Theatres Part III – Dover’s Amateur Groups

Dover, like most British communities, has staged theatrical performances of some kind since earliest times. The first two stories in this series on the town’s theatrical tradition, Theatres Part I – to 1900 and Theatres Part II – to the Present Day, looked at the theatres, their ownership and productions, with an appropriate mention of Dover’s amateur theatrical groups. This story features these groups with a mention, where appropriate, of Dover’s theatres!

Shakespeare Cliff formerly Hay Cliff. Renamed after the great playwright featured the cliff in his tragedy, King Lear.

Shakespeare Cliff formerly Hay Cliff. Renamed after the great playwright featured the cliff in his tragedy, King Lear.

Like most towns, Dover’s theatrical traditions are lost in the mist of time. However, we do know that by the Medieval period the town frequently hosted travelling players and possibly locals put on performances. It is known that William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and his company, the King’s Men came to Dover and one such visit gave him the inspiration for a famous scene in Act IV Scene I of his play King Lear.  Later, Hay Cliff, on the western side of Dover was renamed Shakespeare Cliff in the great author’s honour.

At that time both professional and amateur performances would have been either outside or in specially converted rooms or barns. Dover’s first purpose designated theatre opened in 1785 at Pierce’s Court, close to Market Square. Then on 15 October that year, the Fector banking family opened a small theatre in the former Assembly Rooms on Snargate Street. This was under the management of the youngest son, William Fector (1764-1805) and by all accounts, the beauty and fashion of the town and country, ‘fretted their hour upon the stage’. Described as a small and elegant theatre, the first production was the 1776 tragedy, The Siege of Damascus by John Hughes, in which William played the lead part Phocias, to a packed theatre.

Although an amateur production with an amateur cast, the production was given rave reviews in the October 1785 editions of the London Times.  William Fector’s acting ability was particularly singled out as being likened to the famous actor, David Garrick (1717-1779) when he was of the same age. The account added ‘we can only look on Mr Fector as a prodigy of the stage.’  William Fector shortly afterwards became a professional actor but this was short lived as he returned to his family and died after a long illness. Others in the cast included Sir Thomas Mantell (1751–1831), Packet Boat agent and Dover Mayor six times between 1795 and 1824. Although his acting ability was not particularly acclaimed, his wife, the former actress Ann Oakley (1756-1834), more than made up for this. Further, as a renowned beauty, she apparently set off a white and rose costume and it was this that had caught the eyes of the London critics!

Theatre Royal 33-34 Snargate Street opened on 22 November 1790. Rigden 1844

Theatre Royal 33-34 Snargate Street opened on 22 November 1790. Rigden 1844

On 22 November 1790 a larger, purpose built theatre, called the Theatre Royal, was erected at nearby 33 and 34 Snargate Street. Robert Copeland was appointed manager and his daughter, Fanny Copeland (1801-1854) was born in the Snargate Street theatre. She was acting on the stage when she was only two and by the time she was in her mid-teens, Fanny was an accomplished professional actress. Eventually, she took over the management of Sadler’s Wells, London but died of cholera in 1854.

Following Copeland, there were a number of managers of Dover’s Theatre Royal and  occasionally they too would put on local amateur productions. By 1826, the theatre was owned and run by William Walter Sutton (1794-1874), the organist at St Mary’s Church  who actively encouraged amateur theatricals. This was particularly between September to early April, when both professional and amateur players performed. However, it would seem that amateur productions had to give way to visiting theatre groups as well as famous singers and musicians, if Sutton could book them.

In 1839, the Apollonian Hall and Tavern, on the south side of Snargate Street opened but it was tiny with seating for only eighty. Nonetheless, it was particularly liked by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) when he came to the town to give public readings. Whether at this time it was used by local amateur groups is unclear. The Alhambra Music Hall in Market Square, which opened in 1864 and later became the Phoenix Tavern and Music Hall, mainly hired professional theatre groups but occasionally did put on an amateur show. When, in 1898, the theatre reopened as the Empire Palace of Variety, the point that only professional productions were staged was forcibly made.

Wellington Hall betwixt Snargate and Northampton Streets where Dover Dramatic Society productions were staged in the mid 19th century

Wellington Hall betwixt Snargate and Northampton Streets where Dover Dramatic Society productions were staged in the mid 19th century

Albeit, the Dover Dramatic Society was a thriving concern by the 1860s, putting on productions at the Wellington Hall betwixt Snargate Street and Northampton Street. The Hall served many purposes and was close by the Theatre Royal. In their December 1867 production of short pieces, the Dover Dramatic Society’s stage and scenery was painted by Messrs Frazer & Son of Dover and was subject to much admiration. Of the actors, Mr Bolton was given praise for his performance in A Blighted Being, a one act farce adapted from the French Vaudeville production of  Une Existence Decoloree by Tom Taylor. George Bennett starred in Not a Bad Judge a two-act drama by James Robinson Planché (1796-1880). While several members of the cast were in the Spitalfields Weaver, a one act comic drama by Thomas Hayes Baily (1797-1839). The leads, their names not given, were nonetheless given a standing ovation!

By the 1880s there were at least three amateur theatrical groups in Dover, one of which was the successor to the Dover Dramatic Society – the Dover Dramatic Star Amateurs. The second group was the Dover Amateur Minstrel Troupe managed by Messrs Kingsford and Middleton and the third, the Invicta Minstrels. All of the three groups’ productions appeared to be popular but few details have remained. Typically, the Invicta Minstrels, apparently, raised £14 2s 2d from two performances but for what reason was not disclosed.

Professor Harry James Taylor (1868-1936) c 1908 Dover Borough organist. Dover Museum

Professor Harry James Taylor (1868-1936) c 1908 Dover Borough organist. Dover Museum

In 1895/6, on the site of the Theatre Royal a new 600-seat theatre, the Tivoli, was built and staged a wide range of productions direct from London’s West End. Although, at the time there was a growth in amateur theatricals and choral societies in town, the management of this and other theatres were far from encouraging. The Dover Amateur Sacred Choral Society and the Dover Harmonic Society were founded about this time but they quickly foundered. However, in 1892, the Borough organist, Professor Harry J. Taylor (1868-1936) set up the Dover Choral Union becoming its first director. He composed All Hail to Thee Dauntless Dover, which was first performed in the Dover Pageant in 1908, and is now performed every summer at the Dover Proms Concert.

 

Connaught Hall interior drawing by Howard Gantry. Note the Astley organ at the far end. Dover Library

Connaught Hall interior drawing by Howard Gantry. Note the Astley organ at the far end. Dover Library

In 1883 Connaught Hall, in the then Town Hall now the Maison Dieu, opened and ten years later Flashman’s furniture store on the corner of Market Square and Castle Street designed, and built a stage proscenium for theatrical productions there. This became the ‘home’ of Dover Choral Union and the Hall was used for amateur theatrical productions staged by a proliferation of local groups. However, in 1902, Dr Edward Ferrand Astley (1812-1907) paid for the organ we can still see, but sadly not hear today, and when this was installed all theatrical productions were banned in Connaught Hall.

The new 600-seat theatre on Snargate Street, having recently reverted its name to the Theatre Royal, staged a wide range of professional productions out of which the Dover patrons preferred Vaudeville. In 1901 the manager, a well-known Vaudeville MC, left to take charge of another new theatre that was to open in Castle Place on Maison Dieu Road. Called Transfield’s Hippodrome it specialised in Burlesque – what was seen as a cruder form of Vaudeville. However, the Palace in Market Square specialised in both Vaudeville and Burlesque and due to a number of other problems Transfield’s closed. In 1906 the Snargate Street theatre was put up for sale, which left a void that was slowly filled by local amateurs groups putting on non-titillating musical comedies and plays in a variety of non-theatrical establishments.

