In 1946, Miss Alice Walker donated land to the people of Blaby so the community could have a village hall. She was also going to build the hall. Unfortunately, at the time, building regulations would not allow a permanent building, so she purchased a very large ex-army hut to be the new centre until planning permission could be obtained. The hut required a number of repairs and a timber company was requested to supply materials. Ron Elliot, one of their representatives who had rejoined the company after war service, called on Miss Walker. During their conversation, Miss Walker suggested one way of raising money for the project was for a Gilbert and Sullivan opera to be performed. She asked if he knew anyone who could help. Ron seized the moment, and informed her his life long friend, Bruce Freckingham and himself, could organize a production, thereby sowing the seeds of our present society. He also obtained a large order for materials for his company.

Ron and Bruce were both members of Wigston Operatic Society before the outbreak of war, and between them they organized four productions in Blaby from 1946 to 1949, the last one being Iolanthe. After this, the company was to be disbanded, as planning permission had been granted to demolish the ex-army hut and replace it with a permanent brick building.

The producer of Iolanthe was Doris How and she was determined such a talented company should continue to perform. However, the question was where and how? Doris's husband was a member of the Old Wyggestonians Cricket Club. He suggested he could probably obtain permission from the headmaster of Wyggeston Boys' School to perform there in the Great Hall, with profits from the production going to the Cricket Club. Under the name of “The Doris How Company,” The Gondoliers opened on March 29th 1950.

The company wanted to change its name to the Leicester Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic Society. However, permission had to be obtained from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which held the rights to the names of Gilbert and Sullivan. Permission was given, and on April 2nd 1951 in the Great Hall of the Wyggeston Boys' School, The Mikado opened.

The following year, 1952, Iolanthe was performed at The Little Theatre, which has been the home for all our productions since, with the exception of 1955 and 1957. With the move to The Little Theatre, a clear, sound, financial base had to be assured, and the society owes a deep debt of gratitude to the original three guarantors, Ray and Deryk Marston and Bruce Freckingham. Ray and Deryk Marston hold the record for the longest serving Chairman and Secretary of the society to date.

On Thursday April 21st 1955, before the opening on Monday night of Trial by Jury and H.M.S. Pinafore, an intruder broke into The Little Theatre and started a fire which destroyed the whole backstage and dressing room area. The Wyggeston Boys' School came to the rescue, and with the help of a large number of volunteers, scenery was painted and the set was completed in time for the opening night of the production. Following the fire at The Little Theatre, there was no production in 1956, only concerts at various venues around the city and county. The society performed Patience at the Y.M.C.A. in 1957. The building of a new backstage area was completed at The Little and in 1958 the society was the first Operatic Society to perform in the reconstructed building with Ruddigore.

In 1960, Utopia Limited was performed and has been produced three times by the society. Roy Hume played the part of Mr. Bailey Barre QC in all three productions.

On the Thursday before the opening of Princess Ida in 1961, Goff Abbott, who was playing the role of King Gama, collapsed, and died ten days later. With less than three days notice, Charles Pole undertook the part. Sadly, that was not the end of the problems. The costumes, which should have been delivered on the Sunday morning prior to the opening on Monday evening, went missing. In typical show business tradition, they arrived at the theatre just in time on Monday.

Six weeks before the opening night of Yeoman of the Guard in 1964, the producer decided he could no longer continue with the production. Lilian Dunkley stepped forward to produce the opera, and saved the day. The society is indebted to her.

A notable first for the company was the live broadcast of the final performance of The Mikado on Radio Leicester on March 24th 1979. However, that evening did not go according to plan. The lady playing Katisha lost her voice, and Pam Meade stepped in at the last moment to play the role.
At long last in 1981, the society performed The Grand Duke, the last of the operas Gilbert and Sullivan wrote.

There were times when there was a shortage of men in the society. This meant there were occasions when we had two ladies for every man in the chorus. Then in the late sixties, we suddenly had an influx of fifteen men, so the previous situation was reversed. At that point we had two men for every lady in the chorus!

The Gilbert and Sullivan Operas came out of copyright in 1962. The society has never been afraid to try new ideas and we were the group in this area to produce the Broadway Pirates of Penzance.
Although we have had a few internal disagreements, the society has been larger than individuals. We have all enjoyed performing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and entertaining the public. The friendships made by the members last a lifetime.

We will continue with new innovations, where we can, but keep up with the core values. With this in mind, our 60th Anniversary production is the Art Deco, black and white, Jonathan Miller’s version of the Mikado.

Alan Freckingham

Click here to visit our 50th Anniversary Archive page