“SEVENTY TUNEFUL YEARS”

Right from the beginning of their history in 1946, when they “sang a song for sixpence” -  the price of their first show programme - Largs Amateur Operatic Society have woven themselves into the fabric of the town's life and affection.

No Largs social calendar would be complete without the Society's regular Spring productions in Barrfields Pavilion.    Even in 1995, when major renovations to the theatre as a central part of the new Vikingar! tourist attraction forced a temporary move to Greenock's Arts Guild, local audiences trooped up the coast in their thousands to cheer on the Club's efforts as usual.

In fact, it would be quite true to say that the Society is more like a great, big family, whose influence has inspired and held together a wide circle of townspeople over many years.

Some might even describe its membership as not so much a club as a way of life!

Musical direction too has always been of the highest standards under the baton of various conductors since Joe Oakley, like John Millard, Jack Murray, Hamish Good, Eoin Hamilton, Derek Fry, and from the Sixties by the ubiquitous Jim Tait, and his sister-in-law Elmar Kennedy who also played many leading lady roles during the Sixties and Seventies.

Both made huge contributions to successful shows, beginning in 1959 with “The Merry Widow'' when Jim was first teamed with J. Lawson Auld, and later with Jim Lang and Ray Linn Craig, followed by Elmar's regular musical direction from 1981 to 2012.  She and Peggy Inglis shared the credit for most shows in the Eighties and Nineties.   Certainly Tait is a name that is typical of the Society's family tradition and Jim's children, particularly Stuart, have all been bitten by the same musical bug, appearing either on stage or in the orchestra over the years.
Sadly Elmar died in January 2014 aged 85, and recent musical direction has been in the capable hands of David Edwards.

The singing and the joy of entertaining are important obviously.  But so too are the hundreds of endearing friendships and relationships forged over the last 60 years.     Some even blossomed into romance and marriages among members are certainly not uncommon.    Children, too, have become involved with shows in various capacities and some programmes include the names of three generations of one family, all at the same time!

There is a strong musical tradition running in the veins of many Largs families and this has provided ceaselessly an ongoing wealth of talent from which successive musical directors and producers have cast their shows. Indeed, many local “stars” could easily have made the transition to the professional stage.

J.W.Oakley, L.R.A.M, A.R.C.M
First Musical Director

Church choirs have also been a rich seam of society songbirds, so perhaps it's not surprising to learn that many of the original members were from St. Columba's Parish   Church,   whose distinguished  organist and   choirmaster, J. W. Oakley, was to be the Society's first musical director.  To this day, he is remembered with a trophy awarded annually to the most gifted young singer at Largs Academy.

However every show team must have its two halves to make it whole, and Joe Oakley worked in close harmony with another early stalwart, producer Duncan M. McCallum (of The Elderslie Hotel owning family) – for every production from “A Country Girl'' in 1947 until 1951 when Irishman Livy Arnstrong came to town and took over production.

Duncan M McCallum
First Producer

The following year “new brooms'' W. McLean Leitch and J. Lawson Auld swept into these jobs, but over succeeding years all four of these talented men spurred on the Society's efforts in various roles.

Since those days, many other maestros and producers have made their mark in Society life.  Inspired production came from people like Tom Raffel, Greta Maxwell, Arthur M. Dingwall, Murray Thomson, Aileen P. Mitchell, David Craig, Frederick Kristoff, Bill Robertson, Geoff Dickson, Carole M. Fry, Barclay Duff, Helen Dick, Ray Linn Craig, Jim Lang, choreographer Peggy Inglis, Walter Paul of Glasgow Orpheus Club fame, Linda McMurray, and in recent years the talented Irene Cameron.

Of course, not all shows have run smoothly.  Accidents will happen.  Illness strikes, scenery falls, curtains occasionally stick, and a dog once ate half of an important show hat, left temporarily on the back seat of a car.   But perhaps the most expensive boob was when the Operatic's touring concert party accidentally set off the fire sprinkler system in a Greenock theatre and flooded the place.     Everyone had to pad about in wellington boots, recalls one member, still remembering the embarrassment!

Jack Murray
Down the years other similar Society families come to mind - the Orrs (father J. B. was one of the Society's longest serving presidents, and his three daughters are still patrons to this day);   the Murrays (Jack was M.D. and accompanist while wife and two daughters were also involved); the Lauries (Bob and Mary founder members - son Jim, his wife and sister); the Whites (Provost J. Miller White, wife Cathy, daughter Pat);  the Smeatons (famous twins Eric and Alan,  wife Jean and parents);  the Frazers (Betty and the late John both former presidents, children involved too); the Andersons (Fiona president and Craig stage manager);  the Inglis husband and wife team, Tom as stage manager; the McGintys (Joe leading parts, Janette various backstage and raffle responsibilities and daughter Clare, dancer) and the McGills (Fairlie lead parts, Marelle mostly prompt).  Both the latter couples were Society romances, but Fairlie's Hathorn grandparents were Society stalwarts way back, as early president and committee members.   Recent partnerships who are regularly on the boards are Bob and Anne Randall, and Matthew and Karen Wilkin.

Helpers all down the years have also included many excellent office-bearers, committee members, back stage and front of house volunteers, without whom there would have been no shows.

Just as the people in Largs Amateur Operatic Society have been many and varied over the last 70 years, so have the shows.

They have ranged from old favourites like Good Night Vienna, The Lilac Domino and The Maid of the Mountains through the jazzier Rio Rita, Oklahoma, Showboat and Kismet, to the more modern Sound of Music, South Pacific, The King and I, Hello Dolly! and Guys and Dolls.     There has always been a dash of Gilbert and Sullivan too - Largs' musical taste is very catholic.

Seventy years on, Largs Amateur Operatic Society shows no sign of ageing. Still vigorous. Still thriving. Still popular. Still expanding - concerts and shows for charity - Palm Court melodies for tourists.

R.Laing Robertson - the first president - and all his successors, too many to mention, must be proud of that original “song for sixpence” that has grown into one of Largs' most priceless assets.

Let's look forward to our centenary!

Elmar Kennedy
Much has been done in recent years to encourage and develop the Junior Section - the future life blood of the Society.   Excellent productions such as Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz and Half a Sixpence in recent years have displayed our emerging young talent.  
Irene Cameron - Our Producer since 2008