Walter L Emden Mayor of Dover 1907-1909, builder of theatres and ensured the success of the 1908 Dover Pageant by including all the local thespians who wished to take part.

Walter L Emden Mayor of Dover 1907-1909, builder of theatres and ensured the success of the 1908 Dover Pageant by including all the local thespians who wished to take part.

In November 1907 Walter Emden (1847-1913) was elected the Mayor of Dover, a position he held for three years. He lived in St Margaret’s and was a civil engineer who had made his name as an architect of London theatres and hotels.  At the time the Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Rev. Henry Bartram, was impressed by a pageant he had seen in Sherborne which had been directed by the nationally famous pageant producer, Louis Napoleon Parker. Rev Bertram had already set in motion the idea of a similar production in Dover when Water Emden was appointed Mayor.

Mayor Emden demanded that as many local people who were interested should take part and this included most of the local thespians, singers and musicians. He also used his London connections to ensure both Royalty and the famous attended the pageant. At the same time, Louis Parker was persuaded to come to Dover to oversee the production. The Dover Pageant was performed every day from July 27 to August 1 in the grounds of Dover College and the director of music was the Borough organist, Professor Harry J. Taylor. There were over 2,000 performers including most of the local dignitaries as well as the members of Professor Taylor’s Dover Choral Union and, of course, members of the various local amateur dramatic groups. The Dover Pageant of 1908 was a great success.

Following the Pageant, it would seem that local actors, singers and musicians joined forces and staged productions in a variety of non-theatrical places around the town. In June 1911 a large group came together to provide evening entertainment for the Kent County Cricket Week at Crabble Athletic Ground. The two visiting cricket teams were Leicester and Nottingham and this large group of amateur local artistes provided the evening entertainment. They chose William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Seymour Sullivan’s (1842-1900) comic opera HMS Pinafore, first performed in 1878. Its success spurred these local performers to put together another Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration, The Mikado. Where to stage it though was a problem as theatrical productions were banned from Connaught Hall and the various theatres in the town were only interested in professional companies.

By this time the Theatre Royal in Snargate Street – then one of the town’s major shopping streets – had reopened under new management as the renamed Royal Hippodrome though generally known as the Hippodrome. Harry Kemp Spain (1885-1968), the former manager of the Phoenix Tavern and Music Hall in the Market Square, was employed as stage manager with a free hand on productions. Spain was persuaded to put on the production of The Mikado by these amateurs who called themselves the Dover Operatic and Dramatic Society. He gave them what he knew to be a ‘slow week’ when seats were difficult to fill in the first week in December 1911.

DODS production of The Mikado December 1911 at the Hippodrome Snargate Street photographer <a href="https://doverhistorian.com/2016/01/23/dovers-photographers-the-film-festival/">Lambert Weston</a>. George &amp; Julie Ruck

DODS production of The Mikado December 1911 at the Hippodrome Snargate Street photographer Lambert Weston. George & Julie Ruck

To Spain’s surprise, the DODS – as the Dover Operatic and Dramatic Society  is generally known – production of The Mikado was a sell-out with rave reviews! Sidney Turnpenny (1890-1976), who later became a DODS president, took part in the production and later wrote ‘The show opened with the whole cast on stage and the orchestra playing Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) Pomp and Circumstance. When Wilfred Barclay rose to sing Land of Hope and Glory’ – words added to Pomp & Circumstance by A. C. Benson (1862-1925) – ‘everyone in the house rose too. The colours and splendour of the full dress uniforms and the beautiful gowns of the ladies made it an occasion never to be forgotten.’

DODS Florodoro performed December 1912 at the Hippodrome Snargate Street. Dover Times 21 November 1912.

DODS Florodoro performed December 1912 at the Hippodrome Snargate Street. Dover Times 21 November 1912.

The Lord Warden (1908-1913) Thomas Brassey, 1st Earl Brassey (1836-1918) attended one of the performances and he asked for a special showing to mark the anniversary of his inauguration the following January! Over 500 guests attended including Officers of the Atlantic Fleet in their full dress uniform. Afterwards, the Earl presented DODS with an album of photographs from the opera. The following year DODS staged the musical comedy Florodora from the book by Owen Hall (1853-1907) with music by Leslie Stuart (1863-1928) and additional songs by Paul Rubens (1875-1917) with lyrics by Edward Boyd-Jones. In 1913, DODS returned to a Gilbert Sullivan comic opera, Iolanthe and this like the other two productions was a sell-out!

Mote Bulwark, at East Cliff, was under the care of the Ancient Monuments Branch of the Ministry of Works and no longer played a part in the defence of the port. On part of the grounds below was the popular County roller-skating rink and the remainder, from September 1911, was used as an open-air theatre and cinema. In June 1913, this whole area was requisitioned by the Royal Naval Seaplane Patrol and a hanger for seaplanes was then built on the site of the open-air theatre. On 4 August 1914 World War I (1914-1918) was declared and Harry Spain of the Hippodrome left for war service. The new resident manager, C Taylor Lawson, refused to allow amateur productions to be staged at the theatre and this caused a public outcry. In response the council allowed amateur productions to be staged in Connaught Hall up until November 1918.

From the outset of the War, Dover came under Military Rule as Fortress Dover and with this there was a large influx of military and naval personnel. The amateur theatricals held in Connaught Hall varied in content as did those held at the King’s Hall in Biggin Street, the Seamen’s’ Mission in the Pier District and the Drill Hall in Liverpool Street, all of which encouraged amateur shows to be staged. These performances were produced by both locals and servicemen and centred on popular music hall acts of the time and were very popular.

Soldiers marching through Market Square during World War I. The photograph shows the north and east of the Square with Castle Street and the Castle beyond. Dover Museum

Soldiers marching through Market Square during World War I. The photograph shows the north and east of the Square with Castle Street and the Castle beyond. Dover Museum

From 10 January 1916 all places of amusement closed at 22.00hrs, that is with the exception of Smoking Concerts for troops in the former Empire Palace of Variety in Market Square. These Smoking Concerts were live music performances by military or naval personnel along with local amateurs. Only men were allowed to attend and apparently they discussed politics, the way the war was being run and similar topics, while smoking and sipping a rationed amount of beer or spirits. The theatre had initially been commandeered by the East Surrey Regiment and they were followed by other Regiments.

Air raids on the town were heaviest in the earlier years of the War but due to the lack of labour, shelters were slow to materialise. In consequence, locals sought safety by building their own shelters or using existing tunnels such as the large Crabble railway arch, which was sandbagged for the purpose. Two sets of caves at the back of the High Street on the west side, one belonging to Beaufoy’s and another to Pepper’s, were improved and brought into use, as was the Grand Shaft. However, the majority of the civilian inhabitants stayed in their houses without cover, and whenever there was a raid all public venues were cleared. In the autumn of 1918 the influenza epidemic hit Dover. Schools were closed and places of entertainment and Connaght Hall ceased to be available for theatrical productions.

In the immediate aftermath of the War, locals staged shows to raise money for the injured and the dependants of those killed during the War, though the only venues available were church halls. Further, the increase in the number of theatres converted into cinemas took its toll on takings at these voluntary shows. This provoked a letter writer to the Dover Express published on 6 April 1920, for a live theatre in the town saying that ‘picture palaces were multiplying.’ The editor responded by saying that it was time the ban was lifted at Connaught Hall.

