Mac closes its doors next Sunday for its major £13.6 million rebuilding programme. Actor and TV presenter Tony Robinson recalls his early experience of directing Mac's resident company.

In the photographic archive in the Post & Mail you can still find a neatly typed letter from the then publicity officer of the Midland Arts Centre, suggesting a photo-opportunity with a 22 year-old theatre director.

This unusual survival from the days when Mac had a resident professional theatre company is filed alongside the resulting picture. Despite the elapse of 40 years, the young director working on a production of David Halliwell's then-recent play Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs is clearly recognisable as Tony Robinson, later of Baldrick and Time Team fame.

"I first went up to Mac as an actor in about 1966-67," Robinson recalls. "At the end of that season I directed a spoof revue which took the p*** out of John English [Mac's founder-director], and he asked if I would like to have a go at directing the company.

"I had been a child actor, so I had been acting for a decade and went out into rep for a few years, and it seemed to be something I could do. So he applied for an Arts Council bursary for me for the next year, and then the director of productions left and now this callow 22-year old found himself in charge."

Little Malcolm was his first production, and he recalls: "It was a perfect show for me to do because it was about a callow, pontificating 22-year old.

"That went down enormously well, particularly because I used the unexpurgated version which had a number of four-letter words in it. You can imagine, the teachers coming from the local convent school were outraged and led their charges out rather ostentatiously.

"That was reported by your good selves and of course, as always in showbusiness, that made it the hottest ticket in town."

Robinson just missed Mike Leigh, who had gained some of his own early directing experience at Mac the year before he arrived at Cannon Hill.

While there he worked with the puppeteer John Blundall, who as well as being director of the Cannon Hill Puppet Theatre also designed for the flesh-and-blood actors. In turn, Robinson directed the puppets in Dick Whittington.

By 1968 the counter-culture was in full swing, even in Birmingham. That was the year that a group of disgruntled members of Mac's Arts Club split off to form their own arts centre, the Birmingham Arts Lab.

"I was friendly with quite a few people who were involved in the Arts Lab, because I shared a lot of their concerns at the time about some of the direction the Mac was going in.

"John English was a real visionary and he understood an awful lot which we young people didn't understand about the direction that Britain was going to go in. He was the first person I heard talking about what people would need and require when they had more leisure time.

"He was criticised in his lifetime for what he wasn't, but he was never going to be the Richard Neville of Birmingham. What he did was to bridge the cusp between the aspirations of those who fought the Second World War and the new generation who were looking for a very different kind of lifestyle.

"The whole criticism that I remember of Mac was that it was 'bourgeois' - a term of cultural abuse. I think it's only now that people can look back at those early years and realise how extraordinary they were.

"My first technical assistant stage manager was Bob Peck. I can't imagine anywhere else at that time that was free to allow the technical ASM to be playing leads just because he was great.

"In later years Bob told me he felt the gods were with him because he couldn't have got that experience anywhere else. At the same time the new leads at the Rep were Michael Gambon and Brian Cox - so it was an exciting time to be in Birmingham."

* Mac is still raising the final £600,000 of the redevelopment costs. For details on how to make a donation, visit www.macarts.co.uk/ilovemac .