Largs Amateur Operatic Society  1946–2006

1946 was a memorable year. Britain had been at war with Germany and Japan for six years, and at last peace had returned. Men and women were returning home, looking for work and new interests to fill their spare time.

The Nuremberg Trials had started in January, and the first consignment of bananas arrived in the shops.

British European airways (B.E.A.) were offering flights to Paris for £7-10/- (that was a week's wages and it's cheaper today), and the Government was urging us to save coal!   There was only a week's supply in London.

G.I. brides were offered training in ‘American Ways', before crossing the Atlantic, and ‘The Road to Utopia' opened in New York with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

The weight of the standard loaf was cut by 4 oz and the brewing of beer by 15% to save grain.

In May, the Government announced that penicillin would soon be freely available.

The rail fare from London to Edinburgh was to be increased to £6-18-9 return.

The milkmen in London went on strike for a minimum wage of £5-4-6 per week, and footballers threatened to strike for a minimum wage of £7 a week.

There was a flourishing black market in nylons, perfumery and chocolate – the SPIVS had arrived!

League football returned to post-war England and Scotland.   Six clubs attracted 50,000 to the terraces.  Liverpool F.C. were champions in 1946, and Rangers F.C. were winners of the Scottish League.

In October, ‘Brief Encounter' won the award at the Cannes Film Festival for the best British film.

In November, there was widespread flooding after eight successive days of rain.

Food controls were to be relaxed, but bread would still be rationed.

BIRO pens were launched at a cost of 55/- (approximately £100 today!), and T.V. was back on-line, but only for the wealthy!

You could have a Ford Prefect for £275 or a Ford Anglia for £229.

Such was the state of the nation in 1946, when Mr. J. W. Oakley, organist and choirmaster at St. Columba's Church in Largs, first mooted the idea of forming a group of adults to stage musical shows, which became Largs Amateur Operatic Society.

He had had considerable success with children, and during the war years had built up an excellent junior choir of 20 to 30 youngsters (I first sang in his junior choir in 1940 when we presented a Christmas carol service).   With the help and encouragement of members of the congregation, he embarked on a plan to present musical plays with his talented and enthusiastic children. The first presentation was in the Stewart Memorial Hall for one night, and it was such a success, and by popular demand, it was repeated a week later!   That was in 1945, and the play was ‘The Pierrette Princess'.
The princess was Iris Halliday (Iris McNaught) who this week is celebrating her Golden Wedding Anniversary, and I was the handsome prince!

The children went on to success after success with ‘The Dragon of Tangly Mountain', ‘Dulcinetta' and ‘The Island of Balkis', which were staged in Barrfields, and ran for several nights.  This junior section unfortunately ceased when Mr. Oakley retired in 1951 and returned to Glasgow.

But the seeds had been sown, and many of the youngsters joined L.A.O.S.

Mr. Oakley's ideas in 1946 received great support and encouragement.   He recruited members from the local church choirs and congregations, and because he was such a cheerful character, you just couldn't say no!   This was something new and novel, and a change from going to the cinema three times a week in the blackout!

Soon a committee was formed to get things organised, and this comprised four worthy local gentlemen, namely Phil Buchanan, John Foster, John Millar and Douglas Tennent.   Miss R. H. Kirk was appointed Hon. Secretary, and Mr. John Hathorn, Hon. Treasurer.    A well-respected businessman in the town, R. Laing Robertson was appointed President.

The first production ‘A Country Girl' was staged in Barrfields Pavilion on 24 th and 25 th April 1947 and received rave reviews!
Dances arranged by Miss Robertson and Cath Black, Stage Manager Archibald McVicar, Wardrobe Miss Henderson,
Hon. Pianist Hugh Black, and Producer Duncan McCallum who went on to produce several shows for the Society, all very successful, and the Brisbane Queen Pageant in the 40s and 50s.

Founder members still with us are Douglas Tennent, Netta Robertson, Jean Dodd (McKenzie) and Muriel Stewart (Lamb).

The Society was off to a great start, and each production seemed to surpass the last.  The committee, now enlarged and with a new President, John Hathorn, took courage and presented ‘The Lilac Domino' for three nights in Barrfields, 8th,
9th, 10th April , 1948.         Mr. Oakley and Duncan McCallum were still M.D. and Producer, but new names appeared, viz. Kathleen MacGuire as Dance Instructor, and Alex McAuslan as Stage Manager.    New members of committee were Jack Murray (later to become rehearsal pianist), Alex Black and J.B.Orr, both of whom were to serve as Presidents of the Society.

Such was the feeling of success in the Society, that a ‘Lilac Domino Ball' was held in the Moorings Ballroom, when 277 members and guests attended at 17/6 each (88p).

Theatre tickets were sold for the stalls area at 7/6, 5/-, 3/-, Balcony 4/-, Gallery 2/-, and with approximately 100 patrons paying a patrons' subscription of £1-1/- to receive priority booking, the cash was rolling in!

