Overture to birth of G&S

A lavish production staged b y the local G&S Society.
A lavish production staged b y the local G&S Society.

Seventy years ago this month, one of South Tyneside’s best loved musical society’s was launched – the South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic Society.

And to mark the anniversary, we will be featuring a series of articles and lots and lots of great photos.

We start with the words of former chairman Michael L. Baker, who was writing in a book, entitled This World Of Music, produced to commemorate the society’s 50th birthday.

“In April 1948 there had been very little easing in war time restrictions and austerities,” he wrote.

“There was still food rationing and clothing coupons.

“Transport and all services were deplorably run-down, bombed sites had not been cleared, and for many somewhere to live was difficult to find.

“Escapism and relief from war-time conditions meant cinemas, theatres and dance halls were in great demand.

“Pubs were doing good business as far as pockets would allow.

“There was no television, just steam radio as it was known.

“There was no live theatre in South Shields. The lovely Queens Theatre, in Mile End Road, had been destroyed in a bombing raid.

“I was present at the very last performance (just an hour or so before its destruction) of a variety shown with Old Mother Riley and gorgeous Kitty McShane.”

But as Mr Baker recalled, on the amateur stage front “there was no activity”.

The excellent South Shields Amateur Operatic Society had ceased to function on the out-break of war in 1939.

After the war, it was unable to readily resume with its musicals because of the loss of the Queens Theatre which had been its regular production venue for many years.

“This was still the amateur stage scene in South Shields in 1948 when George Parker, a wonderful character, a great thespian and an expert on the life and work of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, suggested an effort should be made to resurrect amateur theatre in the town.”

The group involved in this early discussion comprised of: – George Parker; Stephen Tait; Harry W. Low; Bill Dodd; Bob Ellwood; John Stafford and Joe Watson.

“These were truly the founding members of the G&S Society.

“It was felt that the first move should be to approach the South Shields Amateur Operatic Society (SAAOS) to inquire of their intentions to encourage their revival.”

Organising a meeting though was not easy as some were war casualties and others had moved away.

However, a get-together was arranged, and they declared that “without a proper theatre they could not resume.

“George Parker and I stated our intention that, in the light of that decision, we would start a new society to carry on amateur theatre locally.

“I well remember the good wishes that were extended to our enterprise.

“Without further ado the first step was taken to form a new society.”

A public meeting was held in the Dorset Cafe, in Ocean Road, to assess the strength of support for the venture.

“It was a wonderful, enthusiastic gathering with an attendance of some 70 or 80, including several of the old SAAOS members.

“There were many new names too, some new to the amateur stage, who over the coming years gave immense and talented service to this society and the whole movement.

“At that inaugural meeting it was agreed that the new society should be called the South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic Society, and three officers, chairman, secretary and producer, along with a committee be elected.”

The inaugural team was: – Chairman, Stephen Tait; Vice-Chairman, Doug Sonley; Secretary, Henry W. Low; Treasurer, J.P. McEvoy; Producer, George R. Parker; Musical Director, Ethel Thubron and Stage Manager, Ollie Pottinger.

“Others on the committee were:– Mrs B. Andrews; Miss G. Boal; Miss N. Lishman; Miss S. Newton; J.D. Stafford; T.C. Armstrong; R. Ellwood; Wm. Dodd; H. W. Low (sen) and J. Watson.

“Further appointments made by the committee were:– Mrs Joan Low (nee Dixon), Accompanist; R. Brockbank, Assistant Stage Manager; Wm. Dearden, Assistant Electrician and R. Hood Coulthard, Hon. Auditor.

“So the G and S, as it was affectionately known in those days, and indeed ever since, was born.”

l There will be more on those early days, along with pictures from the past, in coming editions.