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Scholes Village Players.
The First Forty Years.

From the Barwicker No.67
September 2002

The Scholes Village Players were founded on 18 September 1931 at a public meeting, attended by 29 people, in the new village hall. Herbert Miers Gray of Morwick Hall became the first President, and other officers included: Secretary - Donald Kitchen, Treasurer - Betty (Miers) Gray, Stage Manager -Sydney Blood, Wardrobe Mistress - Mrs PJ Buckingham, Property Manager -John W Froggat. The last named was a coal dealer and owned the shop next to 'The Barleycorn1 public house.

According to an account by William Barrow of Nook Road, Arthursdale (a founder member), the forming of the Scholes Dramatic Society was inspired by the activities of an earlier Barwick and Scholes Dramatic Group. In 1919/20, William Barrow and Dr. Harold Bean produced a pantomime written by Mr Barrow and performed at Barwick School. For a few years a small group of players promoted about four shows a year, some of them in the Barwick Rectory grounds. The gradual loss of players eventually caused these activities to lapse.

Subsequently the completion of Scholes Village Hall (officially opened 17 January 1931) and seen as an ideal venue, promoted interest in forming a dramatic group in Scholes; hence the auspicious inaugural meeting in December 1931. The first play - 'The Importance of Being Earnest' - was performed on Friday and Saturday, 8 and 9 April 1932. Produced by William Barrow, the cast included: John Pearman, Dorothy Pearman, Betty Gray, Margaret Hockenhull, Basil McConnell, Hubert Dunderdale and Ann Kitchen.

The Skyrack Express reported: "The Society should feel encouraged by the fruit of this effort". This edition of The Express also reported that the Thorner Amateur Operatic Society's presentation of 'a fine Variety Programme', produced by S Fatkin, in the Victory Hall, including a solo dance by Pauline Carr of Scholes, one of the pupils of Miss Clare Hamer.

A Green Room Club was formed in 1932, the first function being held in May. A Green Room is a back stage retiring room in a theatre, formerly used by actors when not on stage, and so called as the first venue at Drury Lane had a green decor.

Early interest was expressed in a Shakespearian play, but this was not pursued and the second production, in November 1932, was 'Young Imeson' produced by William Barrow.

In the years 1933 to 1939, twelve, two-a year plays were performed including 'Cheque-Mate' (November 1934), written and produced by Mr Barrow, with a saving on script royalties, a profit of £6 - 6 - 0 was realised. 'Cheque-Mate', a modern farce, was later produced by Mr Barrow as a musical play for Stanley and Barry Lupino. An active influential member, William Barrow was elected a Life Member of the Players in 1935 and a Permanent Vice-President in 1936.

1935 was a busy year. Discussions were held with the Parish Council on the Jubilee Celebrations and an invitation came from the Rector for a short sketch to be given at the Barwick Rectory Garden Party in July. The Players became members of the British Drama League in 1935 and consideration was given to entering a team for the Harrogate Drama Festival.

Seeking to enhance dramatic effect, it was argued at a play selection meeting in December 1937: "We should endeavour to present something which would grip the audience and make them feel tension." Nevertheless, drama did prove not to have the same audience appeal as comedies.

During 1938/39 the proceeds from several shows were donated to the Leeds Infirmary and Village Hall Funds. Towards the end of 1939, the 'international situation' began to limit the prospects of future meaningful activities, and the death (killed in action) of BC Lawsman, a former treasurer and stage manager was announced.

With the exception of two, one-act plays - 'The Bride' and 'Husbands Supplied' - in 1941, the proceeds of which were donated to charity, there were no shows until February 1946, when a successful The Devil a Saint' (attendance 470) was performed. The profit of £26 was donated to a 'Welcome Home Fund'. Repeat performances of this play were given at Leeds University Riley Smith Hall and the Tadcaster Institute. Seat prices at this time were 1/6 front and 21- rear. The initial, two nights a week performances (in March and November) were progressively increased to five nights weekly in the 1950s, effectively doubling attendance.

A member of the cast of If Four Walls Told' (April 1947) fell ill at the 'eleventh hour', and the producer, Doris Blood, literally stepped into the breach and swotted up the lines in six hours, enabling the show not only to proceed but win wide claim from the audience.
In May 1948, Dr Harold Bean (the GP of Scholes Surgery) and his wife, became members, playing acting roles, serving on the committees, sponsoring and giving talks at the Green Room Club, and hosting garden parties at their Garth House residence. Dr. Bean was appointed Musical director in 1951 and his brother Laurie was for many years House Manager, supervising all front of House' activities, dignified in formal evening dress at performance times.

