The golden age of shows

South Shields Amateur Operatic Society
South Shields Amateur Operatic Society

They say all the world’s a stage.

Well, there was a time when a world of entertainment could be seen here, on our very doorstep, thanks to the talent and dedication of a group of South Tyneside performers and a supporting production crew.

They were members of the South Shields Amateur Operatic Society.

Today we begin a look back at its history, and the glittering shows that members staged during a golden age of local amateur dramatics.

The story is brought to life by former society secretary and performer Maurice Powell.

Mr Powell explains that the South Shields Amateur Operatic Society was formed in 1917, when “the Harton Colliery band was the most successful in Britain”.

“The society’s first production was Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.

“During those early days,” says Mr Powell, “the society played at various theatres in South Shields, including the Palace, in Frederick Street.

“They played at the old Queen’s Theatre, at the bottom of Mile End Road, which was bombed during the 1939-45 war.”

Interestingly, the act playing the Queen’s Theatre at the time, was Arthur Lucan, who was better known as Old Mother Riley.

“The society continued until the Second World War when it had to be put on hold.

During the war, The Regent cinema hall, which would later play host to the society, was damaged when a bomb dropped in the street (as can be seen in the attached photo which appeared in the Gazette in May 25, 1943).

“It was revived after the war ended, and the first production, in 1950, was Rose Marie, which was held in the Regent cinema, in Westoe.”

The society remained there for 30 years until 1980.

“We stayed there because when we first went to the Regent, in 1950, it was a family-run cinema.

“Then the cinema was taken over by the Mecca organisation, and they turned it into a bingo hall.

“The society’s secretary and chairman travelled to London for negotiations with Mecca, which gave the society £1,000 a year towards production costs. Then in 1980, we had to move, and there was a lot of deliberation.

“Should we go to the Customs House, in South Shields, or the Empire theatre, in Sunderland?”

l Next time: Find out what they did.