When, Harry Spain returned from war service he also returned to the Hippodrome as stage manager. However, the new owner, Sidney W Winter (1871-1926), was not interested in putting on amateur theatricals. Albeit, hopes were raised when the Empire Palace of Variety Theatre in the Market Square, reopened with the promise that they would stage local theatre group productions as well as professional touring companies. At the time the country was rapidly sliding into an economic depression that was to fluctuate but last until 1935 and this hit sales. In consequence, the theatre only featured vaudeville and burlesque touring companies and even these did not attract ‘bums-on-seats’. In 1926 the theatre closed and remained empty until it was destroyed by enemy action on 23 March 1942 during World War II (1939-1945).

DODS production of The Mikado at the Hippodrome, Snargate Street 1927. George & Julie Ruck

DODS production of The Mikado at the Hippodrome, Snargate Street 1927. George & Julie Ruck

Sidney Winter died at Kingsbridge, Devon in 1926 and the Hippodrome was put on the market. While the for sale signs were hanging outside, Harry Spain – as temporary theatre manager – allowed DODS to stage the play by Philip Anderson, Nothing but the Truth, a fast-paced comedy-mystery, set on an ocean liner around the time of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. This was a success and hopes were raised and realised for DODS to stage productions at the theatre. In 1927 they put on The Mikado, 1928 The Yeoman of the Guard and 1929 Iolanthe all by Gilbert and Sullivan. The company entered their production of Iolanthe into a national competition for musical productions and came second in the regional finals and ninth overall!

By 1928 the Dutch gabled Kings Hall in Biggin Street was succumbing to competition from the newly opened state of the art Granada cinema in Castle Street. Kings Hall therefore was refurbished as a theatre and this was carried out by the Turnpenny Furnishing Company of London Road over a December weekend in 1930. The first theatrical performance was on 26 December that year and was by a professional touring company. This was attended by Mayor Hilton Ernest Russell (1872-1959) who commented that the entire staff were residents of Dover. He added that he ‘hoped to soon see locals performing on stage‘ and this was echoed by the owners. However, the theatre was sold in March 1933 and on 1 June 1934, it became part of the Gaumont cinema franchise retaining the name Kings Hall. From August 1961 it became a successful bingo hall.

Guide Players December 1929 production of Sleeping Beauty with Pauline Selman as the Fairy Godmother. Joe Harman

Guide Players December 1929 production of Sleeping Beauty with Pauline Selman as the Fairy Godmother. Joe Harman

Towards the end of the 1920s the council did relent and agreed to allow theatrical productions to be staged in the Connaught Hall. This DODS took advantage of by putting on plays and shows when the Hippodrome was unavailable. The Guide Players, also took up the opportunity and a Miss Elnor produced these. In 1929 she successfully staged Sleeping Beauty with Pauline Stelman as the Fairy Godmother. Miss Elnor continued to stage annual pantomimes at Connaught Hall and in 1935, the Guide Players put on Cinderella. As Miss Elnor made the point of giving a part to anyone who wanted as long as they turned up to rehearsals, that year saw a record set for the number of actors on the Connaught Hall stage at any one time – 230 performers! One of those operating the lights for that production was local historian Joe Harman and in the large cast was a young girl called Rosa, who later became Joe’s wife.

The Desert Song at the Hippodrome, Snargate Street. Autographed programmed 1934 George & Julie Ruck

The Desert Song at the Hippodrome, Snargate Street. Autographed programmed 1934 George & Julie Ruck

The new owner of the Hippodrome, W Rice, in 1932, applied to turn the building into a cinema and so DODS had to stage their production of The Mikado in Dover’s Connaught Hall. The following year the Hippodrome was in the hands of a Mr M Morris, who quickly disposed of notions of the Hippodrome becoming a cinema. His first major show in April 1934 was DODS production of the then West End hit, Sigmund Romberg’s (1887-1951) Desert Song. This quickly sold out with people adding their names to an ever-growing waiting list for returned tickets. The box office receipts for the week amounted to £600 when the average wage for a man was £3 a week!

The main characters, in a cast of over 70, the lead parts of Desert Song were played by: Walter Brown, Winifred Coats, Cyril Gane, William Goldsack, William Gosby, Archie Green, Alfred Gunn, Helen Hartley, Harry Igglesden, Freda Licence, William Moore, Freda Park, Lionel Reeves, Ivor Reid, Sydney Sharp, Patricia Sherwood, Peggy Saunders, Phylis Taylor, Jack Williams, Victor White. The production was produced by Mr and Mrs Lionel Kilby, music director P L Hartley, accompanist W Jeffery and dances arranged by Mrs Lionel Kirby.

All augured well for DODS and in May 1935 they staged The Vagabond King operetta by Rudolph Friml (1879-1972) with book and lyrics by poet Brian Hooker (1880-1946) and William H Post. However, by autumn 1935, the theatre’s for sale signs were up again. Herbert Roberts Armstrong (1882-1947), known as HR, and his wife Rosina bought the theatre and retained Harry Spain as stage manager. On 26 October 1936, having refurbished the theatre, it reopened and Spain enabled DODS to stage Rose-Marie, the operetta-style musical with music by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart (1885-1949) and book and lyrics by Otto Harbach (1873-1973) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960).

DODS production of The Maid of the Mountains at the Hippodrome, Snargate Street 1939. George & Julie Ruck

DODS production of The Maid of the Mountains at the Hippodrome, Snargate Street 1939. George & Julie Ruck

In 1939 DODS staged the West End hit Maid of the Mountains composed by Harold Fraser-Simpson (1872-1944) and James William Tate’s (1875-1922). This was the last major amateur production at the Hippodrome as World War II (1939-1945) was declared on 3 September 1939. Dover returned to military rule and again became Fortress Dover. Immediately black-out restrictions and fuel rationing was introduced but the War brought a great number of servicemen and women to Dover and the Hippodrome along with cinemas and pubs were allowed to stay open to meet their needs and amateur productions ceased. Seen as a relatively safe area, before the end of September thousands of children were evacuated from London to Dover.

Members of DODS and servicemen staged shows for the evacuated and local children’s entertainment. The Hippodrome, increasingly put on professional productions provided by London’s Universal Variety Agency and at Christmas staged Babes in the Wood. DODS put on a Christmas spectacular in the Connaught Hall but by that time, as the War was not directly affecting the UK, many of the evacuated children had returned to London. Locals remained loyal to DODS and thereafter there was a reluctance to stage another professional pantomime at the Hippodrome!

As the London children left, an increasing number of military and naval personnel arrived but within months they too were withdrawn. On the Continent, by early spring 1940, country after country were falling like dominoes to German occupation and refugees started to arrive in Dover on a variety of seagoing vessels. The Town Hall, in which is the Connaught Hall, was given over to the military who documented and interrogated the refugees before moving them on. The German forces were rapidly moving across Europe and then through France. On 10 May 1940 an All-Party Coalition was formed in Britain with Winston Churchill (1874-1965) as Prime Minister (1940-1945) and Anthony Eden (1897-1977) as the Secretary of State for War (May-December 1940). By 21 May, although putting up desperate resistance, thousands of Allied troops, mainly comprising of the British Expeditionary Force, were cornered at the port of Dunkirk.

Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay (1883-1945), who had served with the Dover Patrol in World War I, was in command of Fortress Dover at this time in World War II. Therefore he was in charge of the Evacuation of Dunkirk that lasted nine days in May and June, when 180,982 men were landed at Dover. Following the Evacuation the UK seriously prepared itself for wartime conditions by which time Dover was in the front line of attack. 10 July saw the start of the Battle of Britain – the prolonged aerial conflict for the control of the skies above the Channel and South Eastern England and lasted until 31 October.

World War II. Being entertained in one of the underground caves in 1940. Dover Museum

World War II. Being entertained in one of the underground caves in 1940. Dover Museum

Throughout, DODS personnel that had not been called up and were not otherwise engaged in local wartime service, along with other thespians, singers and musicians that remained, staged shows for locals and those stationed in the town. These sometime took place in Connaught Hall but more often in church halls and the locals were often joined by military personnel. The town’s children had been evacuated to Wales in late spring 1940 but before the end of the year, although the town was under constant attack, they slowly started to return. From 21 September, all theatres along with cinemas, clubs and restaurants, had to close by 22.00hrs each evening and were not allowed to re-open until half-an-hour before sunrise. The police could change the closing time to 21.00hrs if necessary.

Following the Battle of Britain, although Dover was frequently bombed, it was the shelling from across the Channel that was unremitting and this was to last until 26 September 1944. The Hippodrome was in the front line of this constant attack but twice-nightly shows played to packed houses. Many internationally famous entertainers performed and the theatre was also allowed to open on Sundays and Christmas days for ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), productions that provided entertainment for troops during WWII. Occasionally, locals were allowed to stage matinees for children.

World War II. A children's Christmas Party being held in the Oil Mills caves Limekiln Street 1943. Such parties had been held since the Christmas of 1940 in all the caves and bomb shelters. Dover Museum

World War II. A children’s Christmas Party being held in the Oil Mills caves Limekiln Street 1943. Such parties had been held since the Christmas of 1940 in all the caves and bomb shelters. Dover Museum

Albeit, the town’s caves and tunnels along with cellars were used as bomb shelters and it was within them local thespians, singers, musicians and service personnel provided entertainment. One of these caves was the Lagoon Cave close to the High Street. There, for 25 December 1941, locals decorated the dark but dry cave with home made paper chains and a tree that they embellished with silver paper bows from chocolate wrappers. After a special tea, some 50 children were entertained to a short pantomime staged by the local entertainers. Afterwards, the children were each given a present by a Mr Wildish dressed as Santa Claus.

Three years later, on Friday 1 September, a shell exploded outside the entrance to the cave, which was packed with adults and children. Mabel Hubbard, age 54, of the Globe Inn, Peter Street; Ellen Mills, age 39 of Peter Street and her four-year-old daughter Yvonne, and Charles Barlow, age 52 of Metropole Flats were all killed. Although the Hippodrome theatre had been hit before, about midday on 25 September 1944, it was heavily shelled. The next day at 19.15hours the bombardment of Dover that the town had endured for four years ceased. The wrecked Hippodrome never re-opened and was demolished in January 1951.

Once peace returned, Dovorians worked quickly to try and restore some sort of normality to the battered town. One of the first post-war activities was the Dover and District Music Club, which was reformed under the Chairmanship of Sydney Clout. The following year John Stainer formed the associated Dover Orchestra, the Leader of which was Sydney Clout. Wilfred Holland, the Borough organist succeeded John Stainer until he died in 1980. However, it was Margarite Laurie (1875-1962), who was the main driving force of both. In 1947, Wilfred Holland took over the baton of the Choral Union, renamed as Dover Choral Society. That year also saw the founding of the Dover Players by Janet and Malcolm (Mac) Young.

Initially, the Dover Players successfully staged plays in what available venues there were. In 1950 they were able to donate £100 towards the cost of clearing up the war battered eastern side of the Market Square. This was one of many places that was made to look acceptable in Dover through voluntary work. That year local photographer, Ray Warner (1914-1989) was appointed chairman of the Dover Players and he suggested, as there was no suitable indoor venue, they staged their plays out of doors. It was agreed to stage a special Shakespeare production to coincide with the Festival of Britain taking place in London in 1951.

Photographer Ray Warner, Chairman of the Dover Players, filming one of the many productions staged by the company in Kearsney Abbey. Dover Museum

Photographer Ray Warner, Chairman of the Dover Players, filming one of the many productions staged by the company in Kearsney Abbey. Dover Museum

At this time Dover Corporation had presented a Bill in Parliament, which had received Royal Assent. Within this Act Kearsney Abbey and its grounds were brought under the jurisdiction of the council – the boundary stone to mark the event can be seen outside the Abbey grounds on the Alkham Valley Road. The Players, along with others, helped to tidy up the grounds and on specially constructed grass staging they presented a production of Shakespeare’s  A Midsummer Night ‘s Dream to celebrate the Festival. Over 4,000 people attended.

DODS 1950 production of Gilbert & Sullivan's in Connaught Hall. Iolanthe Queen of the Fairies scene. LS

DODS 1950 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s in Connaught Hall. Iolanthe Queen of the Fairies scene. LS

Solicitor, Henry Wallace Youden (1873-1956) and his wife the photographer Dorothy Sherwood Youden (1889-1958) were members of DODS before the War. It was they, after the War, who instigated the reforming of the Society. With very little money and no sponsors DODS reformed in 1949. Forming a loose connection with the members of the Dover Orchestra and the Choral Union they set about staging their award winning 1929 production of Iolanthe in 1950. This was to be performed in Connaught Hall but the venue no longer had a stage. So the group built one from materials taken from the bombed out Hippodrome and, surprisingly, the council publicly stated that they did not object! Further, lighting was limited, acting space cramped and there was no proscenium or apron stage.

DOD’s chairman at the time was Charles Wind, who co-owned the Goulden and Wind music shop in Cannon Street. He kept pessimism at bay while the folk of Dover rallied round and the Dover Express gave the production excellent reviews. The cast included: John Ayling, Reg Brockman, Mary Buss, Charles Cocks, Marie Greenstreet, Claire Haines, Jack Hornsey, Reg Leppard, Alex Lyons, Lucy Moore, Sheila Perry, Roland Romney, Edith Sinnock, Jean Vane and Bob Winter. The music was provided by the Orchestra of the Royal Engineers, Chatham, and directed by the Duke of York’s Military School’s bandmaster, A. A. Stringer.

The following year, in April 1951, DODS staged Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers for which they rescued a 16-inch square beam from the Hippodrome! This was before the building was finally demolished and was used to make a proscenium for the stage. The proscenium came into its own in 1952 with their 35th production, The Mikado. The Society launched its Drama Section with The Wishing Well (which version was unclear) and this was followed a year later with Joseph Kesselring’s (1902-1967), Arsenic and Old Lace. Both productions were sell-outs and received an excellent reception from the audience. Albeit, Arsenic and Old Lace came in for a fierce lashing from the Dover Express reporter Bill Bailey. The gentleman was kinder to Dover Players’ production of The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, and he singled out Moya Large, whose performance, he said, was particularly fine.

By November 1952 attention had turned to the forthcoming Coronation of Elizabeth II that took place in June 1953. It was suggested, at a meeting of the town’s entertainment committee, that to celebrate a concert hall/theatre should be built. This however, was estimated to cost £50,000 and immediately shelved. A year later the idea was again put to the council and this time it was agreed that the Market Hall would be converted into a theatre but this idea was eventually shelved as well.

