Words by Basil Hood and Music by Sir Edward German
The Grand Theatre,
April 1937
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
First Royal Page
Second Royal Page
Queen Elizabeth (a)
Queen Elizabeth (b)
Miss Bessie Throckmorton (a)
Miss Bessie Throckmorton (b)
'Jill-all-Alone' (a)
'Jill-all-Alone' (b)
The May Queen (a)
The May Queen (b)
Kate (a)
Kate (b)

Notes on this performance

14. Merrie England

A Coronation event…

In 1936, The Mayor of Southampton (Alderman Sanders) attended the AGM in his official position of President of SAOS, where he witnessed the members turn down the Committee’s recommendation of HMS Pinafore / Trial by Jury as the 1937 show in favour of Princess Ida. Both the new Guildhall and the Grand Theatre were considered as potential venues, but the former was considered to be too big and the latter too expensive – initial enquiries showed that the Grand seated 594 and, if all houses were sold out, the Society would still make a loss of £60.

After deciding to reverse the decision of the members and stage Pinafore/Trial at The Avenue Hall - offering the company 2/6d (12.5p) each to help with the purchase of scores - the Committee was given the chance to renegotiate terms with the Grand Theatre and found them now to be very favourable (70% - 30% to the Society for the first £350). In addition to this, Mr Hughes declared that, as the group gave all of its profits to charity, then it should be exempt from Entertainment Tax; consequently the Society signed up to perform in a ‘proper theatre’ for the first time. 

Once the big decision had been made, the Committee felt that the imminent Coronation of George VI should be marked in some way and changed the production to Merrie England. They also added a Saturday matinee for the first time and introduced honoraria for the Directors, Accompanist and Choreographer - Miss Leonora Budden was paid three guineas (£3.15) for her dancing tuition. Selecting the principals again caused some trouble; the main ladies’ roles were all double-cast but the Casting Committee could not decide on who should play the important part of Raleigh – they narrowed it down to Messrs Egerton and Warren and called for a re-audition. However, Mr Egerton did not take kindly to this and promptly resigned from the Society - he was persuaded to reconsider but then refused to be in the opera or carry on as Treasurer. Mr V Bowles subsequently asked to be considered as Raleigh and was awarded the part ‘subject to a satisfactory audition.’

Mr Warren must have felt a little unfortunate not to win this prized role but the Echo reporter was very impressed by his rival, ‘Among the high spots of the performance was Victor Bowles’s exquisite singing in the role of Raleigh. Indeed his singing throughout was beautiful.’  The Producer was also singled out, ‘Mr. Mitchell, as Wilkins the poet, lifted the show, every time he appeared, on to a high comedic plane,’ whilst the MD made a big impact, ‘Mr. Andrews may be congratulated on his handling of the orchestra whose excellent general playing and appropriate modulations were an important factor in the general success.’ A tradition that has not stood the test of time is the Chairman’s speech from the stage before the final curtain, thanking the audience, Producer and MD before presenting bouquets to the principals. 

An amazing 4301 paid to see Merrie England and full house signs meant that many others were disappointed. Entertainment Tax was not charged and the production made a profit of £62 0s 6d which was donated to Southampton Children’s Hospital. 

Terry O'Farrell

mer37 2

Photo of Company

Left front: Victor Bowles (Sir Walter Raleigh), Cicely Siggers (Miss Bessie Throckmorton), Behind her: Mary Richens ('Jill-All-Alone'), Centre back: Philip E Graham (Long Tom), Mollie Connolly (The May Queen), Right front: Charis Fry (Queen Elizabeth), Alfred J Tomalin (The Earl of Essex), Frank Culver (The Queen's Fool)


 LB books dog

Hopefully coming to you in early 2021!