In the early years, the Awards were known as the Urnies because the winners were presented with a specially commissioned blue Wedgwood urn. These days the winners are presented with a solid bronze statuette depicting the young Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937. Winners need to have sturdy mantelpieces; each statue weighs 1.6kg.
The venue most closely associated with the Awards is Grosvenor House Hotel, which has hosted the after-show reception nine times and the ceremony itself on four further occasions. The awards have also been held at many West End theatres including the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the Victoria Palace, the Lyceum, the National Theatre, the Albery (now the Noël Coward), the Shaftesbury, the London Palladium, the Dominion, the Piccadilly and, most recently, the Royal Opera House.
The first ever awards ceremony was held at the Café Royal on a Sunday evening in December 1976 and broadcast on the BBC as part of Nationwide. The first self-contained programme was broadcast on BBC1 in 1981, continuing until 1992 when it switched to BBC2 where it remained until 2003. In 2013 the event was broadcast live by BBC Radio 2 and ITV broadcasted a highlights programme shortly after the ceremony came to a close.
Hosts of the awards have included Gemma Arterton and Stephen Mangan (2014), Sheridan Smith and Hugh Bonneville (2013), Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton (2011 and 2012), Anthony Head, Richard Wilson, Sue Johnston, Clive Anderson (who hosted seven times) Angela Lansbury, Barry Norman, Anthony Hopkins, Sue Lawley, Diana Rigg, Edward Fox, Tim Rice, Gary Wilmot, Jane Asher, Tom Conti, Denis Quilley and Angela Rippon. Famous names who have presented an award range from Diana, Princess of Wales to Eddie Izzard, and from Kevin Spacey to Sir Tom Stoppard and in 2007, Laurence Olivier's son, Richard.
Multi-talented performers who have pulled off the feat of winning in both dramatic and musical categories include Simon Russell Beale, Jonathan Pryce, Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee. But Dame Judi Dench tops the lot; not only has she won in both categories but in 1996 she did the double in the same year, winning Best Actress for Absolute Hell and Best Actress in a Musical for A Little Night Music.
Sometimes one just isn’t enough. Among those who have had to dust off their acceptance speech for a second year running include director Stephen Daldry, who won consecutive Best Director awards in 1993 and 1994, Sheridan Smith, who won awards for Best Actress in a Musical (Legally Blonde) in 2011 and Best Performance in a Supporting Role (Flare Path) in 2012, and choreographers Dein Perry (1996 and 1997) and Matthew Bourne (2002 and 2003). Designers William Dudley, Mark Thompson and Tim Goodchild have also achieved the double, and lighting designer Paule Constable boasts three wins.
In 2002 Martine McCutcheon won Best Actress in a Musical for playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. However, due to illness McCutcheon had already withdrawn from the show, to be replaced by Joanna Riding. The following year Riding won for her performance in the role. It is the only time the same award has been won for the same show in two successive years.
The youngest winners of an award are the quartet of young actresses who led the cast of Matilda The Musical, Eleanor Worthington Cox, Cleo Demetriou (both 10), Sophia Kiely and Kerry Ingram (both 12), who shared the Best Actress in a Musical Award in 2012. The previous youngest winners were the trio of boys who jointly won Best Actor in a Musical for playing the title role in Billy Elliot The Musical in 2006, James Lomas (15), George Maguire (15) and Liam Mower (13).
Matilda The Musical (2012) and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (2013) share the title for most awards won at one Oliviers ceremony, both winning a staggering seven awards.
If Shakespeare were alive today he would have seen his plays receive a total of 66 awards across performance and creative categories.
Winners who have kept it in the family include Sam Wanamaker, who won a Special Award for his work on the rebuilding of Shakespeare's Globe, and his daughter Zoë, who won awards for her performances in Electra and Once In A Lifetime. Brother and sister Daniel and Anna Massey won in 1981 and 1982 respectively. Laurence Olivier's wife, Joan Plowright, won an award before he did. She picked up the Best Actress Award for Filumena in 1978. Olivier was given a Special Award a year later. Civil partners Gregory Doran and Antony Sher have both have collected awards; the tally is weighted in Sher’s favour two-to-one.