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Welwyn Garden City


The Welwyn Drama Festival 1929-1987

(A short account compiled by Harold J. Stull)

Author: Harold J. Stull (compiler)

Published: 1987 (publisher not given*)

Format: Paperback 11¾" by 8¼" with 223 pages

* I think this work has been produced privately.

 

 

 
Contents
 
 
Acknowledgements 1

Some thoughts about drama festivals in general . . .

2
. . . and about the Welwyn Drama Festival in particular 6

Directors of the Welwyn Festival Association

15
The Welwyn Drama Festival Awards 16

The Welwyn Drama Festival, 1929-1987
 
A brief chronological survey

18-185
    Regulations 1947 59-60  
    Rules 1975 146-147  
  Plays performed 186
  Authors of plays performed 201
  Societies which have competed 211
  Adjudicators 217

The Guild of Drama Adjudicators

218
The British Drama League / British Theatre Association 219

Why Drama Festivals ?

221

Books for the darker winter evenings

223
 
 

 

 
Acknowledgements
 
 

I am much indebted to Judith Claxton, the present Secretary of the Welwyn Festival Association Ltd. for placing the entire Festival archive at my disposal and for bearing patiently with a variety of questions afterwards.

Others to whom I am grateful for casting light into dark corners are Angela Eserin and Elaine Dunnicliffe of the Welwyn Garden City Library; Enid Foster, Library Consultant to the British Theatre Association; Brenda Nicholl, Secretary of the National Drama Festivals Association; Roy Stacey, the former Editor of 'Amateur Stage'; and Dick Litster, of Welwyn Garden City. Stanley Meyrick, whose idea it was that I might write this account, made a number of valuable suggestions and has been encouraging throughout.

I have attempted to obtain the publisher's consent to the reproduction of an extract from George Taylor's 'History of the Amateur Theatre', but my request received neither acknowledgment nor reply. Nevertheless I acknowledge with thanks the source of the chapter titled, as George Taylor titled it, "Why Drama Festivals ?". The book is out of print.
 

 
  Welwyn Garden City
October 1987
H. J. S.  
 

 

 
 

Some thoughts about Drama Festivals in general . . . . .


This four-page article is a most excellent essay which I would dearly like to reproduce here if given permission. I cannot find it anywhere already published on the Internet.

synopsis

Mr Stull begins with the earliest recorded competitive drama festival in Athens in 534 BC, being part of a religious festival honouring the god Dionysus.

The tragic dramas of Aeschylus sprang from the dithyramb, a choral dance narrating a legend of the gods performed by fifty men and boys. Thespis of Attica in about 560 BC introduced speeches into the performances with first one, then two or three actors wearing masks.

From the comus, a procession with songs, the comedy developed. Aristophanes won first prize at the Lenaean Festival with the play "Archanes" in about 425 BC.

Mr Stull describes the Dionysic festivals which lasted five or six days and included a competition in the singing and performance of dithyrambs. Next he describes the performance of plays on a level area beneath the Acropolis. Later was built the Skene, a building forming a backing to the acting area and providing a place for the actors to change dress and masks.

By the third century BC, acting and musical performances had spread throughout the Hellenic world. Mr Stull's account continues with a brief résumé of the Roman, medieval periods and up to the present day.

 
 

 

 
 

. . . and about the Welwyn Drama Festival in particular


synopsis

Mr Stull says that the Welwyn Drama festival dates from 27th February 1929 when five people founded a committee. They were L. W. P. Barber, W. B. Johnson, J. C. Nairne, F. J. Osborn and Flora Robson. Osborn was chairman and Barber secretary (later succeeded by Frances Levy).

The aim of this Drama Festival Committee was to organise a drama festival which would form part of the Welwyn Garden City Festival Week, which was to run from 6th to 13th July 1929. Festival Week was a splendid event according to Mr Stull, attracting over 10,000 visitors even though the population of the town itself was then only 7,000. A grant of £50 was granted by the main Festival Week committee to the drama committee. A prize of ten guineas was to be awarded to the winner.

At this point, I am taking the liberty of quoting in full five paragraphs of Mr Stull's article because they relate to C. B. Purdom of whom I have a particular interest. (I have a web menu dedicated to Purdom's works which can be accessed by clicking here.) I hope this is acceptable. If not I shall remove the paragraphs with apology.


The first Festival Committee were fortunate in having a solid bedrock of local enthusiasm for amateur drama on which to build their festival and a community which at so early a stage in its development had acquired a taste for festival achievement. For this, Welwyn Garden City owed a great debt of gratitude to one of its founders, C. B. Purdom. No account of the amateur theatre in WGC should fail to acknowledge his contribution, and it is worth spending a little time to examine why this should be so.

