In 1908 a group of like-minded singers (possibly in the main, members of Barnes Choral Society) met at the invitation of a Mr. Leopold Glasspoole to discuss the possibility of forming an Operatic Society. As a result of the excitement engendered at that meeting the inevitably named Barnes Operatic & Dramatic Society, or BODS for short, was formed, and the rest as they say is history!
Mr. Glasspoole was a seasoned performer and conductor, having been previously the Hon. Conductor of Woodford (Essex) Operatic Society, and still a member of a male voice quartette called the ‘Wandering Glee Singers’. He was immediately elected Conductor and the society began rehearsals for its first chosen production Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’. This was duly and successfully staged in February 1909 at the Byfield Hall, Barnes. (This venue subsequently became the Barnes Picture House in 1923, then the Barnes Theatre in 1925, but is better known today as the OlympicCinema) Not wishing to stand on their laurels the society immediately set to work on a production of ‘HMS Pinafore’ for May of that year.
The society were fortunate to elicit the support of Mr. Rutland Barrington, (the original D’Oyly Carte Pooh-Bah) as one of their Vice Presidents and one reviewer commented on his possible influence. ‘The orchestra was firm and well under control, and its accompaniment of the vocal music suggested the possible influence of Mr. Rutland Barrington, seeing that it was always more a soothing harmony of undertones than a foaming wave that drowns the singer’s voice.’
Throughout the 1910s and 1920s the works of Gilbert & Sullivan held a dominant place in the BODS repertoire, with other now rarely, if ever performed pieces such as ‘Merrie England’ and ‘Les Cloches de Corneville’.
In 1932 the society settled into its new home, the Kitson Hall, where it continued to produce two or three shows a year until the intervention yet again of war.
On the 6th June 1946 a meeting was held at ‘The Sunshine Pantry’ to discuss the possibility of restarting the society. At an EGM called on 3rd July it was unanimously agreed to resume productions. The society had £70 to its credit at that time. In October the reformed society chose ‘Iolanthe’ as its first production. This was duly staged in May 1947.
A period of stability then followed with the company performing on average two major shows per year through the 1950s, reducing to one in the early 1960s. This was the era of the ‘modern’ musical and BODS was quickly on the bandwagon producing ‘Carousel’ in 1963, ‘South Pacific’ in 1964, and ‘Most Happy Fella’ in 1965. Also in 1965 the chairman, Councilor Geoffrey Needs, achieved a long time ambition of his for the society. Agreement to perform at the prestigious Richmond Theatre, and an accompanying name change to mark the occasion to the Barnes & Richmond Operatic Society. The first BROS production was ‘Carousel’ in May 1966.
Into the 1970s BROS began performing two shows each year at Richmond including the amateur premiere of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in 1974. The 1975 production of ‘Mikado’ at Richmond Theatre lists a Mr. Alan Titchmarsh as playing Ko-Ko. One reviewer wrote ‘Mr. Titchmarsh can leap about the stage and perform astonishing contortions of legs and body while at the same time giving out with the old high notes.’ Smaller productions took place at York House in Twickenham and in the 1980s at The Questors Theatre in Ealing.
Then in 1988 Richmond Theatre closed for refurbishment. Forced to adapt the company set about producing back-to-back pairings of studio productions at the Parkshot Theatre as well as larger productions in a variety of venues. A sell out return to Richmond Theatre in 1990 with ‘Oliver!’ heralded the company’s arrival in a new era promoting high quality major shows in major venues alongside lesser known productions in smaller venues. Then came Touring productions. First to the Minack open-air Theatre in Cornwall to which we are now regular travelers, and also to Polesden Lacey.
In 1999 the company re-branded itself as BROS Theatre Company and for the second year running produced four very different shows. 2000 saw our first venture at the new Hampton Hill Playhouse where we are also now well established. Three times in the last ten years small BROS studio style productions have been voted Best Musical at the Arts Richmond Awards Ceremony in competition with major shows at Richmond Theatre and the company has enhanced its reputation for excellence across all sizes & styles of musical theatre production.
In 2008 the company celebrated its Centenary by staging 4 productions during the year culminating in a Gala hosted by our Patron and long time member Alan Titchmarsh. Throughout the year several other special social events took place on the back of which we are planning to create an Alumni Association for anyone previously connected with the society.
As we head into our second century of performance we welcome contact from past members and donations of memorabilia for our expanding archive. Here’s to the next 100 years.
Please contact the archivist on the email below or write to:
Wesley Henderson Roe,
4a Park Avenue,
Hounslow, TW3 2LZ
Wesley Henderson Roe
Archivist : 2009