunition which had caused the accident consisted of anti-personnel, anti-disturbance and time-delay bombs which were scattered through and beneath the debris and were in danger of detonating without warning.

The movement of wreckage posed a constant hazard because ignorance or a moment of carelessness by any member of the team could endanger the lives of the others, but the clearance operations were completed without casualties.

He was awarded the George Medal from King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 6 November 1945.

Arthur passed away 6 April 2005.

Ellie Crisell (BA Drama and Theatre Arts, 1998)

Ellie CrisellEllie is a journalist and TV presenter, best known for her role as presenter for Newsround on the BBC. She currently presents the BBC's South East Today.

In live television, the unexpected is a way of life. Ellie Crisell’s mix of experience and ease in front of the camera has catapulted her to national fame covering major global events for the BBC.

While fronting the broadcaster’s current affairs programme for young people, Newsround, Ellie’s natural ability meant it was only a matter of time before she joined the ranks of the corporation’s best presenters.

Ellie’s career rise involved her being flown out to Indonesia just days after the 2004 Asian tsunami struck. She describes the experience of witnessing the devastation first hand as ‘unforgettable’ and a defining moment.

Memories of her time spent with Indonesians coming to terms with huge personal loss have been refreshed by the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami. ‘You see these images of devastation on television but there’s something quietly profound that broadcasting can’t do justice to – the human reality disappears.

‘You’re standing where a town used to be and meeting people who’ve lost everything they own and their loved ones too,’ explains Ellie (BA Drama and Theatre Arts, 1998).

Ellie began her presenting career at ITN, first on radio and Channel 5 television news updates. She then became a reporter and newsreader for regional broadcaster Tyne Tees Television in June 2001. She was offered the Newsround role in 2003 and subsequently joined the BBC News team.

From a young age Ellie knew she wanted to work in broadcasting. ‘I was always a bit of a performer, getting involved with school plays, dancing, music and being on stage,’ she explains. ‘Working in media combines two strong things about me – I’m confident and have a natural curiosity about the world.’

During her time at the University, Ellie’s dream of becoming a TV presenter flourished. ‘The course I chose was perfect for me and what made my time there so special was the people I met. I made a big bunch of friends in freshers’ week and we’re still really close now.

‘I immediately fell in love with the place, as soon as I got there I felt at home. I found kindred spirits really quickly and it’s a place I’d recommend to anyone.’

Ellie says it’s the variety that fuels her passion for television, but come what may, her feet remain firmly on the ground. ‘The best piece of advice I’ve ever had comes from my dad,’ she says. ‘He said don’t believe your own publicity – good or bad – just keep grounded, show willing and work hard.

Hannah England (BSc Biochemistry, 2009)

Hannah England with World Championships medalHannah is a professional 1500 metre runner, who in 2011 was crowned silver medalist at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu. She also competed for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics.

Matthew Goode (BA Drama and Theatre Arts, 1998) 

Matthew GoodeMatthew graduated from Birmingham in 1998 with a degree in Drama and Theatre Arts. Now an established Hollywood actor, Matthew has starred in films including Leap Year, Watchmen, A Single Man, Stoker, The Imitation Game, Allied, and The Hatton Garden Job. On the small screen, he was a series regular on The Good Wife and is one of the lead characters in A Discovery of Witches.

Tamsin Greig (BA Drama and Theatre Arts, 1988)

Tamsin GreigTamsin is an actress best known for her roles in comedies Green Wing and Friday Night Dinner. Her performance in Green Wing as Dr Caroline Todd won her 'Best Comedy Performance' at the 2005 Royal Television Society awards.

As well as her work in TV Greig also has a longstanding role in Radio 4 soap opera The Archers and has achieved much success on stage. She was the recipient of a Laurence Olivier Award in 2007 and nominated again in 2011 for The Little Dog Laughed.

Performances in cult comedies Black Books and Green Wing made the award-winning actress a household name. Her acting credits range from from The Lenny Henry Show to The Diary of Anne Frank, Jane Austen’s Emma, People Like Us, Dr Who and Love Soup and she is the sultry voice of Debbie Aldridge in Radio 4’s The Archers. She has a lead role in Channel 4's sitcom Friday Night Dinner.

In 2006, Tamsin returned to the stage after a long absence, going on to win an Olivier and London Critics’ Award for her role as Beatrice in the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothing. She has also appeared in the West End production of God of Carnage and the National Theatre’s production of Gethsemane, a new play by David Hare which also toured. In early 2010 she played the lead in The Little Dog Laughed at The Garrick Theatre in London.

Did you know?

Before becoming an actress, Tamsin was an administrator for the Family Planning Association.

Pam Relph MBE (BSc Physics, 2011)

Pam Relph and her rowing team mates celebrate their gold medal at the 2012 London ParalympicsAfter being medically discharged from the Army, Pamela took up rowing on the advice of her Sister and never looked back. In 2011 she, along with her team won the gold medal at the Rowing World Championships in Slovenia in the mixed coaxed four.

At the London 2012 Paralympics the team repeated this feat becoming Paralympic Champions, and successfully defended her title in Rio in 2016.

She was awarded an MBE in the 2013 New Years Honours list for her services to rowing.

Ben Shephard (BA Drama and Theatre Arts, 1997)

Ben is one of the most recognisable presenters on British TV.