Charles Benjamin Purdom (1883 - 1965) was a Letchworth Garden City pioneer. With Ebenezer Howard and Frederic Osborn he was a founder member of the National Garden Cities Committee, formed immediately after the first World War. In 1919 he became Secretary of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association and the editor of its monthly journal. He was one of the founders of Welwyn Garden City, a member of the Board of Welwyn Garden City Ltd, and Finance Director and first Managing Director of Welwyn Stores Ltd. In the 1930s he was elected to Welwyn Garden City U.D.C. as an Independent member. He was a remarkably gifted man with great executive ability and an immense capacity for detailed work, and he had great influence on the development and administration of WGC in its early years. He also had a reputation for being outspoken, stubborn, tactless and difficult to get on with. He brought these diverse qualities in full measure to amateur drama, for which he had a great and abiding enthusiasm. A perfectionist, he founded the Letchworth Dramatic Society in 1906 and under his guidance it achieved a considerable reputation. Purdom maintained that there was greater value in a performance by amateurs who loved drama for its own sake than one by professionals who performed for a living. He also held that amateurs could make a more worthwhile contribution to the theatre by concentrating on less popular and non-commercial works than by attempting to ape the professionals. For example, in 1912 his Letchworth society gave the first performance by English players of G. B. Shaw's "The Shewing up of Blanco Posnet" when that play was still banned by the censor. The first World War put an end to Purdom's Letchworth Dramatic Society as it put an end to so much else. Purdom edited the Swan edition of Shakespeare's plays, and in addition to his writings about the New Town concept he wrote books on Producing Shakespeare and What Happens in Shakespeare. His Producing Plays is something of a standard work for amateurs, as is his Drama Festivals and their Adjudication. He had much influence on festival work through the Guild of Drama Adjudicators, of which he was a founder member and the first Secretary.

Scarcely had the paint dried on the first newly-constructed houses of Welwyn Garden City when, in May 1921, Purdom gathered together a group of local residents and produced "The Shewing up of Blanco Posnet" in the Brickwall Barn. This was followed later in the year by the Welwyn Theatre Society's “Candida” in the restaurant of the Cherry Tree. Between then and mid-1929 a total of 37 additional full length productions (one of them performed in the French language) were staged in WGC by local societies and another nine by visiting companies.

Nor was C. B. Purdom inactive in drama festivals. The first one-act drama festival organised by the British Drama League (BDL) was held in 1926 and attracted seven entrants. The adjudicator was W. A. Darlington (the Daily Telegraph's theatre critic) and he travelled to the parts of the country where those seven competitors performed. The winners were the Huddersfield Thespians, whose production of "St Simeon Stylites" was subsequently taken to America to compete unsuccessfully in a Little Theatre Tournament in New York. It was perhaps characteristic of C. B. Purdom that he lost no time in making known his disagreement with the adjudicator's decision. He felt that the Theatre Society's entry ("The Banns of Marriage", produced by him) was more worthy of the first place - and in the light of the adjudicator's comments it is difficult not to feel some sympathy with his point of view. The adjudicator had said in the Daily Telegraph that the WGC Society's production was on a commercial level and would succeed anywhere, while the Huddersfield entry was a more representative amateur effort. Purdom considered this to be a reflection on Huddersfield's standard of performance.

But Purdom can be said to have had the last laugh when, towards the end of 1926, the BDL's National Festival of Community Drama was established. This time 107 societies took part and early in 1927 Purdom's production of "Mr. Sampson", again with the Welwyn Theatre Society, was unanimously placed first by the three judges who included W. A. Darlington. The other two were Sybil Thorndike and John Drinkwater. The Theatre Society then took the play to America, where it also came first in the New York Little Theatre Tournament, winning the Belasco Cup.

Returning now to the 1929 WGC Festival Week and its drama festival, fifteen societies performed in it. Each performance was limited to forty minutes, and props had to be brought on and removed by the actors. Dr L. T. M. Gray, chairman of the U.D.C. donated The Welwyn Cup, made locally by J. P. Steele, to be presented to the winner.

The U.D.C. asked the Committee to organise another drama festival in 1930 and so it became an annual event.

Mr Stull continues with his summary of the history of the Welwyn Drama Festival. In this he argues that it "can reasonably claim to be the oldest independent one-act amateur drama festival, open to all comers, in the United Kingdom."

The festival was held in the Welwyn Theatre from 1929 until 1973. Mr Stull gives an account of the disagreement with the Council over the number of seats to be provided in the planned new theatre in the Campus West building. From 1974 the Festival was held at Campus West. Mr Stull ends with a 1954 quotation of words by Frederic Osborn, who was Chairman 1929-1965 and after that President until his death in 1978 aged 93:

The Festival Association is a non-profit company; its Directors are honorary and their Festival helpers are volunteers. It is because of voluntary service that the Association has been able, at prices of admission very low by live entertainment standards, to pay its way, to make grants to societies towards their production and travelling expenses, and to save a small balance for emergencies. We have never had any Arts Council grants or charitable subscriptions . . . . The future of the Festival must depend on (1) the societies willing to compete; (2) the audiences willing to witness their plays; and (3) a sufficiency of voluntary workers to run the Festival.