With an even larger committee, 80 members and an abundance of back stage helpers, the Society chose ‘The Arcadians' for its 1949 production, which was staged for four nights in Barrfields on 27, 28, 29, 30th April.
Jack Murray was now rehearsal pianist, and his daughters, Sheila and Maureen joined the cast.   Other long standing members of the Society appeared on the cast list, notably Jean McNeur (Jean Crawford), Betty Vanhegan (Betty Frazer), Bill McLean, Eric Howard, Margaret Howard, Bob Laurie, Tom Lamb, Jean Dodd (McKenzie), Sue Crowhurst, Hugh Honeyman, Roy Macpherson, Bobby Speirs, Jimmy Paterson, Netta Robertson and Douglas Tennent.

Many of these have long gone to their eternal rest, but a few are here tonight, and we all have fond memories of those happy days.

The Society now listed 120 patrons, and ‘The Arcadians' was another resounding success. The cost of the production was £761-8-11, and the total income was £789-12-7, a profit of £28-3-8. Total assets of the Society amounted to £330-7-0 (£13000 today).

‘The Quaker Girl' in April 1950 continued the run of successes of the production team and talented cast.

John McCreadie, ‘Largs and Millport Weekly News', wrote “Nothing, it is said, succeeds like success. L.A.O.S. should know.  Their fourth annual presentation ‘The Quaker Girl' in Barrfields last week was a brilliant successor to a list that glitters”.

‘Good Night Vienna' in April 1951, saw a change in the production team, when Mrs. Livy Armstrong was appointed Producer, and the following year, there was a change in both Producer and Musical Director, when Mrs. Lawson Auld was appointed Producer and Mr. W. McLean Leitch was appointed Musical Director, for the 1952 production of ‘Tom Jones' by Edward German, one of the best and brightest examples of English Comic Opera, to quote Mr. J.B. Orr, President.

Mr. Orr, in his ‘President's Foreword' wrote, “We regret that Mr. J. W. Oakley, our previous Musical Director, had to leave us owing to business commitments in Glasgow. He was the founder of this Society, and we wish him success in his new sphere of work”.

Inevitably, changes happen, but it is to the credit of the office-bearers and members of the Society that they showed determination to continue, and indeed went on to greater things.

Musical Directors came and went, some stayed for longer periods than others, but we were indeed fortunate in 1958 when James Tait and his family came to stay in Largs, he having been appointed Principal teacher of Music at Ardrossan Academy.    Jim and Moira Tait, together with Moira's sister Elmar Kennedy, have been great assets to the Society over many years, and we thank them for their unstinting service.   Indeed, Elmar has set the record for the longest serving M.D., having served 25 years in the post.

Dae ye min' lang syne?

Backstage accommodation was very basic, and the ladies' chorus was packed into basement dressing-rooms below stage, where the hall-keeper also had his home!

The front of house spotlight was mounted on the wooden partition over the stalls access stairway.   It was a carbon arc lamp that ignited with a bang, and a cloud of smoke!    That was bad enough, but there were patrons paying 5/- each sitting on either side of the operator!

The Society was allowed to run its own tearoom, before the performance, and during the interval.    Cigarettes and ice-cream were also on sale.    We used to turn up the heating to increase the sales of the ice-cream!

There was a serious incident backstage during ‘The New Moon', when a thunder flash was set to go off in a dustbin with the lid removed.    A member, noticing this, replaced the lid which a few minutes later hit the stage ceiling!   Fortunately, no-one was injured.

In ‘La Belle Helene' in 1963, the men were dressed in Grecian costumes with short skirts, and a certain patron sitting in the front row of the stalls (Mrs. Lorimer-Pratt), wrote to the local paper the following week complaining about the amount of male flesh exposed!

The ‘Dr. Who' series on television was very popular in 1965/66, and the producer of ‘The Wizard of Oz', Jimmy Lang, decided to disguise the wizard (Bob Laurie) as a Dalek.   Having constructed the full-sized Dalek, and mounted it on ball-castors, my father was pushed into this thing and birled around the stage.  Many a bruise and graze to his legs he got that week.

During the production of ‘Merrie England' in 1971, a jousting match between two foresters got a bit boisterous, and as they laid into one another with wooden staves, one of then broke and flew into the orchestra pit, narrowly missing a poor violinist's head!

I could go on all night, and I hope that you all will be recalling old times this evening, but I have particular fond memories of working with Maurice Logue, Ian McGilvray and Stewart McColl, all now departed this life, but who gave many years of service to ‘The Club', as we called it, and I'd like to pay tribute to them.

The Society has now staged 60 productions on an annual basis, even when Barrfields was closed for refurbishment, and the production that year had to be moved to the Arts Guild Theatre in Greenock.  That is a tremendous achievement, and a great credit to the twenty-something past presidents and their committees, who were determined each year to keep the Society alive and well.

Our predecessors must be very proud.   I'm sure none of them, including Mr. J. W. Oakley, would have dreamt that the Society they created would still be flourishing sixty years later.

We celebrated our 21st birthday with a formal dinner and dance in the Marine and Curlinghall Hotel in 1967; we have celebrated our 40th and 50th anniversaries, and tonight we celebrate our 60th.  Now we look forward to our 75th in 15 years' time.

May I wish you all good luck in your endeavours - please raise your glasses in a toast –

‘Largs Amateur Operatic Society and all who have served her'


L.A.O.S.  -  60th Anniversary Dinner Party

Guest Speaker Address by Jim Laurie