History of BHMTC

Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company founded 1947

Mr W F KnottFollowing the Second World War, Brierley Hill businessman Mr. W. F. Knott, Purveyor of Fine Meats, Bacon, Pies, etc., made it known that he deplored the depths to which the Arts in the Town had sunk. He threw down the gauntlet and challenged local people to respond. At that time, newly formed Kingswinford Operatic Society were finding it hard to get their first show (Miss Hook of Holland) off the ground through lack of funds and membership. However, Mr. William Penn, a member of the Brierley Hill Orpheus Choir, noted for its choral singing before and during the last War, persuaded the two organizations to amalgamate. Backed by a promise from Mr. Knott to finance its first production, an inaugural meeting was convened and in the autumn of 1947 Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company was formed, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Knott himself.

Rehearsals commenced immediately in the Temperance Hall, Trinity Street. “The Arcadians” was on its way and was performed in the Town Hall, Brierley Hill, from 29th November to 4th December 1948 with great success, Mr. Knott having to pay for the orchestra only. The Society performed at the old Town Hall for ten glorious years until demolition plans changed the course of things. During that time shows included “Merrie England”, “The New Moon”, “The Vagabond King” and “The Quaker Girl”, all making money for Mr.

Knott’s favourite cause The Brierley Hill and Brockmoor Brighter Old Age Fund’. By all accounts a good time was had by all at the old place with Mr. Knott supplying the ladies with bottles of Sherry and a bouquet and chocolates, each, at the end of the week. The gentlemen were supplied with a barrel of beer whilst the Saturday night party saw pork pies, pigs’ pudding and bacon butties. During this period, sadly, Mr. Knott was forced to relinquish the Chair owing to ill health.

In 1955 Mr. H. C. Davies of Richard, Thomas & Baldwin, stepped in as Chairman (and later as President) to join the serving President (9 year’s service) Mr, E. E. Marsh of Marsh & Baxter Ltd., in whose Canteen the Society now rehearsed (sharing it with the cockroaches who also enjoyed its warmth), which was also conveniently situated close to the “Three Crowns” where Doris and Warwick Plant welcomed us every Friday night. Mr. Davies gave us 11 years of his time and encouragement and on his death the office of President was carried on by his widow Ivy thus stretching the Davies connection to 25 years.

In 1967 “Brigadoon” saw Vice-Chairman – Gordon Yardley, promoted to the hot seat and with his great love for the Society guided us through the next 25 years as President and Chairman. In February 1970 the first of our Annual Concerts was introduced and in their 27 years have raised thousands of pounds for local charities.In January 1980 Pantomime became part of our repertoire (oh yes it did) with our production of “Cinderella” and for 17 years young boys and girls, their Mums and Dads, Grandfathers and Grandmothers have invaded the Civic Hall to boo, cheer, hiss and shout at the cast “It’s behind you”. Alas, Gordon was taken from us in June 1992 after forty three years’ membership, 25 years as Chairman from “Brigadoon” 1967 to “Brigadoon” 1991. However, the Show must go on and following Gordon Yardley’s death the helm was taken by Harry Millward (President) and Hazel Millward (Chairman). Sadly Harry passed away in 2001, but Hazel carries on doing a sterling job as Chairman.On the production side William Penn whose initiative brought about the launch of the Society remained a stalwart beating out the time with his famous stick, ably supported by his wife, Accompanist – Marjorie, Over their 14 years they helped to establish Brierley Hill as a strong singing group, recruiting members from many local church choirs, repaying the Deity with Oratorios during the Easter Festival.

At the time Bill and Marge were churning out the music, Producer Grace Parkes was sizing up couples, mapping out moves with great aplomb and placing her “singing ladies” (as she called them) in prominent positions. Grace’s meticulous productions spanned 9 years, 1951 – 1959.

After experiencing the luxury of four shows at The Hippodrome, Dudley, 1962 saw the Society back on home ground performing the “Maid of the Mountains” at the brand new Brierley Hill Civic Hall. Hopes were a little dashed when it was discovered that the multi-purpose building was not entirely suited to large musical shows owing to the lack of space in the wings and no facilities for flying scenery. Over the years we have solved some of the problems and learned to live with others.

Time marches on and peoples’ tastes were changing, the old Operetta was changing to the more modern musical. Rodgers & Hammerstein, Learner and Loewe and many others were capturing the limelight and we too, had to change or die. “Kismet”, “Oklahoma”, “South Pacific” and “My Fair Lady” were pulling them in and called for a more modern production approach. For the best part of 26 years Ken Allen (Producer) and Richard Wallis (Musical Director) propelled B.H.A.O.S. to some of its greatest heights, “South Pacific” breaking box office records, Ken producing 18 shows over 20 years and Richard waving the baton non-stop for 23 years. A truly great combination, which we hoped would never end.

As Ken bowed out, our present producer bowed in. Sheila Clift had trodden the boards in many of our shows and produced several pantomimes. When “Oliver” became our choice in 1986 she decided to “Pick a pocket or two” and has been doing so with great style for 12 years.

As Richard bowed out, Jonathan Hill thundered in and was our Musical Director for “Kiss Me Kate”. He jollied us along to “Annie” last year. To bring us up to date, Paul Lawrence (our M.D. for our last three pantos) waves the stick for “Singin’ in the Rain” up to the present.

Incidentally, “Singin’ in the Rain” marks another landmark in the Company’s history. In 1973 a young lady by the name of Jane Brookes walked into the rehearsal room for “Oklahoma” fully intending to join the chorus, along with her boyfriend Graham Smith. As fate would have it, the society found itself without an Accompanist. Jane agreed to help out and has been our Accompanist now for 40 consecutive years and has been tinkling the ivories for over 30 shows, always willing to play for those who need her she has worked alongside at least 12 Musical Directors.  Jane Smith (she also married the boyfriend) has been a golden asset for half the Society’s existence.

There have, of course, been hundreds of Thespians in dozens of Shows, Concerts and Pantomimes over 50 years but it would take a braver man than I to shower accolades on so many performers and miss out just one. Suffice it to say thank you to everyone who, over those 50 Golden Years have given of their time and talents, be it as leading players, one liners or chorus members, administrators, front of house or backstage, not forgetting our audiences. Thanks also to Harry Millward for his reminiscences of the early days (most of which we couldn’t print!)

I THINK FRED KNOTTS CHALLENGE HAS BEEN WELL MET!