A Theatre Production at the Church Institute – 1958




As this is the centenary of the opening of the Church Institute on Creed Street, and MADCAP are celebrating the event, I thought I would post this programme from 1958 – exactly 50 years ago.
The G&S production by the grammar school had been an annual event since 1949. The driving duo behind this enterprisewere Harold Nutt, the Music master (pictured above in a woodcut by Peter Lowe the Art and Woodwork teacher) and Robert Eyles, Senior Master and English teacher.
Mr Nutt was a very energetic and charismatic teacher and it was entirely due to his enthusiasm that there was a school orchestra and musical productions. Andrew Morgan, son of Donald Morgan the headmaster, has remarked elsewhere that Harold Nutt was the first music teacher employed by the school, so he was the originator of many things. As we lined up outside the music room to go into class he would invariably say “Lead on Macduff!” to the boy at the front. I only found out years later, when I actually read Macbeth, that Shakespeare wrote “Lay on MacDuff!”
Mr Eyles was a good English teacher, although he could be a little tetchy at times. One occasion sticks in my mind because I was on the receiving end of his tongue-lash. he was taking us through a poem and told us that a tabor was a musical pipe. I looked it up in my dictionary and offered, “It says here sir, that it’s a drum.” “What sort of dictionary is that?” he rounded on me, “A Woolworth’s dictionary!” To which of course there could be no response.
Anyway, Harold Nutt looked after the musical side and Robert Eyles the acting side, also taking for himself the part that had the clever lyrics – in this case the First Lord of the Admiralty.
The pair were also good friends as well as colleagues and ould regularly meet up in the Saloon bar of the Vic on Sunday lunchtime.
The school orchestra rehearsed separately from the cast until about a week before the event. I think there were about three performances and the Church Institute hall was packed always. The orchestra took up its place in front of the stage, roughly in the area now taken up by the thrust stage and the whole cast managed on what is quite a small stage. I think the the school’s G&S productions were performed in the Empire theatre in the early years, but I suspect that the cost became too high.
In 1956, G&S was dropped for a production of a play called “Lady Precious Stream” produced by the history teacher, Oscar Tapper. Music still featured, as Mr Nutt composed (or perhaps orchestrated) some entracte music for the occasion. The musical production returned in 1957 with “Lilac Time” based on the story of Franz Schubert, and of course using his music. And in 1958, the witty and popular Gilbert and Sullivan mad their return to the Church Institute stage.

Theatre in Wolverton – 1958

Last week I visited the Church Institute, probably for the first time in 50 years. It is now MADCAP Centre for Performing Arts; structurally, the building is little changed.

The stage is a proscenium arch type and was the only kind known to our Edwardian forebears, but the present incumbents have built a thrust stage in front of that to give themselves more production flexibility. Modern lighting hangs from the ceiling tie rods and modern blinds have replaced the old blackout roller blinds. The parquet wood block flooring is original and has now lasted exactly 100 years.  The architect was John Oldrid Scott, who, like his more famous father, was responsible for the design of an extensive range of ecclesiastical architecture across the country.
I’ve written about the Church Institute before, but I now want to reflect on its role in theatre production.
Typically theatre was not a very accessible experience for Wolverton’s inhabitants. Only large towns and cities had professional theatre companies in the 1950s. Northampton was relatively close with the Repertory Theatre and the New Theatre. Oxford offered the only other provincial alternative, otherwise it was London. I do not recall Bedford having a professional theatre. The Northampton rep. used to put up weekly posters outside Dimmocks Grocery store on Aylesbury Street, so they must have attracted some regular theatre-goers from Wolverton. The New Theatre was, I believe, largely given over to Variety Shows. I have some photographs of my father singing there in the 1940s which would suggest that this was so. I do recall going to see pantomime there as a child.
Repertory theatre was probably very hard work – rehearsing next week’s production during the day and performing the current production at night, with two weekly matinees. I think we were taken to see a Shakespearean production once as a school party and I know that on my own initiative I went to see the rep’s production of Sheelagh Delaney’s “A Taste of Honey”, which was the hot play of 1958.
But back to Wolverton. I think touring companies would come through every now and then. I do remember the D’Oyly Carte touring group coming to Wolverton in the late 40s, because my mother boarded some of them in our house. This was my first encounter with thespians. Touring Variety Shows also came to Wolverton  and usually performed on the stage at the Works Canteen. Local amateurs and semi-professional entertainers frequently put variety shows together; several were held at the Top Club.

School curriculum 1931-1958


I just discovered my Mother’s school certificate, awarded in 1931. I’ve contrasted it with my GCE O Level, taken in 1958. We both went to the same school and in some cases had the same teachers, but things did change over a generation.
In 1931 she studied:
English Language and Literature
French
History
Geography
Mathematics
Botany
Art
Needlework (These subjects written on the back in Mr. Boyce’s elegant handwriting.)
In 1958, I took:
English Language and Literature
French
History
Geography
Mathematics
Latin
General Science
Additional General Science.
6 subjects were identical; the other three represented changes.
The obvious difference was that some of the subjects she took were gender-specific. like Botany and Needlework. Although Physics and Chemistry were taught there in 1931, they were not taught to girls. It is also probable that the Zoology aspect of Biology was not deemed appropriate for a girl’s tender sensibilities.
In my day we were required to drop subjects like Art and Woodwork in favour of more academic subjects. Physics, Chemistry and Biology were lumped together  for a General Science paper, but in 1957, after the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite, there was a great scurrying around to improve science teaching. As a consequence, we were given extra science lessons and entered for an extra science paper called Additional General Science.
Later, Physics, Chemistry and Biology were offered as separate papers