100 Years of P&P!
It was a time for re-building. A time to re-establish the order of things. It was 1919. This was the spirit that prevailed when the first meeting of the “Parkstone Vocal and Instrumental Society” took place. The Rules were borrowed from the “Plumsted Lyric, Glee and Orchestral Society” and included a “shilling a month subscription” and “no smoking during practices”.
The first “concert” was presented to an audience at Poole Wesleyan Church on 27th October 1919. Fifty-seven members, including a twelve – piece orchestra, took part. The net profit was £2. At the end of 1920 Sherwood’s Queen appeared for just two evenings at Branksome Liberal Hall. Admission was one shilling and three pence (including tax).
“The society is filling a very important place in the new era that is dawning, in view of the shorter working hours and the need for more recreation of the right kind” Alderman J C Julyan Bournemouth Daily Echo 1920.
The Early 20’s
The Society has always regarded Dogs of Devon as being its first production since, according to the East Dorset Herald of December 21st 1921, it “far and away eclipsed the success of Sherwood’s Queen,(which was only a practice after all!).
“With the object of filling the part of “Simple Simon” it was recommended that Mr Pierce be asked to try the part over”. (Minutes September 1921)
“The mechanical music opener has proved to be of no use to the pianist and should be used as a Whist Drive prize” (Minutes January 1921)
“Commander Hamilton has been booked to lecture on “The Work of Destroyers during the Great War”. This will be followed by musical items by the Society and a silver collection.” (Minutes 1921)
Note: The silver collection raised One Pound Seven Shillings and Six Pence.
1923 to 1937 – The Gilbert and Sullivan Years
Rajah of Rajahpore made a loss of about £30. The Conductor and Librarian, Mr and Mrs Nicholson were leaving for China.
Fortunately, the rehearsal venue at the Emerson Hall in Hermitage Road was being used practically free of charge thanks to the consideration of Alderman Carter, Mayor of Poole and the Society’s President, whose father had built it. He considered that the Society was a social asset to the town and that we should regard the hall not as a tenancy but as a home. In August 1923 the Society changed its name to “The Parkstone Operatic Society”. In doing so its fortunes appeared to change too.
Highwayman Love made a profit of Six Pounds Fourteen Shillings which was given to the Cornelia Hospital.
Business pressures forced the resignation of Mr Lock as Chairman and his place was taken by Mr Percy J Knight an ex-army Captain who was to lead the Society for the next twenty three years. Fortune also played a hand in the choice of the 1924 opera. On the shortlist as being “the ones we can afford” were King Hal (“too similar to our previous productions”), Emerald Isle,(“Ringwood Operatic were doing it”), and The Mikado. Rupert D‘Oyly Carte Esq said that he would “state a minimum production fee of One Guinea per performance but that this is not to be taken as a precedent!”
The Gilbert and Sullivan years at Parkstone had begun. The Parkstone Operatic Society sang its way through fifteen years of the Savoy Operas, joined, in 1929, by a Miss Edna Ellis, later to be Mrs Edna Tice who gave great service as principal, Secretary and Producer and who was involved with P&P and Bournemouth Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic Society right up until her death in 2000.
“A sum of Nineteen Shillings had been collected at a tea. It is to be donated to the inmates of the Workhouse”. (Minutes 1925).
In 1927 the venue for productions was moved to the Regent Theatre, Poole and the name “Poole” was added to the society’s title to become the Poole and Parkstone Operatic Society.
1938 to 1940
In the programme for the 1938 production, The Chairman (PJ) complained that, “after all these years of presenting Gilbert and Sullivan we have been stampeded into doing a so-called modern show – The Desert Song .
At a meeting on September 24th 1939 the committee postponed the planned performance of Maid of the Mountains indefinitely. The Society would try to stay together by means of social evenings and dances (if restrictions permitted). The aim was to be one of community service by means of concert work. Bert Wilcox offered the loan of a “pingpong” table.