The cast for the November 1948 production of 'When we are Married', included Dr. Bean, Ursula Bean, Hubert Dunderdale, Joan Facer, Alan and Joan Senior. (Joan, a devoted long-term member, undertook acting roles, prompted, chaired the committee and served as Honorary Treasurer for many years.) The above play was repeated on 29/30 December 1949 to celebrate the Society's 25th. production (in 17 years), the proceeds being donated to 'Wireless for the Blind'.

Permission was obtained for the parking of patrons' cars at the rear of The Barleycorn public house. Later this facility was restricted to Tuesday to Thursday nights, The Green Room Club, with its sub-committee and finances, played a significant role in the Society's affairs, offering learning and training experience, especially to benefit the younger members unable to secure regular acting roles. The Club also organised the Society's annual programme of lively social events including Halloween, Christmas and New Year parties, garden parties (enlivened by the Scholes Skiffle Group), charades in fancy dress, mischievous balls, bonnet parades (male and female) and many outings.

Tribute was often paid to those members who undertook all manner of DIY tasks such as preparing stage sets and props, working on Saturday afternoons at Morwick Hall where equipment was stored, and making stage/ seating alterations. Under the guidance of Sydney Blood, they extended the stage some three feet into the auditorium, to enable more scope in choice of plays. This reduced the seating capacity from 250 to 222. During 1955 work was completed on raising several rows of rear seats, giving an improved view of the stage. The members involved in these multifarious activities were affectionately referred to as 'The Mugs'.

At the May 1951 AGM, Mrs Betsy Hardy Gray was elected President following the death of her husband in March, aged 82. The conveyance of stage equipment to and from Morwick Hall was undertaken by Jim Noble, and Ken Noble recalls accompanying his father on these journeys by horse and cart, loaned by Herbert Adamson.

In 1952 the Society's 21st. Anniversary was celebrated in style with two plays - 'Mrs Moonlight' and 'Blithe Spirit' - each performed to full houses on three nights during one week in November. Live orchestral music was organised by Dr. Bean as Musical Director, the show's proceeds being donated to the Flood Relief Fund and Coronation Fund.

At a meeting in December 1953, the Producer, Doris Blood, exhorted members to "Beware of complacency or any slackening of standards; anyone accepting acting roles to adopt as their motto - The Play's the Thing' ".

Satisfactory standards were maintained with 'Bonaventure' in March and 'Hobson's Choice' in November 1954, each attracting audiences of HOC extra measures being introduced to cater for these attendance. Ushers ensure the aisles were free from seated patrons, the front row of seats being move* forward to provide standing room at the back, and 'Full House' notices were more clearly displayed outside the hall.

The West Yorkshire Bus Company was asked to provide duplicate service at convenient times to aid many people travelling from the Leeds area, bus times being included in the posters. Children earned extra pocket money b; keeping the place of people keen enough to wait in the long advance booking queues outside the hall. Later it became possible to book seats at the Post Office, courtesy of Miss Fenwick and Mrs Lawson.

By this time, a Committee of Management had been formed to co-ordinate all the Society's activities. 'Haul for the Shore' planned for March 1955 was postponed due to the coincidence of several male actors as 'fathers to be', at the times of the shows were unavailable. 'Ladies in Retirement' with a cast of only one male actor, was substituted. This contretemps was mischievously dubbed 'The March Handicap'.

Doris Blood retired from a long 'reign' as producer with the Society' March 1957, 25th. Silver Jubilee production of 'Who lies there'. Leading by example, Doris Blood had set standards that others would, no doubt, aspire to emulate. Subsequent plays included:
  • 'Speed the Plough' (November 1957) produced by Edward Higgins, the cast including Joan Senior, Phillip Cousins, Doris Ivatts and Christine Hudson.
  • 'The Orchard Walls' (March 1958) produced by Reg Harbottle
  • 'The Love Match' (November 1958) produced by Don Kitchen, and 'Book of the Month' (March 1959).
Each three-act play involved some 18 rehearsals (usually Monday and Thursday nights) over a nine week period; and neither was effort spared to enhance stage scenic effects For 'Book of the Month' much work was undertaken enlarging an opening in the back stage wall to create the realistic effect of spacious French windows. The outstanding set designed by Harold Weston for 'Double Doors' (November 1961) won spontaneous applause a each curtain raising.

