The evolution of the Society from the initial public meeting on 2 April 1924 is well documented. One of the founding duo, William Freeman, said in March 1934:
“I still remember vividly the attack of stage fright from which we suffered when we climbed onto the platform and surveyed the crowd and wondered whether we hadn’t started something too big for us to guide and control.”
But control it they did and the Society quickly gathered some 700 members and established a programme of meetings in London including talks, recitals, concerts and socials. The highlight of the early years was the Grand G&S Costume Ball, the first held on 20 February 1925 with around 1000 attendees at the Hotel Great Central. Later costume balls were held at the Hotel Cecil on the Embankment. 1925 saw the activities of the first out of town Society, Edinburgh, reported in the Journal. Many others followed as either/or Affiliated Societies or branches.
By 1928 ten Vice-Presidents had been appointed and Her Highness Princess Marie Louise had graciously consented to become the first President. The programme now included: performances of Gilbert’s plays, Community singing, a Sullivan concert and the laying wreaths on Gilbert’s and Sullivan’s memorials on the
anniversary of their passing. To encourage recruitment Ash trays were awarded to those who had introduced ten new members! Writing in September 1928 the Chairman said: “The Society has survived the inevitable lapse of the first enthusiasm and has found its feet. But ambitions grow, we need more members, a permanent office and a museum, and to be able to encourage and assist provincial and overseas branches.”
The new decade got off to a spectacular start with a Society social on 12 March 1930 which brought together as special guests the original 3 little maids: Miss Leonora Braham, Miss Jessie Bond and Miss Sybil Grey - they had not met for around 40 years! 4 The thirties programme also included Mock Trials with Fairies accused of unlawful assembly in Palace of Westminster and Pooh Bah of offences under the Official Secrets Act.
Meetings continued during wartime but on a smaller scale due to difficulties with venues and transport and the loss of committee members to war work. 1949 celebrated the Society Silver Jubilee and by 1951 membership had recovered to pre-war levels. In memory of Mr. H. Enes Blackmore an annual competition had been established which was conducted annually from 1947 until the early 1960s.
June 1959 saw the first conference at the Bonnington Hotel London. Hosted by the Parent Society this brought together 45 delegates from many branches and provided a valuable exchange of views and ideas. May 1962 saw the first Convention open to all members held in Manchester with 96 attending.
1974 marked the Golden Jubilee with a meeting at the Hall of the Law Society in Chancery Lane, guests including Albert Truelove, Isidore Godfrey and Cynthia Morey. At the Diamond Jubilee meeting in March 1984 - Kenneth Sandford cut the cake and presented songs and anecdotes.
A tea party and concert at the Savoy in May 1993 with John Ayldon and Gillian Knight was a successful experiment, with over 300 attending. April 1994 saw the Parent Society 70th Anniversary Dinner at Connaught Hall and 11th Society Convention. The latter included a back-stage tour and a Concert at the Savoy theatre.
In July 1997 the Society was granted Charitable status and membership was up by 27% due to the new style G&S News and profile building events such as the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. The Society was back at the Savoy in March 2000, celebrating the 125th anniversary of Trial by Jury in co-operation with the charity Sargent Cancer Care. The 80th anniversary was celebrated with a dinner at the New Cavendish Club in April 2004.
On Saturday 12 March 2011 a capacity meeting paid tribute to the much loved John Reed under the title of ’None so knowing as he’ organized by our President Cynthia Morey with help from a host of DOC friends. Cynthia did it again on Saturday 17 March 2012 with ‘No harm in revelling in the past’, a tribute to three much loved late Vice-Presidents, Pat Leonard, John Fryatt and Sir Charles Mackerras. Cynthia was supported by a host of D’Oyly Carte stars plus Vice-President Simon Butteriss, and once more the meeting was packed to capacity.
During COVID we moved our meetings online, with the bonus that members normally unable to attend London meetings have been able to join in many of our Zoom meetings. We now hold a mixture of events, online and in-person.
Thank you to all the numerous people who have contributed to and supported the society over the years.
- Must Have a beginning, you know, John Cannon G&S News Summer 2008 Vol IV No 5
- How it Began 70 years on, Norman Bates, G&S News. March 1994 Vol II No 1
- Great Oaks from Little Acorns Grow, John Cannon G&S News Summer 2004 Vol III No 11
- Picture Page 155 Journal Vol 2 No 10
- Remembering the Blackmore Memorial trophy, John Cannon G&S News Spring 2005 Vol III No 13
- Golden Jubilee Recollections, P G Nicol Journal Vol 10 No 5
- G&S News Summer 2011 Vol IV No 14
- G&S News Summer 2012 Vol IV No 17