The Origins – How it all came about

History 1925 to 1950

The first production of Dorothy was described by the local press as a “lavish production” with a cast of 70 performers. Although not a financial success the future looked bright. An overdraft of £130 was granted by Barclays Bank Ltd, Norwich and was guaranteed by the President ( The Lord Mayor), Lady Manse, Sir Hamilton Ballance and Ivan Spain. The future was set. At this time there were at least three major theatres in Norwich, the Theatre Royal, the Norwich Hippodrome in St Giles Street and the newly opened Regent Theatre on Prince of Wales Road, and this was to lead to more than one issue for the Committee – the first was where do we perform?

First negotiations were between the Theatre Royal and the Regent with an offer from the Committee to rent the Regent for “Takings up to £400 – 50% with a dimininshing scale of 5% for each £100 above the first £400”. Jack Fitt – then owner of the Theatre Royal, heard about this offer and made a counter offer to the Committee of £150 for hire of Theatre Royal for the week 25th to 30 October 1926 to include all staff, Orchestra and usual advertising. The Committee accepted his offer for 1926 and 1927.

The show for 1926 was “Les Cloches de Corneville” and preparations were made which included costumes from B & H Drury in London and a Perruquier at “£10/10/- and £7/7/- per week plus rail fare respectively. At this time it was agreed that the orchestra should consist entirely of professional musicians and a Mr E Weeks had agreed to lead it. It was estimated that this orchestra would cost an extra £25.00 over the previous producer. With Miss Ransome as Dancing Mistress and Miss Channell as accompanist with fees of £10/10/- and £15/15/- respectively, costs were mounting up.

It was at this time that Vice Presidents of the Society were to be invited. and on acceptance to contribute a donation to the society. Notable figures invited included Lord and Lady Albemarle, Prince Duleep Singh, Lord Leicester, Lady Mann, Richard Jewson, E.G. Buxton, Lady Betty Trafford and Sir Earnest Wild.

The “Guarantee List” stood at £117 at this time and the acting members were asked to suggest further guarantors to boost the society’s security. A ticket price increase of between 20 and 30% also helped to raise further income.

It was at this time that the Society joined the National Operatic and Dramatic Association in the form of an Individual membership by the Hon Secretary.

It was further agreed that any surplus proceeds from this performance was to be given to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital – after all, Sir Hamilton Ballance was an eminent surgeon there!

Further Background

“At the kind invitation of Lady Ballance the following met at 41 All Saints Green on 26th January 1925 to discuss the formation of a Norfolk and Norwich Amateur Operatic Society.

The Lord Mayor of Norwich (Dr G.S. Pope), Lady Ballance, Lady Morse, Miss Wise, Mrs Winder, Mrs Thompson, Mrs Meiklem, Sir Hamilton Ballance, Mr Bachelor, Mr Butcher and Mr Thompson.

It was agreed that in the first place, a provisional Committee should be appointed in order to carry out the necessary preliminary arrangements. The following were to be asked to serve on the Committee:

The Lord Mayor of Norwich (Dr G.S. Pope), Lady Ballance, Lady Morse, Mrs Astley, Mrs Winder, Mrs Cicely Gurney, Mrs Gurley, Captn J. H. Mander, Mr Ivan Spain, Mr J Thompson and Mr Henry Butcher.

It was also agreed that Mr W. H. Meiklem should be asked to act as Secretary to the Provisional Committee.

Signed G. Steven Pope – Chairman.”

This was the very first entry in the minute books of the Norfolk and Norwich Amateur Operatic Society when, in 1925, it all began. It’s inaugural meeting was held at the Royal Hotel on Monday 16th March 1925 and at the Committee meeting held on 6th April, 1925 at 41 All Saint’s Green it was agreed that the first performances of the opera “Dorothy” should be fixed for the week 14th to 19th December, 1925 at the Norwich Hippodrome Theatre – later, due to unavailability of the Hippodrome, it was changed to the 7th to the 12th December at the Theatre Royal.

And there started what is now known as the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society.

Finances were as high on the agenda then as they are now with a “Guarantee Fund” opened with donations of £10.00 from The Lord Mayor, Sir Hamilton Ballance and Captain Mander along with a £5.00 donation from Mr Ivan Spain, Mr Henry Butcher and Mrs Winder. A grand total of £45.00.

Prince Duleep Singh of Elveden became a Vice President.
Costs for this first production included:

Producer’s fee £84 /00 /00
Dancing Mistress £12 /12 /00
Insurance against fire at the Theatre £10 /00 /00 per performance
Advertising £50 /00 /00

Seat prices were fixed at:
Stalls and Dress Circle 4/3d ( 21 pence)
Pit 3/6d ( 17 pence)
Balcony 2/4d ( 12 pence)
Gallery 1/3d (7 pence)
Boxes 28/9d (£1.48p)

Souvenir programmes were 6d (2p)

Membership for Acting members was 1 guinea per year ( £1.05) and 1/2 guinea for non acting members.

It will not come as too great a surprise to learn that the week’s production ran at a loss of approx. £200 with an overall deficit for this first year of £125.

It all seems a far cry from what we are doing today, but these humble beginnings laid the foundation upon which subsequent Chairmen have built.