He is currently employed by Sky Sports. His most recognised role was as a main presenter on the now defunct breakfast station GMTV and he has on occasion been a stand-in presenter on This Morning. He has hosted game shows such as The Krypton Factor, 1 vs. 100, Safebreakers and Tipping Point.

He is currently the lead presenter of Goals on Sunday on Sky Sports 1 as well as lead presenter on Channel 4's cookery programme What's Cooking?

Television presenter Ben co-hosted popular ITV breakfast show GMTV until the summer of 2010. He got his first big break in 1998 when he hosted Channel 4’s teen TV review programme Control Freaks and went on to be a presenter for MTV, Channel 4’s The Bigger Breakfast, Planet Pop and Sunday morning show T4.

He joined GMTV in 2000, initially presenting the celebrity news slot Entertainment Today before moving on to co-host the programme. From 2004–07 he also fronted the hugely successful The Xtra Factor on ITV2. He has more recently fronted the quiz show The Krypton Factor on ITV1 and BBC1 Saturday night National Lottery quiz 1vs100. He also has his own breakfast radio show on Magic FM and a weekly show on Heat Radio.

In 2006, 2008 and 2010, Ben represented a pro-celebrity England football team playing alongside former England captains Alan Shearer, Tony Adams and Bryan Robson, and entertainer Robbie Williams, against Diego Maradona, Paolo Di Canio, Luis Figo and Gordon Ramsay at Old Trafford and Wembley, in front of a combined crowd of more than 120,000 people. This raised more than £2 million pounds for UNICEF.

In March 2009, Ben climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief with a team of nine other celebrities including Gary Barlow, Ronan Keating, Denise Van Outen, Chris Moyles and Cheryl Cole. By completing the gruelling eight-day trek to the summit of the tallest mountain in Africa, which stands at 19,340 above sea level, the team raised more than £3 million (£3,326,000 to be exact) to help people in Africa and the UK.

Did you know?

Ben met his wife Annie at the University of Birmingham.

Non Stanford (BSc Sport and Exercise Sciences, 2010)

Non Stanford running in a triathlonInitially an international country runner, Non switched from athletics to triathlon in 2008 after a succession of injuries and has never looked back.

In 2012 she won the ITU Triathlon U23 World Championships, the next year going on to win the World senior title, the first woman to step up and achieve this feat.

Chris Tarrant (BA English, 1967)

Chris TarrantChris has been a national television and radio star for 40 years – and still going strong.

Best known as the sharp-witted quizmaster on the long-running TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – and for creating the catchphrases "But we don’t want to give you that," and "Is that your final answer?" – Chris has been a celebrity for 40 years.

After graduating, Chris became an English teacher but didn’t enjoy it very much and decided to pursue his dream of working in television with real determination. His persistence paid off and he began his television career as a newsreader for ATV – his quirky humour and ability to make anything sound interesting got him noticed.

In 1974 he became a national star presenting – not to mention writing and producing – the brilliantly anarchic Saturday morning children’s show Tiswas, which also made a name for Lenny Henry.

In 1984, Chris joined London’s Capital Radio where he presented an award-winning breakfast show that ran for 17 years. He has also hosted a number of other long-running television programmes, such as Tarrant on TV.

He has won numerous awards on television and radio and was awarded CBE in 2004.

Did you know?

Chris turned down a place at Oxford to attend Birmingham.

Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe (BA Latin, 1969)

Ann WiddecombeAnn is a former Conservative MP as well as a TV presenter.

She held several parliamentary positions including Minister of State for the Department of Employment, Minister of State for the Home Office, and Shadow Health Secretary. She has enjoyed a successful writing career penning a number of books one of which, The Clematis Tree, rose to number eight in the Times Best Seller List.

In 2010 Ann was one of the celebrity contestants who appeared on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.

The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was the Member of Parliament for Maidstone and The Weald for more than 20 years.

During John Major’s first administration, she was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Social Security and specialised in pensions. In 1994 she was appointed Minister of State, Department of Employment, and became Minister of State at the Home Office a year later with responsibility for prisons and immigration. She has also been both Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Health Secretary.

Did you know?

In the early 1970s, Ann worked in marketing at Unilever and from 1975 to 1987 she was the Senior Administrator at London University.

Victoria Wood (BA Drama, 1974)

National treasure, comedienne, actress, musician and writer; entertaining us for more than 30 years, Victoria Wood graduated from Birmingham in 1974 with a BA in Drama.

Why she was outstanding

Victoria’s career took off in 1974 when still a student at Birmingham; she appeared on the TV talent show New Faces and won. From there her career centered around stand-up comedy, branching out into films, sitcom, directing and producing. She worked with the brilliant Julie Walters on and off from 1978.

The multi-talented creator of the sitcom Dinnerladies and Acorn Antiques – the musical!, a spin off from the much loved spoof, also wrote two serious dramas, Pat and Margaret in 1994, and Housewife 49 in 2006. The latter was based on the Mass Observation diaries of Nella Last, and won 2 BAFTAs, one for best screenplay and one for Wood as Best Actress.

She was awarded an OBE in the 1997 Queen's Honours List and the CBE in the 2008 Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to drama. Her work was laden with other awards, including the 2005 British Comedy Award for Outstanding Contribution to Comedy.

One of the most popular entertainers in Britain, Victoria died in April 2016 after a short battle with cancer.

Did you know?

In the early 1980s, she was one of the presenters of Insight, Yorkshire TV’s schools programme for hearing-impaired children.