Shields society packed in the crowds

The full cast of South Shields Amateur Operatic Society's presentation of Brigadoon .
The full cast of South Shields Amateur Operatic Society's presentation of Brigadoon .

Yesterday Maurice Powell told us about the early days of South Shields Amateur Operatic Society, which, in its heyday, staged some truly lavish and memorable shows.

We interrupted his tale at a point in the society’s history when members had the choice – to stay in South Shields or move to the Sunderland Empire

Today Maurice reveals the outcome of their deliberations.

“We had a general meeting,” explains Maurice, “and the majority view was to go to the Empire.

“A lot of people said stay in Shields, but if we had done that we would have been restricted as to the type of production we could have done.

“So we went to the Sunderland Empire in 1980, and did Showboat.”

Maurice, who was secretary at the time (a post he was appointed to in 1964, and held for 17 years), said the society played to 95% capacity audiences during their time in Sunderland, wowing the crowds with their wonderfully spectacular shows.

The society stalwart reveals that he joined the society in 1958 when he was 15 years old after growing up in Shields.

“I lived in Harton House Road, South Shields, and went to Mortimer Infants School, Mortimer Juniors and Cleadon Park Secondary School.

“I went to work as an office boy for South Shields Commercial Building Society, who were based in Barrington Street.

“The then chairman, who was Ernest Forsyth-Hedley, invited me to become a dancer in Carousel. I agreed, and, as they say, the rest is history.

“I have always been interested in music, it’s always been my life. Without music, life would be so empty.

“I was in quite a lot of productions after that, as well as being secretary and accompanist.

“I joined the society chorus in 1960, in Oklahoma, and did everything after that.”

Maurice said when the society was formed in 1918, the intention was to donate money raised as a result of its shows to the Tyne Seamen’s Fund.

After the week’s production of the Mikado, the society’s very first show, which was staged at the Queens Theatre, the society donated £200 to the fund.

And as well as providing much-needed funds to such a worthy cause, the society, over the years, gave even more – entertainment and enjoyment to thousands of theatre-goers.

Maurice went on to say that: “My last show with the society was Follies in 1996.

“It came to the stage were I thought it was time to bow out.”

The society eventually returned to Shields in the late 1990s, changing its names to South Shields Musical Productions. But the days of the old society live long in Maurice’s and many other people’s memories, as he reveals in the next part of his trip down memory lane.

l Next week: The productions and the people behind them.