Sinister affairs in the London underworld were portrayed in the November 1959 play 'Madam Tic Tac' - the blind and deaf leader of a criminal gang produced by Edward Higgins, the cast including Sylvia Baker, Wynne Chapman, Doris Ivatts (Tic Tac) and Barbara Vinter.

Two productions were entered in the One Act Play Festivals - 'Holiday Eve' in March 1958 at Menston and in 1963 'Tail of Fire', the first round being at Bradford and Pocklington in the second round. Although achieving limited success, good adjudicating experience was gained from these entries. £41 was donated to the World Refugee Fund from the proceeds of 'Breath of Spring' (November 1961), the title of the film version being 'Make Mine Mink'. 'Suspect' (May 1963) was the first of many successful plays produced by Doris Ivatts; the cast included Ursula Bean, Joan Senior, Christine Hudson, Edward Higgins and Harold Weston.

Following the death of Mrs Miers Gray in September 1964, aged 85, her daughter Betty became the new President, thus retaining the Miers Gray/ Morwick Hall connection. The Society minutes read: "Our new President (Betty Miers Gray) took part in our first (1932) production - 'The Importance of Being Earnest'.

A series of incidents beset the March 1965 comedy - 'Good Night Mrs Puffin' produced by Edward Higgins. One member of the cast fell ill but rallied after medical attention. Douglas Usherwood bumped his head going off stage and temporarily blacked out and Shelah Falls developed chicken pox, being replaced by the prompter, Christine Hudson. 'The play must go on' spirit prevailed to entertain appreciative audiences of 1000. Seat prices were increased in 1965 (the first time since 1947) from 2/6 to 3/-, with no effect on attendance, which varied from 800 to 1000 for each production.

Cast of "Good Night Mrs Puffin." Clockwise from top left - Fred Higginson, Douglas Usherwood, Graham Rollinson, Mollie Cartwright, Wilfred Hemsworth, Colin Newton, Joan Fox, Shelagh Falls, Nora Higgins, Doris Ivatts.
Photo by Reg Hughes
The sale of Morwick Hall in 1966 prompted an urgent need for alternative storage facilities for the large amount of stage equipment. After much endeavour, land was acquired adjacent to the Village Hall and in 1968/69 a Nissen hut was erected by Tommy Kirk of Barwick.

Notice was received in 1967 that Betty Gray had left the village, thus relinquishing the presidency, and Sydney Blood, a staunch founder member, was duly elected President. In 1967 die question was raised of omitting 'Village' from the Society's title but the name remained unchanged. The following year a record balance of £54-10-0 was achieved with the March 1968 play 'Doctor in the House', produced by Doris Ivatts.

The selection of a professional producer, at a fee of 25 guineas, was arranged for the November 1968 play, 'Black as She is Painted1. The prospect of learning and gaining a degree of experience from an 'outside' producer's technique did not apparently fulfil all expectations. Due to lack of available male actors, a member of Garforth Dramatic Society was 'recruited' for the March 1970 production, 'Strike Happy', produced by Christine Hudson.

Cast of "The Importance of Being Earnest" Left to right: Roger Cook, Christine Hudson, Joan Fox, Andrea Bowers, Jean Tomlinson.
Photo by Yorkshire Post
In March 1970, Don Kitchen was elected President, a dedicated founder member who was the Society's first Secretary in December 1931. The Society's 40th. Anniversary was celebrated with the play The Importance of Being Earnest' in November 1972, produced by Doris Ivatts. Retired members were invited to a celebratory dinner and entertainment, held in December. The Society regularly provided one or more stalls at the annual Scholes Summer Gala, in support of the Village Hall funds.

The May 1973 AGM minutes refer to the 'drive and enthusiasm' which launched the first production, 40 years earlier in April 1932, only four months after the Society's inauguration. In December 2001, the Scholes Village Players, reputed to be the oldest amateur dramatic society in Leeds District, reached its 70th. anniversary, a highly commendable achievement.

Material for this article was generously provided by Doris Ivatts (the President).


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