The History of Willenhall Musical Theatre Company
The company was founded in 1929 with its first production on the 18th March 1930 of "Pearl the Fishermaiden". Many of the founder members had performed in plays, sung in choirs and participated in other local musical activities. The idea of combining these talents was first mooted by Ray Taylor, later joined by a friend, Bill Griffiths and together they pressed forward with the creation of "Willenhall Operatic Society". This title was later changed to "The Willenhall and Wesley Amateur Operatic Society" and so remained until 1973 when the society reverted to its original title.
A team was gathered together to produce the first show with Wilfred Anslow as leader of the Orchestra, Ernest Parkes on piano and with Athol Baker, Cyril Wolverson, Bill Hurd and others backstage, Fred Nicklin on lighting and Bill Griffiths and Ray Taylor producing and choreographing. This and the following productions were successful and very enjoyable.
After a few years, changes in the company brought in the production team of Doctor E and Madame Parkes Darby who were, together with their daughter Vaudrey, associated with the society for many years.
Reginald Tildesley became Treasurer of the society and the Tildesley family retained close ties until the closure of their Willenhall car showroom in 1982.
After a break in performances during the Second World War the company moved from their Wesleyan Schools venue to Willenhall Baths for their 1947 production of "Viktoria and her Hussar"
The programme took on its present format under the guidance of Millie Gregory until the mid 1970's with Millie also supervising ticket sales during this period. Fred Gregory had also taken over as publicity manager, a post he held until his retirement in 1971. Many of these duties were taken over by the Poole family, Alan, Audrey and their daughters, Alison and Kathryn. Alan and Audrey's contribution on stage is well documented and they played the lead roles in the 1955 production of Oklahoma.
In 1952, following the retirement of F. Brown, Tom Longstaff and Margaret Tildesley became joint secretaries of the society. Both had played many principal parts for the company over the years. Tom remained as Hon. Secretary till 1986 and then became President, a post he held until his sad passed in 2004.
The year 1953 saw the arrival of Marion Beasley as Producer, Beresford Pensom as Musical Director with Sheila Groom as dancing mistress. Ernest Parkes retired as accompanist in 1966 and was replaced by Margaret Phipps who stayed until 1996.
In 1973, the society reverted to its original title "Willenhall Operatic Society" and Millie Gregory became our first Lady President.
John Willis took over as Musical Director in 1974. Marion Beasley retired, due to ill health, as Producer in 1975 and was replaced by Alan Pooler who stayed in that post until 1980. The year 1977 saw the appointment of Jill Hodgkins (nee Gregory) as choreographer. Bill Hurd, a founder member, who had appeared in every show, finally retired in 1983 after 54 years.
Jeremy Hobbs joined us in 1983 as Producer and Arthur Doody the following year as Musical Director. In 1985 "Finian's Rainbow" brought in an influx of new members who have remained active on stage until the present day. Of these Tim Jones, Ruth Lewis, John Wiley, Mac Hammond and Stan Till have played many leading roles during this period.
Val Goodfellow, a long standing member was a memorable "Dolly" in 'Hello Dolly" in 1982 and followed this with "Nellie Forbush" in "South Pacific" and "Calamity Jane" in the show of the same name in 1986.
Don McClay took over in 1987 as Producer for "Fiddler on the Roof" and Peter Hopson joined us as Musical Director in 1989 for "Showboat". Since then we have seen Paul Lawrence and Sarah Browne as Musical Directors followed by Tim Harding. Simon Pugh and Tim Jones have enjoyed memorable stints as Producers.
2005 saw Beryl Andrews esconced as President, after the loss of Tom Longstaff. Tim Jones and Tim Harding were Producer & Musical Director for our production of ‘Me & My Girl’. This was followed this year with ‘BILLY’. Produced by Tim Jones MD was John Bidulph and Choreography by Lyndsay Flavell. At the 2007 AGM Mike Barlow was made president along with Beryl Andrews, who was very frail and not well enough to see us as often as she wished.
Unfortunately in early 2008 Beryl pased away leaving Mike Barlow as sole president. Tom & Joan Bradley were subsequently made presidents later that year, however after a fight against illness Joan died later that year having joined the company in 1951, she was a woman who'd held many posts within the company.
Over the last few of years, the society has had a complete new production team. Andy Poulton was appointed Producer/Director for our 2010 production of "Pirates of Penzance" which was put up for an award for best production for the Wolverhampton & South Staffordshire region of NODA West Midlands. Andy was joined by Laura Canadine and Meg Dowen as Choreographers and Mike Cotton as Musical Director.
On 30th September 2011, the company changed it's name to "Willenhall Musical Theatre Company" bringing it into the 21st century, and to let it's audiences know the types of shows which they actually performed.
Following on, the company instilled their trust in Andy Poulton joined by Meg Dowen once more to put on their first pantomime in the companies 83 year history. They were joined by Phil James as Musical Director who had worked with the company over the last few years as our rehearsal pianist. For our April 2012 production of "The Wizard of Oz", we welcomed Karl Babarczi as Musical Director to the production team. This production again was put up for an award for best production for the Wolverhampton & South Staffordshire region of NODA West Midlands.
For our April 2013 production of "Calamity Jane" we welcomed Lindsey Grant as our new choreographer and later in the year, Phil James became our Musical Director for our 2nd pantomime "Aladdin". Going on into 2014, the production team of Andy Poulton, Lindsey Grant and Phil James are taking on one of the largest and lavish productions Willenhall Musical Theatre Company have ever staged in the Tony Award Winning production of "Thoroughly Modern Millie". We continued into 2015
With the same production team and the show “Crazy for you” which was enjoyed by all. We also performed “Dick Whittington” in December and a fun time was had by all.
2016 saw Alf Rai take on Direction with Lyndsey Grant as Choreographer and Phil
James as Musical Director on “Me and My Girl” a wonderful success. It was decided not to pursue a Pantomime this year and did “Anything Goes” in 2017 again with the same production team.
2018 saw the ever popular “Half a Sixpence” as our main production with again the same team. This year seemed to start a romantic boost in the company since then we have had seven engagements and two of them leading to weddings and eventual new members. Engagements include Sam King and Ian Henry who married last August and are expecting their first as I write, Rachel Coleman and John Chadwick became engaged and Married on 25th March 2018 their first is due in June of this year. Also, Beth Coleman and Simon Williams, Grace Bradshaw and James Murror, Lyndsey Grant and James Vickers, Abbie Rai and Damon Wilde, and finally Megan Rai and Daniel Gosnell.
2019 saw the production of “Sister Act” our most challenging and expensive show to date and what a success our talented cast made of it. We had the help of Gladstone Wilson as our Musical Director with Lyndsey and Alf as usual.
Alongside all of this glee and happiness one sadness occurred with the death of our long serving member Tom Bradley. Tom served W.M.T.C for more the 60 years as firstly a Stage hand then Stage Manager and also did many years on the committee also spent time as Chairman and helped his late wife Joad as ticket secretary. Between them Tom and Joan achieved around 130 years’ service to W.M.T.C.
ALSO, IF ANYONE HAS READ FROM THE START YOU WILL REALISE THAT 2019 IS OUR 90th YEAR.
What an achievement to have our most successful show to date, Sister Act, in this year.