Words by Basil Hood and Music by Sir Edward German
The Guildhall,
October 1946
Cast List
The Earl of Essex
Sir Walter Raleigh
Walter Wilkins
Silas Simkins
Long Tom
Big Ben
The Queen's Fool
A Butcher
A Baker
A Tinker
A Tailor
A Lord
First Royal Page
Second Royal Page
Queen Elizabeth
Miss Bessie Throckmorton
The May Queen
Lady in Waiting

Notes on this performance

17. Merrie England

Business as usual…

It would be no exaggeration to say that SAOS was keen to start performing at the earliest opportunity. A committee meeting was held in April 1945 (a month before the death of Hitler), where a social / reunion evening was organised to allow the members to meet up again and enable the organisers to gauge whether a sufficient cast was available. Under the circumstances, Merrie England was thought to be a suitable opera to perform and, as there was now a serious shortage of theatres in the town, the Guildhall was chosen as the best venue available and February the favoured month.

The Reunion Meeting took place in the Conference Room at the Civic Centre and, with 80 members and friends attending, it was a successful evening. The Society had also received applications for membership from 31 people but, typically, only 21 turned up to audition and 16 were admitted as acting members – unfortunately, only three of them were men so it was decided to advertise for male singers and make enquiries via the Welfare Officer at Pirelli General. Some members were performing sooner than anticipated though, as the Southampton Entertainments Committee requested SAOS to contribute towards an event at the Avenue Hall in September - Mr Graham directed Cox and Box featuring Messrs S Egerton, A Tomalin and B Ellery.

It may have taken a World War but the long reign of the directing team of G W Mitchell and C J Andrews finally drew to an end. Mr Andrews had moved close to Christchurch and had been seriously ill so Mr D Cecil Williams was installed as MD.  Mr Mitchell was asked to carry on directing but declined the invitation. 

Three names were put forward as potential Producers for Merrie England and interviews were arranged. However, the panel was so impressed by Mr J Edwards (who had previously directed with Bristol Light Opera Club) that he was offered the post immediately. The date of the show was put back to March but there were too few men involved at that time, so the five performances eventually took place in October.

The single cast opera received a comparatively muted review from The Echo, ‘If only some of the company were able to infuse the essential quality of robustness into last night’s production...’ and, “chorus work is generally satisfactory; sometimes really very good, but occasionally ragged. First night nerves, including a jammed curtain, did nothing to soothe jangled nerves.’ However, Mr Egerton, who resigned when not awarded the part of Raleigh in 1937, made a good impression, ‘Sidney W. Egerton’s Raleigh is first rate. Everything he does is incisive and a useful contribution.’ The efforts of the ex-director were also appreciated, ‘The veterans have an unusually heavy burden, but bear it manfully and ably. George W. Mitchell’s restrained, intelligent fooling as Wilkins sets the right tempo for the many scenes he dominates.’

Nearly 5000 people saw the production and 2983 programmes were sold! The show made an impressive profit of £339 but a donation to a charity had not been considered as, ‘the Society had no idea of the support they would receive’. 

Terry O'Farrell

Photo of Raleigh

Sydney Egerton (Sir Walter Raleigh) with the Ladies' Chorus