The Dover Players, Coronation year (1953) production in Kearsney Abbey on the only day the weather was good. The photograph was probably taken by Ray Warner. Tom Robinson Collection

The Dover Players, Coronation year (1953) production in Kearsney Abbey on the only day the weather was good. The photograph was probably taken by Ray Warner. Tom Robinson Collection

Two months before the Coronation, DODS had spent £650 to stage the Edwardian musical comedy The Quaker Girl by Adrian Ross (1859-1933), Percy Greenbank (1878-1968) and  Lionel Monckton (1861-1924) in Connaught Hall. This was a great success with full houses and standing ovations such that even the Dover Express critic was, surprisingly fair. The Dover Players decided to mark the Coronation with an open-air production of the Merchant of Venice at Kearsney Abbey. Except for one day only, the weather was abysmal keeping attendance figures down and ruining the production. Two years later, in 1955 they kept their fingers crossed when they again attempted to stage an open-air production at Kearsney Abbey. This time it was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the weather was kinder. Further, the East Kent Road Car Company put on buses to take people to and from the performances!

DODS Son et Lumiere at Dover Castle 19 August to 16 September 1961. Front cover - George & Julie Ruck

DODS Son et Lumiere at Dover Castle 19 August to 16 September 1961. Front cover – George & Julie Ruck

DODS produced the ambitious Son et Lumière at Dover Castle, then under the auspices of Dover Corporation between 19 August to 16 September 1961. The driving force was the Society’s chairman, Denis Weaver (1931-2007) the production being written by two members of DODS, Audrey Pain and David Cheeseman. This was to celebrate the Company’s 50th anniversary and the 40-minute show was presented every evening except Sundays for four weeks from 21.15hrs. The production told the story of 900 years of the Castle’s history – from 1066 to June 1940 – and was done by a combination of light, voices and music. Over 40 members of DODS recorded their parts on tape, including Jeffrey Archer, a Physical Education teacher at Dover College at that time. The recordings were then reproduced stereophonically during the concert together with changes in the lighting and the illumination of different part of the Castle, reflecting the dramatic points of the sound track. Tickets cost 3shillings 6pence and advance booking was available for groups of 15 or more. Dover Corporation agreed to underwrite the show to the tune of £1,600, but the show was seen by 9,360 people. This  degree of success ensured the council’s money was not called upon.

Dour Drama Group 1975 production of Peacocks Must Go. Peter Austen

Dour Drama Group 1975 production of Peacocks Must Go. Peter Austen

By 1963 most of the villages around Dover had their own theatrical groups and were putting on shows, plays and pantomimes. That year, in Dover, the Dour Dramatic Group was formed, under the leadership of Fred Couch. About twelve people attended the first meeting when the rules of the society were drawn up. The Group’s remit was to specialise in producing less well-known drama productions to a professional standard. About the same time Greta Revitt was elected President, a position she held for many years when Margaret Austen succeeded her. The Company’s first play was But Once a Year by Falkland L Carey (1897-1989),was staged at the River Village Hall and ran for two nights in November that year. Two of those involved were Ron Simmons, who ran a shop in River Street, and Margaret Larner. They met during rehearsals and later married!  Ron Simmons was in the Company’s 1972 production of Peacocks Must Go by Dennis Driscoll with Gabriella Cowling, Nell Darby, Greta Revitt, and Heather Waller.

Dover Players Hamlet at the Castle 1960. Lambert Weston

Dover Players Hamlet at the Castle 1960. Lambert Weston

The Dover Players, in 1960, staged a successful production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Castle but the company ran into serious financial trouble with their Christmas production of Aladdin in 1962. Against major competition from the Marlow Theatre in Canterbury, they were left with a debt of £400. Although there was talk that the group was to amalgamate with DODS, the Chairman, Ray Warner, told the media that the Players wanted to remain independent. In the summer of 1964, the society staged a spectacular production of The Golden Splendour, on an open-air stage at the Castle. This was a selection of interwoven humorous pieces from various Shakespeare’s plays. Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976) was the patron of the production.

Underwritten by Dover Corporation for £750, the council inserted the proviso that the production was to be performed for 10 consecutive days. This gave the amateur group a huge headache but the dates they chose ensured that the performances would not clash with school exams. Further, Dover Harbour Board employees involved were given positive support from the management. Nonetheless, a number of parts still had to be played by two or more actors in order to enable to stage fourteen shows, including four matinees. For wider publicity, prior to opening night, the Players held a ball in the Banqueting Hall of the Castle, which was organised by Osyth Vere Napier North (1935-1992), the Countess of Guilford. The entire cast were wearing their Elizabethan costumes.

Another of Dover Players productions at Kearsney Abbey, Shakespeare's Midsummer Nights Dream. Ray Warner for Lambert Weston. Dover Museum

Another of Dover Players productions at Kearsney Abbey, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. Ray Warner for Lambert Weston. Dover Museum

The weather, however, was particularly nasty and the council’s money had to be called upon. The financial position of the Players had reach rock bottom and DODS offer became increasingly attractive. They decided to struggle on and in 1967 they staged an Easter production of William Gibson’s (1914-2008) intense drama The Miracle Worker about a blind tutor to a deaf and blind girl. The producer was Janet Young, who initiated the Players first production, and there was talk of this being their last production. The people of Dover supported the group and the play was a sufficient success for the company to survive. For their 21st Anniversary the following year, the Players put on the much lighter Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It in the grounds of Kearsney Abbey. The weather was kind.

DODS Mill, Temple Ewell purchased 1971 to provide rehearsal rooms, work shop and storage - artists drawing George & Julie Ruck

DODS Mill, Temple Ewell purchased 1971 to provide rehearsal rooms, work shop and storage – artists drawing George & Julie Ruck

DODS continuing success was such that in 1971 they bought one of the two corn mills at Temple Ewell to provide rehearsal rooms, a workshop and storage. That year was their Diamond jubilee and they put on two very successful productions in Connaught Hall. One was Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and  Oscar Hammerstein’s II (1895-1960) Oklahoma in May and the other, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado in December. The Dour Dramatic Group successfully presented Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward (1899-1973) in the spring of that year and  the whodunit House on the Cliff by George Batson (1914–1977) in the autumn. The Dover Players in January put on a polished and highly acclaimed production of David Henneker’s (1906-2001) musical comedy, Half a Sixpence in Connaught Hall, but two years later, after 25years of magnificent ups and despairing downs, the group folded.

DODS - Jack and the Beanstalk by Wilfred Miller at the Connaught Hall 1975. George & Julie Ruck

DODS – Jack and the Beanstalk by Wilfred Miller at the Connaught Hall 1975. George & Julie Ruck

Following the demise of the Dover Players, DODS, were very much aware that this was due to the folk of Dover increasingly preferring the professional pantomime productions put on at Canterbury’s purpose built Marlow Theatre. Nonetheless, in 1975 they dipped their toe in the water to put on a pantomime. Supported by an expensive and massive publicity campaign they pulled off a successful production of Jack and the Beanstalk in Connaught Hall. This has been followed by the Company staging annual pantomimes ever since.

In 1978, the BBC started filming scenes for a ten part television series Telford’s Change, which they planned to broadcast at peak viewing time on Sunday evenings. Created and starring Peter Barkworth (1929-2006) and written by Brian Clark, the story centred on the exploits of the manager of the fictional Dover Knights Bank. For this, they used New Bridge House, which had been built by National Provincial Bank, opening in 1865. At the time that Telford’s Change was being made, the building was the Office of the Chief Executive of Dover District Council (DDC). Throughout the production, many of the local thespians had small parts and Shirley Choules, a member of the Dour Dramatic Group, made an appearance working in her grocers shop, MiniMart 49-50 London Road.

