A history of treading the boards

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CONCERT programmes provide a wealth of local information, firstly about the town itself through the many local businesses taking advertising space and, secondly, the organisation and the people taking part.

While I was looking through my collection I discovered I had two programmes for the comic opera “Merrie England”. While these two programmes are for the same show the actual performance dates are 44 years apart.

The older of the two was from November, 1925, a show performed by the Brighouse Amateur Operatic Society at the Albert Theatre, now The Calder in Huddersfield Road.

The second was by Brighouse Light Opera Society (BLOS) and took place in October 1969 and once again performed at the Albert Cinema.

BLOS was formed in December, 1923, when a small group was formed from the St James’ Church congregation to perform what was probably intended as a series of one-off concerts.

This first effort proved to be so successful that many of what were small concerts were repeated over the next few months.

One of the leading lights with the group was the Rev W.E.Womersley (Parish Church Curate 1921-1922), who along with his wife coached the small but willing group to initially perform at fetes and teas.

From these small beginnings came their first full production “Floradora” which opened in September, 1924, at the Sugden Memorial Hall. The two people responsible for getting the best out of this group of amateurs and producing what was described as a first class musical comedy were Mr H.T.Evans and musical director Christopher Peacock. This successful performance saw the birth of what became known for a few years as the St James’ Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society.

Through the generosity of Mr Richard Woodhouse and the Sugden family the memorial hall was the scene for their 1925 performance of ‘The Earl and the Girl’, in 1926 ‘A Runaway Girl’, in 1927 ‘San Toy’ and in 1928 ‘A Country Girl’.

The first signs of dissent came after 11 years, at the annual general meeting in 1935 when the society found itself without a secretary or a treasurer. It was pointed out by the Parish Church Vicar, the Rev Edward Moore Haines, that over recent years the annual light opera had become so popular that people who had no connection with the church were being recruited both into the cast and the production staff.

It was suggested that these ‘comers-in’ were now practically running the organisation and the church authorities considered this unacceptable.

The crunch finally came when Rev Haines announced that the officials of the amateurs should all be active church members. If any member left the church then they would also be expected to leave the amateurs. The result was that in following February the amateurs disbanded.

From the ashes of the St James’ group rose Brighouse Light Opera Society when ex-members rallied and formed the new group.

Some of the regular leading lights in those early days included Stewart Gilpin, Harry Barrett, Leslie Cockcroft, Eva Reynolds, Bessie Barrett, Harry Earnshaw, Nellie Greenwood and Walter Briggs just to name a few.

The second “Merrie England” programme dates from 1969’s Brighouse Light Opera Society production.

Society president Harry Edwards said in the programme notes: “After our most successful production of ‘My Fair Lady‘ we decided to choose ‘Merrie England’ because we know that you, the public of Brighouse appreciate good singing.”

The leading parts in this production were played by Wilfred Clay, Frank Fox, Lawrence Sutcliffe, Ralph Hartley, Selwyn Rawson, Mervyn Redmond, Trevor Bower, Walter Adamson, Arthur Jackson, Susan Bond, Maureen Allison, Norma Talbot, Elaine Brown, Dorothy Pountain, Freda Wilson, Sheila Stott, Margaret Wilkinson, Joyce Palmer, Tony Holt and John Fieldhouse.

In 2005 Brighouse Theatre Productions was established by the merger of two long established musical theatre groups, Brighouse Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and Brighouse Light Opera Society. Both of these organisations had been in existence for over 80 years.

For further information about Brighouse Theatre Productions please have a look at its website www.brighousetheatre.co.uk

n This week’s featured photograph shows the ladies of the chorus in 1969 and includes: Mary Meaker; Beverley Holmes; Pamela Nutton; Marjorie Stead; Christine Sutcliffe; Joyce Palmer; Bessie Davies; Flora Watson; Christine Gill; Margaret Wilkinson; Margaret Holden; Wendy Heydon; Margaret Mallas; Helen Ford; Denise Crabtree; Bessie Power; Gloria Dalby; Irene Sykes; Joan Sykes; Betty Oxley; Margaret Beaton; Shirley Pilling; Pam Bellamy; Teresa Mellor and Margaret Adamson.