 
 

 

 
 

The main body of the book (169 out of 223 pages) comprises articles about each of the festivals from 1929 to 1987 (which was the 53rd festival - there was a wartime break from 1941 to 1045, and there was no festival in 1963 due to a fire at Welwyn Theatre in November 1962.) These 53 articles describe significant events regarding the festivals and list the plays performed and companies taking part, and the winners. The members of the Committee for the year are given, as is the adjudicator, plus other details such as ticket prices and profits (or losses) made. In the 1947 and 1975 articles detailed regulations are given.

After the series of 53 articles about each festival are some pages of factual information:

There is a list of plays performed at festivals with the year or years of the performances. The most-performed play was How he Lied to her Husband (George Bernard Shaw) - performed seven times. The next-most-performed were five plays which were each performed five times; they were: A Resounding Tinkle (N. F. Simpson), Hands across the Sea (Noel Coward), Sganarelle (Molière), The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (George Bernard Shaw), and The Lover (J. M. Sierra).

There is a list of authors whose plays were performed with the year or years of the performances. George Bernard Shaw featured in 24 of the 53 festivals; David Campton's plays were in 16 festivals; Noel Coward and William Shakespeare each had plays performed in 14 festivals.

There is a list of societies which competed with the year or years of the performances. The Settlement Players (Letchworth) competed in the most festivals - 39 out of 53. Next came Company of Ten (St Albans) performing in 26 festivals. ICI (Welwyn) D. C. performed in 25. Welwyn Thalians performed in 24.

There is a list of festival adjudicators with year or years.

Following these lists are three short articles and a bibliography. The first article I am reproducing here because of my interest in C. B. Purdom. Hope this is acceptable.

THE GUILD OF DRAMA ADJUDICATORS

The Guild of Drama Adjudicators was formed in 1947, mainly as a result of widespread dissatisfaction with standards of adjudication in the boom years of drama festivals immediately following the second World War. It is said to have been due to an influential editorial article in Amateur Stage that the Guild was made independent of the British Drama League.

Nobody disputed the need to strengthen and maintain standards of adjudication, but while it was an easy matter to set up a Guild from among the people who had long experience of adjudication it was not so simple to assess the merits of others who wished to join it. It was felt that prospective members should be given some sort of training followed by an examination to establish competence.

So far, so good. But who was to approve the examiners ? And were the founder members to undergo the same tests as those seeking membership ? Those who asked these questions clearly saw a danger that the GODA would become a self-satisfied closed shop.

The Guild's first Chairman was E. Martin Browne and its first Secretary was C. B. Purdom. They decided that those who sought membership would be required to attend a course on adjudication and, afterwards, to watch an amateur performance of a play and give a satisfactory public adjudication on it. They would also have to submit a written paper on some aspect of drama adjudication and finally satisfy an approval board of their competence as adjudicators. If satisfactory they would be made associate members of the Guild and after six adjudications might, on the reports of festival organisers, become full members.

Browne and Purdom also led the way in improving standards of adjudication of amateur drama by laying down principles of practice to which the Guild's members would be expected to adhere. The Guild's other objects were, and are, to ensure that qualified adjudicators are available to all organisations promoting amateur drama, to protect the interests of its members, and to provide continuing opportunities for discussion and tuition on matters concerning adjudication. The Guild publishes a directory containing, among other things, a list of member adjudicators and the conditions of their engagement.

Fears expressed at the time of the Guild's formation that it might become 'a self-governing body of adjudicators . . . . a body of self-righteous pedants, smug in their own authority' seem, happily, to have been unjustified - so far. A former editor of Amateur Stage has commented that it would be a pity if the Guild were ever to be viewed in such an unfavourable light by those dedicated and experienced amateurs who have neither the time nor the inclination to face a London-based approval board. They might feel that by not being members of GODA they were being denied the opportunity to serve the amateur theatre in a capacity for which, judged by all other criteria, they were fully qualified.


After this is an article entitled The British Drama League / British Theatre Association. In this article, Mr Stull describes how Geoffrey Whitworth was the driving force behind the founding of the British Drama League in 1919. The aims were the establishment of a national theatre policy, establishment of theatre faculties at universities, and the development of drama in the life of the nation. The League published a regular magazine Drama. After WW-II the League had 5,000 societies as members. Premises at Fitzroy Square were acquired, but the finances of the organisation became parlous due to poor business management. In 1972 the name was changed to British Theatre Association.

 
 

 

 
 

Books for the darker winter evenings

  History of the English Drama, 1660-1900. Nicoll 1952
  The Seven Ages of the Theatre. Southern/Faber 1962
  World Theatre. Gascoigne/Ebury Press 1968
  History of the Amateur Theatre. Taylor/White Horse Library 1976
  The Theatre in the Middle Ages. Tydeman/C.U.Press 1978
  Entertainment and Ritual. Bucknell/Stainer & Bell 1979
  Five Thousand Years of Theatre. Mitchley & Spalding/Batsford 1982
  History of the Theatre in Europe. Allen/Heinemann 1983
  A History of the Theatre. Nickham/Phaidon 1985