Sid Seagull the compere in the White Cliffs Experience Time and Tide Theatre. Dover District Council

Sid Seagull the compere in the White Cliffs Experience Time and Tide Theatre. Dover District Council

DDC had come into force on 1 April 1974 following the 1972 Local Government Act and although the new District Council was happy to allow the BBC to use their Chief Executive’s office at New Bridge House, they showed significantly less sympathy towards Dover, including the local theatre groups. Then in the 1980s the council started to look kindly upon the town, viewing it not as a port and the industrial heartland of the District but as tourism centre in its own right. This new strategy rested on the council’s pet project, the White Cliffs Experience (WCE) on the west side of Dover’s Market Square. This consisted of a series of displays telling the story of Dover from the Iron Age to the present day. The focal point was the central tower that housed the Time and Tide Theatre. Sid Seagull was the compere, who along with Corporal Crab, told stories of Dover assisted by a back projection of Dover’s white cliffs. The cliffs talked, telling the audience that it was a rock star named Cliff Face!

There was no seating as such, instead the audience sat on carpeted tiers. The estimated cost of the WCE, including off-site parking, was £22million. Expense hardly appeared to be a problem with regards to professional advisers hired by DDC. Local thespians were encourage to help by dressing up in appropriate costumes to show people around and some were employed to undertake specific roles. During this time the notion of having a purpose built theatre in Dover briefly entered the council’s agenda and was equally as quickly dismissed as too expensive. Meanwhile, individual theatrical companies such as DODS were expected to pay approximately £2,000 for each production they staged at Connaught Hall. To those who complained, DDC spokespersons were quick to point out that this included a 25% discount and implied that the council were being generous.

The programme cover for DODS 1989 annual major show, Ruddigore, in Connaught Hall in 1989. George &amp; Julie Ruck

The programme cover for DODS 1989 annual major show, Ruddigore, in Connaught Hall in 1989. George & Julie Ruck

The cost of hiring Connaught Hall three times a year became an issue following DODS annual major production of 1989,  Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, produced by Astor Secondary School’s deputy headmaster, Philip Janaway. With a cast of just under 50, a production team of 35 plus helpers during performances and fantastic sets by John Ravenhill – who also played Adam Goodheart – the show was recognised as a top class production. However, the expense of hiring Connaught Hall marred what would have otherwise been a great success To try and solve the problem, DODS made the decision to sell the Mill at Temple Ewell and buy or, if necessary, build its own theatre. They planned to try to raise the money through commercial sponsorship, public appeals and fundraising events.

The previous year, DDC were asked to contribute £2000 towards the Deal Theatre Project, which had staged Shakespeare’s Pericles at Deal Castle. They planned to produce Romeo and Juliet in 1989 at the same venue and DDC’s Tourism and Marketing committee favourably discussed the project with only one objection, Councillor Dick Hubbard who was reported as saying that during the Pericles production, ‘I froze on that night and thought if that’s William Shakespeare I don’t want to see anymore!’ Nonetheless, Shakespeare’s plays were seen as a select offering that would edify local audiences and the Deal production received the grant they asked for. Their production of Romeo and Juliet, was well acclaimed and was a great success.

Julie Ruck and Kate Hibbert in the Dour Dramatic Society's production of Killing of Sister George 1990. Kent Messenger

Julie Ruck and Kate Hibbert in the Dour Dramatic Society’s production of Killing of Sister George 1990. Kent Messenger

The Dour Dramatic Society, staging most of their productions at River Village Hall, successfully presented, in 1990, The Killing of Sister George, by Frank Marcus (1928-1996). The tense black comedy is based on an actress whose life collapses when she is sacked from a radio serial. Julie Ruck played June Buckridge – the Sister George in the radio programme, with Katie Hibbert as Alice ‘Childie’ McNaught, Susan Yarrow as Mrs Mercy Croft and Mary Kettyle as Madame Xenia and was directed by Shirley Choules. That same year saw DODS successfully staging the equally difficult Kiss Me, Kate, written by Samuel Spewack (1899-1971) and Bella Spewack (1899-1990) with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (1899-1994) in Connaught Hall, to great acclaim.

The two leads were Janet Smith and Mike Scurfield with Opal Roberts’, who played Bianca, and her rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion, brought the house down! While Andy Lewis and Mike Gee’s interpretation of Brush Up Your Shakespeare had the audience shouting for more! In the Connaught Hall, in July 1991, the Dour Dramatic Society, together with the Squires School of Dancing and singers Peter Booth and Jean Pearson accompanied by Stephen Yarrow gave a brilliant performance of a selection of Noël Coward’s works. The backdrops, all painted by 17 year old Mike Jones, were also highly acclaimed.

DODS Carousel programme cover of the performance staged at the Connaught Hall in 1974. George & Julie Ruck

DODS Carousel programme cover of the performance staged at the Connaught Hall in 1974. George & Julie Ruck

1991 saw the Deal Theatre Project again receiving a grant from DDC to secure their production of Shakespeare’s Winters Tale at Walmer Castle. Meanwhile DODS were finding it increasingly difficult to cover the costs of its major productions. In 1992, they planned to stage Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carousel that they had successfully performed in 1974. The Society applied for a reduction in the hire charges for Connaught Hall suggesting that this was offset by splitting Box Office receipts in lieu of a permanent fixed hall hire charge. They pointed out that local councils in Margate, Folkestone and Canterbury supported their amateur dramatic groups and letter writers in Dover’s local press noted that the Deal Theatre Project had received considerable financial help from DDC for three consecutive years.

Dover District Council Tourism Committee minutes 10 March 1992 DODS request for financial assistance.

Dover District Council Tourism Committee minutes 10 March 1992 DODS request for financial assistance.

The council discussed the application but argued that they charged DODS, and all the other local theatre groups, using Connaught  Hall only £2,000 for the performance time. That the full cost of the Hall for the duration of DODS proposed production was £3,133 and during the days the production was being staged, Connaught Hall could not be used for any other purpose. Finally, the council said, that from DODS’ own figures, the company was likely to receive £6,240 from ticket sales for the duration of the production, while their expenses, not counting the hire of Connaught Hall, amounted to £5,055. This meant that only £1,185 would be left to split between DODS and the council and thus, the council would lose out! Public protests over this decision ensued and eventually the council gave DODS a one-off contribution of £1,750 towards their production of Carousel.

Carousel ran between 12 and 16 May 1992 in the Connaught Hall and was produced by Lyn Dourthe. Emma Clarke, Gary Cordes, Mike Scurfield and Kathy Wilmhurst played the main characters under the musical direction of Alistair Auld. The show was a sell out and a great success with even the scenery gaining more than DODS usual high praise. This was particularly directed at the beautiful carousel horses that were individually made especially for the production.

Like most schools throughout the country, all of Dover’s schools, grammar, secondary and public, have Assembly hall stages on which they put on public theatrical, choral and orchestral productions. Pupils provided the entertainment and their colleagues, family and friends attended the shows. During the school year, many schools would also stage smaller productions usually for in-house audiences only. All the public productions were popular and came up to the standards commensurate with the enthusiasm of the teachers involved. In Dover, like elsewhere, schools were becoming more ambitious and publicising their productions in order to encourage a wider public audience.

Typically, in 1990 Archers Court School – now Dover Christ Church Academy – successfully staged Guys and Dolls, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. In this production, all the participants were captivating but it was Zoe Hudson’s portrayal of Miss Adelaide that received the greatest acclaim. That year saw the combined Dover Girls’ and Boys’ Grammar schools presenting a flawless production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the two leads played by John Tomkinson and Lindsay Thomson. In 1993, one of Dover’s two public schools, the Duke of York’s, opened the Nye Hall, a purpose built theatre.

