The Middle Years (1960 – 1988)
This was the season in which the Stevenage College of Further Education first permitted the use of their hall, and The Lytton Players were accorded the honour of staging the first full stage show there. This consisted of that old G&S favourite ‘Iolanthe’ which sold very well indeed, even requiring extra seats to be brought in to accommodate everyone.
During the week of the show an American News Company were making a documentary of life in an English New Town and, wishing to include a short piece portraying live drama, invited The Lytton Players to participate. A short sequence from ‘Iolanthe’ was chosen, and the whole process of recording took 5 hours for a 2½ minute scene. However the scene was not included in the finished documentary.
Around this time a number of the Players were busy assisting in the formation of a ‘Stevenage Arts Guild’. It was to be open to any organisation concerned in the practice of the arts and handicrafts in and around Stevenage. The aims of the Guild were to be the promotion of cultural activities and interests, and the development of the knowledge, appreciation, and practice of the arts in Stevenage.
The highlight of this season was a trip by 51 of the Players to Ingelheim in Germany in order to perform Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan during the Great Britain week.
They travelled by boat and train, departing on the morning of April 12th. An uneventful train journey to Dover and an equally uneventful but crowded sea trip to Ostend preceded a long train journey to their final destination, finally arriving at 6.30am.
After the final curtain, the Chairman Deneys Swayne, offered to the people of Ingelheim the very sincere thanks of The Lytton Players and presented a volume of Shakespeare’s works and a recording of ‘Trial by Jury’. The Lytton Players were presented in return with a plaque bearing the arms of Ingelheim.
Also during this season the Players finally presented one of Shakespeare’s plays, ‘Twelfth Night’. The show was an enormous success and the financial result, a loss of only £7, was encouraging.
We were fortunate during this time to acquire our first home, which was a timber prefabricated building, originally Lloyds Bank, situated at the rear of Daneshill House. It was leased to us at a nominal rent by the Stevenage Development Corporation. At long last we had somewhere to meet, including a bar, kitchen facilities, and storage space for costumes and props.
Music Hall was performed for the second time with £488 being donated to charity for the benefit of the mentally and the physically handicapped.
1962 - 1968
The first newsletter was produced on the 1st August 1962.
The 1963/1964 Music Hall featured ‘The Road to Mandalay’ for the first time, starring Ray Gorbing and Stan Taplin. The Stevenage Town Band also performed in that Music Hall
The 1964/1965 Music Hall was also very successful with £450 being given to the Cheshire Home at Ampthill and £250 to ‘Stevenage Old People’s Welfare’.
During the 1965/1966 season a Music Sub Committee was formed with responsibility for planning and organising the Society’s musical productions.
At the start of the 1966/1967 season, the membership of the Players stood at 308.
‘The Mikado’ was presented in May 1967 featuring Ray Gorbing as The Mikado. Other cast members included, Di Barton, Claire Cox, Dorothy Gorbing, Stella Hill, Nell McClymont, Enid Newman, Margaret Walker, Mary Young, Bill Barker, Ron Newman, Peter Walker and Peter Williams.
The Lyttons entered the Stevenage Carnival in 1967 and were cup winners with a float entitled ‘The Lazy Lyttons’ Saloon’.
During the 1967/1968 season, a concert version of ‘The Sorcerer’ was put on in October with tickets selling at 5/- for adults and 2/6 for children. The Players also staged the play ‘My Three Angels’.
This was the season in which The Lytton Players celebrated their 21st anniversary. A party was held with Councillor Bill Lawrence (Chairman of Stevenage Council) and Mrs Hilda Lawrence at the Stevenage Headquarters behind Daneshill House.
Membership had by now risen to 351, and at the AGM it was reported that the excess of income over expenditure was £135, and that the accumulated funds stood at £1,389.
1968 also saw the Players becoming a Registered Charity, the stated objects of which were ‘To advance the public knowledge and appreciation of music and drama, and to encourage young persons to learn about theatrecraft’.
The Development Corporation had offered a nominal lease on land adjacent to what is now the sorting office, and the building at No 3 Swingate was moved lock, stock and barrel. A further section of a similar construction was purchased from Barclays Bank for £50 to form a workshop. The move took place over the weekend of April 4th and 5th 1970 with all members being asked to help. Usual activities were resumed by April 15th.
Rehearsals were punctuated by the roar of Intercity trains. Unfortunately, due to the stress of the move and vibrations from the trains, the fabric of the building deteriorated rapidly with water leakages becoming increasingly common.
The Music Hall of 1971 was considered to be the best so far and made a profit of £1,550. ‘Iolanthe’ was performed in May and attracted a large audience with over 1,800 attending.
Lytton Players ties were available for purchase at a cost of £1.1s.6d
In September, through the initiative of Peter Walker a new step was taken - the formation of the ‘Junior Lytton Players’. Membership was to be open to the children of members aged 13 to 17, and the annual subscription was set at 25p. By January 1972 membership of the JLP stood at 20. Activities included play readings, talks on make-up and scenery design, plus stage dancing.
