The Early Years
In 1911 an amateur operatic society, The Hanwell Dramatic, Musical and Literary Society, was formed. The name later changed to Hanwell and Ealing Operatic Society, and a few years ago to HEOS Musical Theatre.
Apart from the war years, the society has produced at least one show a year, and in recent years three.We have programmes of every show except the very first!
After the first 60 members were accepted free, later members paid an entrance fee of 5/- (25p), with an annual subscription of 7/6d (37.5p). There were no auditions to join, but prospective members had to be proposed and seconded by existing members.
Early shows were performed at the Park Hall in Greenford Avenue on a small stage with gas lighting. Tickets cost 2/-, 1/- & 6d (10p, 5p & 2½p). Productions were performed to full houses with people standing.
Park Hotel housing Park Hall
In December 1913 the society had the honour of opening the Park Theatre (the rebuilt Park Hall), which now featured electric lighting. Productions continued there until the theatre closed in 1953.
The production of Merrie England in 1914 had a cast of 72, with an orchestra of 28. The orchestra cost £20 for 4 nights and a rehearsal. The figure today would be in excess of £6000. The Mayor of Ealing asked the society to give two charity performances in Walpole Park. A special stage was erected, but because of the activities of the Suffragettes society members camped out under the stage each night to protect the costumes.
The War Years
At the outbreak of the First World War rehearsals were already underway for Tom Jones. Over half the male members volunteered for the front, but the government’s “business as usual” meant the production carried on, and some members managed to take part and return to camp each night from as far afield as Didcot.
Productions ceased for the rest of the war, but musical evenings kept the society together. For one such evening Madame Clara Novello asked her son to write a patriotic song for her to sing. With Ivor Novello playing the piano, Clara sang Keep the Home Fires Burning in what is believed to be its world premiere. It subsequently became one of the most iconic songs of the First World War.
After WW1 the following appeared in the Middlesex County Times: “The majority of the male members of the Hanwell Musical and Dramatic Society, to say nothing of the ladies, have returned from visiting various parts of the globe at his Majesty’s expense, and the committee has decided to revive the society in the coming season...” Oswald Mosley, MP, was elected president – at this time his fascist views were not known!
There were no performances during the Second World War, but social events comtinued.
Post War Years
By 1947 costs had gone up four fold with entertainment tax. The programmes that year were printed half size because of government restrictions on the use of paper.
The Mikado 1961
In 1961, after 50 years of activities there was a waiting list for sopranos wanting to join, but men were in short supply, even in those days. At the following year’s AGM a suggestion was put forward that “men of good physique in the building or furniture removal trades would be ideal” for new members.
In the 1966 the society moved its performances to the newly built Greenford Hall, where they had to hire an attendant to staff the cloakroom at 8/6d (42.5p) per hour.
The 1972 coal strike meant that several rehearsals were held by candlelight. Around this time, when one young musical director was unable to attend rehearsals, his fellow student Simon Rattle would step in to take up the baton.
Many live animals have appeared on stage over the years, including dogs, cats, a pony, rabbits, and a goat. Gertie the goat, spotted in a front garden in Northolt, was taken by estate car for her nightly performance in White Horse Inn in 1976. The show was a sell-out (2800 seats), with a waiting list for returns. The least well-trained animals were rabbits, who had free run of the stage and left their visiting cards everywhere.
The Pantomime Years
Sleeping Beauty 2007
1988 marked the start of a new venture – pantomime. Sleeping Beauty was produced with only three weeks of rehearsals (one evening and one afternoon a week); quite a feat with a cast of 19 principals and 24 girls from a local ballet school, aged seven upwards. The following year one of the pantomime days fell on a Sunday, and when the vicar at the Methodist Church next door to the Greenford Hall turned on his microphone to deliver his evening sermon, he found the church filled with the sound of Cinderella; both mics were using the same frequency! The pantomime is now an annual event.
The 21st Century
Half A Sixpnece 2011
In 2004 the society moved its main spring show to The Questors Theatre in Ealing. 2011 was the society's centenary, and HEOS chose Half a Sixpence for its centenary production as the show was set at about the time the society was first formed. It involved several children, and was elaborately costumed.
Now well into the 21st century, HEOS goes from strength to strength. There are a large number younger members joining the rnks, and plenty of talent and enthusisam to embrace the coming years.
Much of the above history has been taken from the book Hanwell and Ealing Operatic Society, Our First Century, written by the society’s late vice-president, Brian Thorne.