Children who lived at Ropewalk and Aycliffe about to be evacuated from Dover in 1940. Ray Langabeer

Children who lived at Ropewalk and Aycliffe about to be evacuated from Dover in 1940. Ray Langabeer

DODS in 1994, launched their junior section, the Next Generation for theatrical productions undertaken by young thespians. The following year they premiered with The Vackees a musical play by Carl Davies about the arrival of evacuated children to a Somerset village from London and their relationship with the native children. As Dover, immediately after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, received child evacuees from London (see above) and a year later Dover children were evacuated to Wales, the story had a strong local affinity.

Dour Drama Group's production of Pack of Lies 1999. Peter Austen

Dour Drama Group’s production of Pack of Lies 1999. Peter Austen

Marie Kelly Thomas established the Dover Youth Theatre in 1996, which included workshops designed for young people to learn differing aspects of productions. These cover dance and drama, radio plays for broadcast, makeup including prosthetics, film skills as well as all aspects of staging and producing theatre productions. Part of the remit was to give students the opportunity to take Trinity Guildhall speech and drama exams. Dour Dramatic Group continued to stage successful plays from Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling in 1992 to Pack of Lies by Hugh Whitemore, in 1999. The latter included Peter Austen, Simon Crowley, Jackie Gore, Shirley Magner, Sheila McLeish, Lynda Paramour, Janet Smith, Sian Williams, Laurence Woolnough and Mark Yarrow. However, the financial costs, including Royalties, which could be as a high as £50 for each performance, was beginning to take its toll.

For their all their productions DODS, were still having to pay the high cost of hiring the Connaught Hall even though it was not designed for their annual  large scale theatrical show. Although the company was still trying to raise the money to buy their own theatre and local cinemas were closing, bingo operators, breweries and night-club owners had greater financial resources than the amateur theatre company, to purchase these redundant buildings. Nonetheless, on 1 August 1999, DODS became a Company Limited by Guarantee. Jan Chapman was elected company secretary, Beverley Williams finance director, Stephen Yarrow music director, Dave Smith technical director and Simon Crowley buildings director Bryan Hinton-Jones drama director, Mike Scurfield operatic director, Emma Todhunter mime director and Marie Darall Next Generation director. George Ruck was elected chairman – a position he had formerly held since 1993 and Mike Scurfield  vice-chairman. In May that year they staged Fiddler on the Roof , music by Jerry Bock (1928-2010), lyrics Sheldon Harnick (b1924) from the book by Joseph Stein (1912-2010) to packed houses at Connaught Hall.

The Ladywell side of the Connaught Hall side of the former Town Hall, now the Maison Dieu . The relative new part at the end is the former Technical College that DODS were interested in purchasing. Alan Sencicle

The Ladywell side of the Connaught Hall side of the former Town Hall, now the Maison Dieu . The relative new part at the end is the former Technical College that DODS were interested in purchasing. Alan Sencicle

In 2000, the Listed former Technical College on Ladywell was offered for sale and one of the bidders was DODS. Talks took place between the Society and DDC to create an Arts Centre where various drama and musical groups could rehearse, design and make scenery, costumes and lighting as well as hold meetings. The talks included raising the £100,000 needed to purchase and renovate the building to their requirement and centred on DDC buying the building. This they planned to do by giving the proceeds from the sale of DODS Mill at Temple Ewell to DDC who in turn would make a grant to DODS for the difference in costs. Following the meeting DODS chairman, George Ruck, said that DDC were being supportive over their proposal.

Unfortunately, DODS were outbid by a local charitable trust, Superior (Dover) Ltd set up for the purpose of purchasing the building. John Huggins of the Chunnel Group, Lydden, and Alex Buitron of the Moonflower restaurant ran the Trust with the public blessing of the then Town Centre Manager, Mike Webb. The latter stated that the intention was to help to regenerate Dover and the Trust sought planning permission to convert the building into six flats and offices. In 2003, it was sold to property developers Raylion Ltd who planned to create 15 dockland style flats, within the building, plus conference facilities, a cafe and a fitness centre on the ground floor. DODS did not give in and looked, in 2003, at the Salvation Army Citadel in the High Street, when that was put on the market. However, DODS estimated that it was too expensive to convert into the much need Arts centre. The building was sold and then converted into flats.

DODS production of Oh What a Lovely War in 2006. George & Julie Ruck

DODS production of Oh What a Lovely War in 2006. George & Julie Ruck

DODS were not put off, for in May 2006 they mirrored the boldness of the Company in the 1930s by successfully presenting Oh What a Lovely War  by Gerry Raffles (1924-1975) and Joan Littlewood (1914-2002) from the radio play of the same name by Charles Chilton (1917-2013). The DODS production included images of life in World War I trenches and other aspects of early twentieth century warfare. The show’s programme had a military feel to it, with an account of the political stance towards World War I taken by the author and originators of musical epic. There were also tributes to eight service personnel who were killed during that War and who were all relatives of DODS members. One of these was Albert John (Jack) Ruck, the father of the DODS president, George Ruck. To support the show, the then Dover Mayor, Ken Tranter, enabled an exhibition to be held at the Dover Town Council’s offices at Maison Dieu House.

The following year DODS staged the musical version of the Witches of Eastwick based on John Updike’s (1932-2009) novel, music by Dana P Rowe and lyrics by John Dempsy. The DODS production starred Mark Yarrow as Darryl Van Horne with the three witches played by Karen Griffiths, Lucy Perrow and Judith Smith. Directed by Mike Brodie. The production, according to the local critics, was highly acclaimed as a challenge to stage and the production provided an excellent utterly spellbinding entertainment! However, neither Oh What a Lovely War or Witches of Eastwick attracted a sufficiently large audience to cover the costs including the renting of Connaught Hall.

Roundhouse Theatre in the Dover Discovery Centre, Market Square. Alan Sencicle

Roundhouse Theatre in the Dover Discovery Centre, Market Square. Alan Sencicle

The White Cliffs Experience, in Market Square, was sold to Kent County Council for £1 and renamed the Dover Discovery Centre. 2003 saw the library moved from Maison Dieu House to the Discovery Centre, which also included the Adult Education Centre and the small tiered theatre in the tower, without proper seating. That year professional actor and director, Richard Esdale set up the Blackfish Academy in Dover. This was to enable young people to express themselves through the performing arts and Esdale won the contract from Kent County Council to use the small theatre. Renamed the Roundhouse Theatre,  Esdale with his team, including Barry Clayton, Mike Scurfield, Jan Hope and Julia Lewis, repainted the auditorium and set up a workshop. They also put in 100 seats –  about a third of the capacity of the theatre.

Within a few weeks of the Blackfish Academy opening in 2004 there were 80 members and their first production was Hood the Musical by Andy Brown and Steve Williamson. In October 2006 the Roundhouse theatre was officially opened by the Mayor Jan Tranter. Actress Vicki Michelle, from the BBC television comedy series Allo ‘Allo! and the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, became the Blackfish Academy’s patron. Work continued to be carried out using donations but the following April, rehearsals were well under way for the Blackfish Academy’s next production. This was the We Will Rock You musical written by Ben Elton with music by Queen. Staged in July 2007 to great acclaim, the show was directed by Esdale and starred Jacob Manley and Louise Orfila. The production was so successful that it raised the necessary funds to complete the renovation and provide seating.