Concerts were given to the troops or to raise money for charities. By early 1940 Amy Welsley had made a record one hundred concert appearances since war had begun. This spirit was infectious. It was decided to reverse the earlier decision and to present Maid of the Mountains despite the war. It was received by an enthusiastic public at the Regent Theatre in July 1940.
But, by late 1940, the pressures and restrictions of a country at war, transport difficulties, blackout and the rest proved too much. On Armistice Day 1940 Mrs Tice proposed that the Society close down for the duration but that we pay Ten Shillings a year to the Emerson Hall for the storage of the piano and the contents of our cupboard. Carried!
1946 to 1949
At the first post war meeting on November 5th 1946 a letter of resignation from P J Knight was read to the members. He had served the Society well. Much of our archive material was kindly presented to us by his son Brian.
Over £2000 had been donated to the hospital by this time but when our own assets were counted the list read:
Cash in the Bank £16
One National Saving Certificate £30
One typewriter of dubious characters.
And a piano.
The first post war production was Iolanthe followed by The Arcadians Lord Llewellyn of Uptown became President following the resignation of Alderman Caner who had done so much for us, but whose health was now failing. It looked as though the G&S image was returning until, in 1948, a letter was received from R D’Oyly Carte refusing permission for P&P to stage The Mikado because his own Company might be coming to Bournemouth in the Autumn; Also, he had already given provisional permission to the newly formed Bournemouth G&S Society to perform it in November. The 1949 production of Yeomen of the Guard was the last time that we sang G&S, on the big stage until “Thanks for the Memory” and the more recent updated versions of “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Hot Mikado”.
My Fair Lady cast
As a result of the show £366 was donated to the Poole Old Folks Welfare and Housing Society. It is of interest to note that, these days, we invest well over £30,000 in our Spring production and, even with every seat sold, we still lose several thousand pounds each time. Only your excellent support for our Autumn presentation allows us to refloat our finances and keep P&P viable. We thank you all.
The Fifties ended on a high note with The Merry Widow being released for amateur performance and proving to be very popular. Young Dennis Bowden was in the chorus.
Bitter Sweet and Quaker Girl joined hands with Rose Marie and Goodnight Vienna to hold back the
advance of the brash and exciting different forces of South Pacific, Oklahoma, Call Me Madam and Annie Get Your Gun. Carousel vied with White Horse Inn for a place on the Regent stage.
The new American shows brought the chorus into the story. The choreography required dimensions of movement seldom demanded by the old romantics. It is small wonder that amateur groups all over the country reached out eagerly to accept the new challenges which created a place for the younger talent.
On 23rd May 1968 the Company was preparing for Carousel at the Regent when it was learned that the theatre was to be closed on July 1st and re-opened as a Bingo Hall! The production was reluctantly moved to the Pavilion in Bournemouth, which would not be available until February 1969. The cost of the theatre, complete with orchestra and stage hands would go up from £586 at the Regent to £1,250 at the Pavilion. 1969 may have been ‘one small step’ for Neil Armstrong but it was a giant leap for P&P!
During 1969 Bert Cobb resigned as Chairman. Having auditioned in 1924 he had completed forty six years with the Society, undoubtedly qualifying for membership of what he himself referred to as “The Great Unpaid“.
1970 started with a bright golden haze on the meadow and with names such as Gillian Vincent, Kay Hardyman, Amy Welsley, Denys Greenfield and Bert Wilcox, our new Chairman, who also presided over the stage proceedings as Judge Carnes. Edna Tice was back “on loan” as our Producer and Chris Shiner subdued the orchestra.
My Fair Lady was followed by Oliver. Most of Fagin’s “Boys” are now into their Fifties and some have moved to the other side of the world!
During the 70s Bert Wilcox gave up the chair to Ken Cornick. John Stringer became MD and the Society moved back to Poole when it presented Gigi at the Towngate Theatre, newly opened and with a long climb to the temporary upstairs dressing rooms!
