Shields’ society was a springboard for talent

South Shields Amateur Operatic Society
South Shields Amateur Operatic Society

The golden days of the South Shields Amateur Operatic Society not only produced some great shows, it also produced wonderful talent – and life-long friends for those involved with the group.

Today Maurice Powell completes his fascinating look-back at the days when South Tyneside had “one of the finest societies in England”.

He said some of those who took to the stage with the society went on to have careers in the entertainment industry.

“It was quite a springboard for young performers,” says Maurice.

“Before the war, one or two went professional.

After the war, others followed in their footsteps.

“Dale Meeks turned professional and was in the original Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Beautiful Game, and for quite a while had a named part in Emerdale.

“His bother Philip writes pantomimes and works at the Yorkshire Playhouse.

“Another was Claire Bowler, who went professional.”

Maurice said he and his sister Freda, who joined the society in 1964, made a lot of friends over the years, thanks to the society.

“Many of them became very dear friends.

“One of the people, who is no longer with us, who took the lead role in many shows, was Ron Kemp, who was very well known in the area. There is Anne Wilkinson (now Armstrong). Another person who was very well known at the time was Ken Dunn. The finest musical director we had, in my time, was Keith Trewhitt, who was head of music at Harton College, the grammar school for boys.

“But I must mention, musical director George Hetherington, he gave me the wings to fly.”

And fly he did, starring as Motel the tailor, one of the principal roles in Fiddler on the Roof, in 1973.

The former society secretary said one of his favourite shows with the group was Novello’s Dancing Years.

“Another show, which I wasn’t actually involved in, but which was a cracker, was 42 Street at Sunderland, in 1994.

“The shows were very spectacular, but very costly (the Empire productions cost £20,000).”

Bringing the curtain down, Maurice concludes by saying: “The week of the show was magic, it really was.

“I wouldn’t have missed those times for anything.”