Dour Drama Group's production of Shop for Charity c2004. Peter Austen

Dour Drama Group’s production of Shop for Charity c2004. Peter Austen

Meanwhile, the White Cliffs Theatre at Astor School opened in 2001 and the following year the school became Astor College for the Arts. Meanwhile, St Edmund’s Catholic School, specialising in the performing arts opened their New Eden Theatre with seating for 300. The Dour Drama Company continued to produce regular plays and in 2004, three of their members took part in Canterbury Cathedral’s The Mystery Play starring Edward Woodwood as God and Daniel MacPherson as Jesus. However, the lack of interest in plays by the general public, was beginning to take its toll on the Dour Drama Company. Their production of the play, Tea for Two, failed to attract the expected audiences, with an average of just 30 people turning up on each of the three nights it was performed. Nonetheless, the Company successfully followed the production with the more successful Shop For Charity by Charles Mander and featuring Peter Austen, Jill Gatehouse, Jacky Gore, Jan Smith and Janet Southwood.

In October 2007, the Dover Youth Theatre performed playlets from Oliver Twist, Bleak House and a Tale of Two Cities during the 2nd annual Charles Dickens Festival, in Market Square. Directed by Marie Kelly-Thomas most of those taking part attended different schools in the district and the event was organised by Dover Carnival Association to celebrate the author’s links with Dover. The following June, Ian McCracken, a former head boy of Archers Court School now Dover Christ Church Academy, presented the musical adaptation of the Sword in the Stone by Disney. About the young life of King Arthur and the magical wizard Merlin, it was successfully staged at the  Roundhouse Theatre. McCracken had set up his company, Support Act, in 2005 to introduce different productions to local schools in order to encourage links between pupils and local theatres.

A large number of young thespians attending the Blackfish Academy were earning Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme certificates as well as successfully putting on excellent shows. These included The Wedding Singer written by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and the musical Full Monty in 2011. Based on Peter Cattaneo’s 1997 film but set in Buffalo, New York, the Full Monty musical lyrics are by Terrence McNally and music by David Yazbek, the cast included, Jake Parker, Steven Adams, Matt Mold, Conan Osborne and Barry and Matt Clayton. That year saw the Blackfish Academy student, Rebecca Jo Roberts, land the title role of Eponine in the West End Musical, Les Miserables – based on the novel by Victor Hugo (1802-1885), lyrics by Alain Boublil and music by Claude-Michel Schönberg.

In May 2008 DODS put on their musical production of Thoroughly Modern Millie by Richard Morris (1924-1996) and Dick Scanlan, music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Dick Scanlan, in their traditional venue of the Connaught Hall. Their younger members section, Next Generation,  were successfully putting on plays at St Edmund’s School’s New Eden Theatre. There they staged the High School Musical based on the Disney Channel original film High School Musical, in the autumn 2008. This, they followed with the complex pantomime Peter Denyer’s Sinbad the Sailor in January 2009, both to great acclaim.

 DODS 100th Anniversary celebration weekend September 2011. George & Julie Ruck

DODS 100th Anniversary celebration weekend September 2011. George and Julie Ruck

DODS celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2011 and staged the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk written by member Keith Cox in January. In June, the musical Cabaret adapted from The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), music by John Kander (born 1927) lyrics by Fred Ebb (1928-2004). Next Generation staged their production of A Centenary of Song at Christ Church Academy and their production of Steel Magnolias in November was staged at the Roundhouse Theatre.

The actual Centenary celebrations were held over the weekend of  9 and 10 September 2011. The first evening DODS presented a concert version of the Society’s first ever show, HMS Pinafore under the musical direction of Stephen Yarrow. The narrators were Julie Ruck and Ann Wadey, the accompanist was Aaron Shilson and the character Jack Strew sung by Joe Yarrow and Jock Cain. Approximately 60 choristers took part and were well applauded. The following evening the Company held their Centenary Ball at the same venue where the Cool Cats provided the music. Since 1911, DODS have produced over 200 shows, supported by an orchestra of professional musicians, both civilian and military and including music teachers.

Dour Dramatic Group final production November 2013. Dover Mercury

Dour Dramatic Group final production November 2013. Dover Mercury

The second of Dover’s two public schools, Dover College, opened their purpose built Eccleshall Theatre in the summer of 2013. Sadly the following year Dover lost one of its enduring amateur theatrical groups – the Dour Dramatic Group. Their final production was a one-act comedy The Flesh Game by Rae Shirley that looks at the problems of slimming and this was followed by a collection of short sketches and dramas under the apt heading of The Final Curtain.  Directed by Heather Waller the cast included, Peter Austen, Peter Bowley, Jill Gatehouse, Jacky Gore, Shirley Magner, Linda Paramor, Jane Potter, Jan Smith and Janet Southwood.

In 2012 DODS received an Accolade of Excellence from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association for their production of Noel Coward’s  Present Laughter. Two years later, in August 2014, the Dover Youth Theatre put on a stunning show The Going Down of the Sun from the Ode of Remembrance taken from Laurence Binyon’s (1869-1943) poem, For the Fallen as part of the centenary  commemoration of the start of World War I (1914-1918). The outdoor performance was at Samphire Hoe and was a combination of songs, poems, story telling and short plays. By this time the Dover Youth Theatre classes had moved to Salem Baptist Church on Maison Dieu Road. In 2015 student Emily Burrows gained Grade 7 with Distinction, Lydia Rinaldi grade 7 High Merit and Freda Lawson Grade 6 High Merit in London’s Guildhall exams.

Another West End musical, The Lion King based on the Disney film of the same name with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and the musical score created by Hans Zimmer, was successfully performed by pupils from St Edmund’s school. This was in collaboration with pupils from Charlton, St Martin’s and St Richard’s primary schools at St Edmund’s New Eden Theatre. The Blackfish Academy staged Sunshine on Leith by Stephen Greenhorn with the music of the Proclaimers for their tenth anniversary in 2014.

A compilation of photographs of different productions from the Centenary programme of Dover's longest running amateur theatre group - Dover Operatic and Dramatic Society. George & Julie Ruck

A compilation of photographs of different productions from the Centenary programme of Dover’s longest running amateur theatre group – Dover Operatic and Dramatic Society. George & Julie Ruck

DODS  started major refurbishment work of their mill at Temple Ewell in 2013, nonetheless they successfully staged the pantomime Aladdin in January 2014 and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar in May. This was successfully performed at the Astor College for the Arts, White Cliffs Theatre to great acclaim. During the refurbishment the Society rehearsed their productions in a variety of places including the Ark Christian Centre, Noahs Ark Road and the Millennium Hall, Temple Ewell. The cost of the refurbishment was helped by a £15,000 contribution from the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust.

DODS, along with the other amateur theatrical groups that have come and gone have ensured that Dover’s homespun theatre tradition continues to thrive with local thespians, singers and musicians. The aim of DODS is to continue to provide a variety of  live entertainment in Dover 3 – 4  times a year, involving both adults and children. This includes Next Generation, which encourages youngsters from the age of 8 to enjoy being on stage and to learn the skills of being part of a team. Both Blackfish Academy and the Dover Youth Theatre were contacted during the research and writing of this story but the present management of Blackfish Academy wanted editorial rights while Dover Youth Theatre failed to respond.

  • Presented: 14 March 2017
  • Contacts:
    Dover Operatic and Dramatic Society  E-mail: webmaster@dods.org.uk
    Website: http://www.dods.org.uk
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About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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