We gave £500 to the Arts Centre for new equipment and our President Alderman F Rowe presented another £750. If only they had put another two hundred seats in! Altogether our contributions to local charities had reached £10,000.
The Music Man did not get the eighties off to a good start. The public received the show with a frenzy of indifference. We were broke again!
It was to be the decade of the money-making concert, of Joanne Chapman and of the Autumn productions which are still going strong today. From Music from the Movies to Colour My World, they alternated with the Spring Shows to establish P&P as a force to be reckoned with in a part of England where there are so many Societies of a very high standard.
As years went by, more movement and dancing were gradually introduced and the concerts gradually evolved into spectacular shows. Many people expressed a wish to sing, but not to dance, so in 1998 it was decided to form a choir, now known as The P&P Singers. Initially led by Jean Chambers, the Singers went from strength to strength, performing a host of concerts throughout the year, raising funds for charities and competing on the local competition circuit.
The Musical Theatre section continued to stage musicals in May, such as “Hello Dolly!”, “Guys and Dolls” and “Crazy for You”, as well as their all singing-all dancing concerts in the Autumn.
In 2005, P&P’s Players was born, and has been a very successful addition to the P&P family, for those who prefer performing straight plays rather than musicals. Since the Millenium, P&P’s Musical Theatre has had a bumpy journey, which started well with Mack and Mabel, and continued successfully with modern Broadway versions of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Hot Mikado” which wowed audiences, won awards and received rave reviews. Audiences also enjoyed Godspell in 2004 and Annie Get Your Gun in 2006, after which, a lack of advance ticket sales led to the unfortunate cancellation of Chess in 2007, and the choice of the smaller production “Red Hot and Cole” in 2008. 2009 saw P&P celebrate their 90th anniversary with a box office smash, Oliver which was produced by the company for the first time since 1972!
2011 saw P&P selling out The Lighthouse once more by taking on one of our biggest challenges to date; the iconic Jesus Christ Superstar which remains a firm favourite of cast and audiences alike. This was followed swiftly with our first performances by the Musical Theatre Society at The Barrington Theatre, with “Aladdin” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum”.
2012 & 2014 saw us take on the challenging musicals, ‘Sweeney Todd’ and “Calamity Jane”, which despite fantastic critical reception and audience feedback, made losses. The decision was made to stage some intimate cabarets with “Cabaret and Cocktails” performed by the Musical Theatre Society and “It’s Snowtime” where we were joined by some talented young performers from local schools, to sell out audiences.
We returned to the Lighthouse in 2016 once again, with the classic “42nd Street”, directed by Clare Camble-Hutchins, featuring over 30 of our members tap dancing as if their lives depended on it! Two productions at the Barrington followed; Countdown to Christmas, a festive cabaret, and “All Shook Up”, a jukebox musical set to a score of the hits of Elvis Presley. Clare Camble-Hutchins returned to direct “Guys and Dolls” at the Lighthouse in May 2018 to rave reviews.
P&P Singers, Players and Musical Theatre joined forces in November 2018 for “Pack Up Your Troubles”, a concert in commemoration of the end of WW1, a poignant and nostalgic tribute to those who lost their lives in the wartime era.
A look to the future;
2019 brings us another packed programme, starting with Players’ hilarious comedy, Make Way for Lucia in February. This is quickly followed by an exciting production of Our House, featuring the music of the iconic Madness, at the Lighthouse Theatre in May. Next up, the P&P Singers host their annual Sing for the Summer in June, and join forces with the Players in July to bring us another ‘Summer Cocktail’. The Musicals section will then return to the Lighthouse in November for “A Century of Song”, a concert featuring the greatest showstoppers, audience favourites and most iconic numbers from our 100 year history, chosen by our faithful audiences and members, past and present. And finally we close our season with our Concert of Christmas Songs, Readings and Carols at St Aldhelm’s Church in Branksome with all 6 sections of the society, a fitting end to a busy year as we count down to the start of a new century in P&P’s history.