In 1957 during a backstage break of the Operatic Society Production, a number of people interested in Theatre generally and Pantomime in particular, were lamenting the fact that after several years productions by diverse groups in the town the tradition of Pantomime had been allowed to lapse. Accordingly a public meeting was arranged at the Arts Centre on May 22nd 1957 at which only 16 people were present. Nevertheless at that meeting, chaired by the then Mayor, Alderman W.O. Coate, it was agreed that the Bridgwater Pantomime Society be formed and the first production “Aladdin” was presented in February 1958 at the Town Hall, Bridgwater.
Alderman Coate was invited to become the President, but chief among the protagonists was Harry Good, a man of vision and great drive and determination. He become the founder producer and it was he more than anyone who got the Society off the ground. Within a few years the Society had established itself with a growing reputation amongst the local theatrical groups in the town and in 1966 a bold move was made by the Society to stage productions at the then Odeon Cinema, the first by any Society. The work involved was unbelievable from the construction of an extended stage to the sitting of caravans at the rear of the cinema as dressing room accommodation. The iron framed cinema screen took some ten men to move to the back of the stage.
Despite all the hard work the shows were a great success with 7,000 people attending spread over 6 performances with coaches coming from miles around. Sadly this came to an end after 1972 when the cinema was converted to a bingo hall and two smaller cinemas, a return to the Town Hall being inevitable. Unfortunately, the capacity was greatly reduced and indeed with double the number of performances today we are able to accommodate less than 3,700 people.
One of the first problems to beset the Society, common amongst most clubs was the need for somewhere to rehearse and make and store scenery, costumes, props, etc. In the early days various halls, rooms over public houses and the like were used for rehearsals but the Society was at least fortunate to rent premises from the Borough Council for script readings, meetings, scenery painting, etc. Eventually, however the Council property succumbed to the demolition contractors. Fortunately another close by was provided until that too became the subject of an eviction order. In anticipation of this a disused ambulance hut had been purchased for the princely sum of £75 but there was nowhere to put it. The Committee’s urgent concern therefore was to find a piece of land where Headquarters could be set up. In 1973 after several abortive attempts such a plot measuring 11,200 sq.ft was found in a field owned by a local butcher which had been used for grazing prior to slaughter.
The completion of phase 1 saw the first Committee meeting on site on 19th October 1976 and at least script readings could now take place. The Committee were aware that the remained of the field had not been sold and in 1981 decided to take the plunge and purchase the rest of the land giving a total area in excess of 1 acre. The allocation of funds to this end however, meant a temporary halt to any major construction work, but nevertheless smaller jobs continued where possible.
In August 1990, the Headquarters were officially opened by two founder members – Grace Good, Harry’s widow and Ken Lowder in the presence of the Chairman of Sedgemoor District Council and the Town Mayor of Bridgwater.
The building and the site is now a very valuable asset for the Society and is greatly in excess of the cost of the land and the building work undertaken over the years. Sadly, many of the original stalwarts who worked so hard to get the Society off the ground and to oversee all the trials and tribulations during the early years and no longer with us, but the standards they set in their determination to see the Bridgwater Pantomime Society at the forefront of theatre in the area has passed on an equally dedicated team who have been provided with a legacy they ensure is maintained and enhanced in the years to come…