It was in November 1928 that a group of enthusiasts decided to form Wimborne Dramatic Society; so the Wimborne Drama Club in its forthcoming presentation of The Shop at Sly Corner in November may be regarded as celebrating, as its more or less lineal descendants, its 40th birthday.
Of course there may have been drama clubs of sorts before this date but if there were in the 18th and 19th Centuries then no record about them are available. But it is easy to imagine the good burghers of Wimborne in medieval times, about their festal business enacting miracle, and mystery and nativity plays in the shade of their ancient Minster.
Certainly there was a flourishing Operatic Society in the early years of this century which after flourishing, ripened and finally expired (the old Victoria Hall being taken over by the King’s Head Hotel) in the early 1920’s. So one is delighted to welcome a musical re-emergence by the newly formed Light Opera Company through the inspiration of the enthusiastic Mr Ray Aplin. Long may it flourish.
But to return to the Wimborne Dramatic Society started in 1928. Those early days were generally plain sailing – no television no counter distractions on any scale, a nucleus of fans for encouragement. Our first production was “Ambrose Applejohn’s Adventure“, cast about 40 – most of them “pirates”. A jolly good show “revived” some weeks later for another public performance. It was presented in the former Women’s Institute Hall now occupied by part of Rodways Garage. The Dear Old W.I. Hall: cramped of course, made of wood and asbestos, a bit draughty maybe; tiny, low stage, a minute kitchen. But with the co-operation of the members of the W. I., there was an atmosphere about the place and we were all happy there, and so, apparently were our audiences.
Into the 30s
The Society grew and grew, and there followed, right into the 30’s, a regular succession of productions, twice a season, mostly for three nights and a series of monthly, “At Homes” (jolly informal occasions) to
give experience in One-Acters to our younger members. One recalls, with perhaps prejudiced affection, “Outward Bound“, “Pygmalion“, “Berkeley Square,” “This Happy Breed.”
The Society began to get organised. Our first president was Mr. C. le Fleming, musician and composer, son of Dr. le Fleming, antiquary, medical chief of the B.M.A. and general benefactor of the town. There was no lack of helpers: Mr. G. H. Watson, local historian, who loaned us part of his premises for rehearsal and storage; Miss Hilda Coles (Priest’s House Museum) who had a genius for stage managing a cramped and tiny stage, Mr Wilkinson with his lighting expertise.
We rehearsed all over the place : Oddfellow’s Hall, room at the Griffen Hotel, room at The George and above the Co-op in New Borough till Mr. Watson came to our aid. We were indeed wandering players – vagabonds they would have called us in Tudor times. And then night fell.
After the War
Sterner matters to attend to, the eruptive years, of 1939 to 1945, of necessity saw us dormant. But in 1946, although many of our original membership had now been dispersed, an attempt was made at revival. The old W. I. Hall still stood, a bit more battered and, Mr. Watson as our President, we were soon at it again with successful productions of “The Dover Road“, “The Linden Tree“, “The Holly and the Ivy“, “When We Were Married“, “Saloon Bar“, “The Chiltern Hundreds” and others.
Things were getting difficult though. Now was the time of relative austerity and the eye compelling advent of early television provided an attractive alternative to a hard seat in a draughty hall or the braving of a night of rain. Audiences dwindled and expenses rose.
Meanwhile the ever optimistic Mr. H. Parrish had revived opera in Wimborne, and under his expert guidance a series of Gilbert and Sullivan successes – Pinafore, Pirates, Mikado, Gondoliers – were duly staged at the old W. I. Hall. But presenting opera requires much cash, so a mutual working partnership was suggested. So we became a minor branch of the Wimborne Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, our job being to raise money for the high cost of putting on the operas.
The arrangement lasted a few seasons, but, far from making money, we proceeded steadily to lose it. And so there followed a sad but friendly parting. Soon the Opera folded and we became Wimborne Drama Club.
Then we watched sadly as the demolition squads got to work on th old W. I. Hall. Not that there was much to demolish and one does not suppose even they can demolish the ghosts that must have …..
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… Modern School in the late 50s. It is delightful to act on this stage and we achieved some noticeable settings and productions here. Even so, it is all very well to try to act on a delightful stage if there be few to take notice. Each production registered a heavy loss.
So, gasping for cash, and no cash coming, in 1958 we seemed to lie down and die and for two years there were no productions. Meanwhile there had been a brief interlude of glory. In 1951 came the Festival of Britain and Wimborne Urban District Council, as part of its celebrations, sponsored a pageant in the Recreation Ground; an imaginary visit of Queen Elizabeth I to Merley House and a display for her entertainment.
The pageant was written and directed by one of the club’s producers. There were ten episodes, most of which were produced by club members and many organisations took part – the Women’s Institute, The Grammar School, Covent School, Toc H and others. The cast – a real team effort – numbered more than 400. The affair was generally voted a triumph. Moreover – it did not rain.
Now the revival. Approaches for our joining with Broadstone Players not materialising, we watched and waited. In 1960 came revival. From the W. I. Hall the club had bought some lighting and stage equipment which, with the co-operation of the Church House Authorities was installed, and the stage slightly enlarged. Air Marshall Sir John Bradley became our encouraging president, and Mr Young our chairman followed in 1964 by Mr Henbest.
In spite of the difficulties of a tiny stage and limited seating accomodation, and more recent problems of being prevented from advertising our shows through alleged fire prevention inadequacies (our performances are now technically parties – coffee provided) the club staged a succession of mostly light and amusing plays, gradually building up a small but growing clientelle.
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So the club approaches its 40th birthday with reasonable confidence, a confidence that whatever success may have been achieved in the past was gained through genuine team work, and that genuine team work still continues, coloured perhaps, by the sad reflection that there is unfortunately no stage or hall in Wimborne itself in which full justice can be done to a play.
In the 1920’s such a hall could have been built for a few hundred pounds. Now it would cost the earth – even if the earth were available in the town to build on.
Mr Leonard Mottram, who has written this hort history of the Wimborne Dramatic Society is the original “Quarter Jack”, whose successor now writes in the “Journal”. Mr Mottram wrote the column round about 1955 for the “Souther Journal” , a paper which is no longer in being. He was the original chairman of the drama group and staged the productions in the early years.