Stagehand Cyril Hildreth stole the opening scene of the Music Hall by scampering up a ladder with a pair of pliers in his hand. Puffs of smoke were wafting from the ceiling as the cast sang, and burning cable showered the stage. So Cyril dashed on stage with a ladder to cut away the burning wire for which he received a big round of applause. True to tradition, the cast continued whilst all this was happening.
The Drama Section’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ was very successful indeed, and a credit to the Society.
There were some suggestions that an alternative to Music Hall should be considered, possibly a Revue or a Pantomime. However, due to the continued financial success and the enhancement of reputation that Music Hall delivered it was decided not to pursue these ideas at this time
The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan presented in November 1975 marked another dramatic milestone in the history of the Players, for they were invited to perform at the newly opened Gordon Craig Theatre. The show was written by Vera Mallet, narrated by newscaster Leonard Parkin, and a cast of over 50 proudly took part under the baton of maestro Peter Wigfield.
After the performance, one of the soloists Ray Gorbing confessed his relief, for as the architect responsible for the design of the Theatre, he had some concerns regarding the accuracy of his acoustic calculations. Happily his fears proved unfounded.
During 1975 it became known that a future re-location of premises would be necessary as planning permission on the present site would expire in 1977; later extended to 1979. A Building Fund was established under the auspices of a sub-committee primarily charged with organising fund raising and acquiring information regarding alternative accommodation
Wagstaffs were appointed as professional auditors to the Society, and the end of year accounts showed an excess of income over expenditure of £1,140.
‘Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ showed handsome profits of £675 and £184 respectively although ‘My Fair Lady’ made a loss of £451.
At the 1978 AGM the idea of forming a list of Patrons was discussed. In return for a small subscription, Patrons would be sent information regarding the Society’s activities, plus their names would appear in show programmes.
During the 1979 AGM proposals for changing the name of the Society were discussed. Suggestions considered were The Stevenage Lytton Players, The Lytton Players (Stevenage), The Lytton Players of Stevenage or The Lytton Players with Stevenage underneath on all advertising. The last option was agreed on.
£900 was donated to Charity from the proceeds of Music Hall with the Stevenage League of Hospital Friends, Stevenage Branches of Leukaemia Research and St. Johns Ambulance benefiting.
In 1979 the Development Corporation informed the Society that the present site in Six Hills Way would be needed for development. Many possibilities were investigated before two were finally considered. One was at ‘The Roaring Meg’ and the other at ‘The Sishes’. The Sishes site was generally considered a better fit for the Players’ needs and so all parties were informed of our decision. We then embarked on the difficult task of raising the necessary funds - a great deal was estimated to be required - approximately £60,000.
And thus began the fundraising activity known as ‘Operation Beaver’ (see panel).
The 21st Gala Music Hall performed this season was a magnificent team effort.. The innovation of holding a nightly raffle was very successful and produced a profit of over £500 which was put into the Building Fund.
On 21st/22nd November 1981 the move to The Sishes took place with rehearsals commencing there on 23rd November. The first rehearsal was for Music Hall and a temporary bar was set up in the kitchen, as the present bar was still being built. The official opening was on Friday 26th March 1982 when the Mayor of Stevenage, Councillor Bill Lawrence, and his wife Hilda unveiled a small commemorative plaque which now graces the bar at the Centre.
On April 1st, 2nd, and 3rd the Society staged its first public performance, ‘Blithe Spirit’ at the new Centre.
The 1983/1984 season was a difficult one for the Society as the President Ray Gorbing acknowledged in his AGM speech.
The 1985 AGM determined that all officers of the Society would in future be elected, rather than appointed as was previously the custom.
In May of this season 36 members and friends set out once again to represent The Lytton Players in Ingelheim.
Frantic last minute rehearsals took place at The Sishes the week before departure. Three baskets of costumes, hats and props were skilfully packed by Barbara Mugridge alongside irons, ironing boards, lights and even a maypole.
The day of the concert started with a formal reception followed by lunch. The concert itself was very well received, with the audience clapping rhythmically to any suitable tune, and a generous standing applause was given at the end of the evening.
The Players spent much of the rest of their time visiting interesting and beautiful locations in the Rhine Valley. The feeling of all at the end, was that memories of this visit would be long treasured.
Music Hall this season had to make do without a performance of ‘Mandalay’ as Ray Gorbing was still recovering from a recent operation. Charities benefiting this year were The Cancer Relief Fund, Lister Hospital Scanner Appeal, and The Matthew MacMillan Appeal Fund.
The Lytton Players used their in-house facilities to the full on two occasions in the Autumn of 1987. The first of these was a polished performance of Oscar Wilde's classic comedy ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ - a superbly constructed piece presented with style and polish. The second was ‘Flight of Fancy’, a compilation in which the Players gave the audience a lightning trip around the world.
The musical ‘Oliver’ was performed in May at the Gordon Craig Theatre, and made a profit of over £3,000. It was arguably the most successful show the Players had staged to date.
Those attending that year’s Annual General Meeting heard that The Lytton Players were ‘fit, well and raring to go’.