HISTORY OF THE CRANBROOK OPERATIC & DRAMATIC SOCIETY
The history below was last updated in time for the 80th anniversary of CODS which was celebrated at a special Dinner held on Saturday, 23rd September 2000.
Foundation of the Society
According to a statement printed in the programme of "The Street Singer" in 1930, the people who formed CODS were originally "an undefined body of friends, whose main object was to amuse themselves and to raise money for charity." Eventually Cranbrook Operatic & Dramatic Society became a recognised body affiliated to the National Operatic & Dramatic Association. With the first minute books in our history missing, we believe CODS was formed something like this.
In the Summer of 1919, a young woman called Daisy Allen was walking down the hill in Cranbrook when she met a newcomer to the town, Eva Campbell, an amateur theatre enthusiast who asked if Daisy could sing.
With a musical background, Daisy popped in to Eva's home to sing "The Moon and I" - Delighted with the sound, they both thought it would be a good idea to stage a musical in Cranbrook.
With tremendous excitement and enthusiasm, Daisy along with her church choir singing father, started recruiting among their friends and it wasn't long before they were able to hold their first meeting.
So, in the Autumn of 1919, CODS was officially formed. Major Alexander, who lived at Great Swifts was elected President and a new committee soon set to work arranging rehearsals for their first production - Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado".
With Eva in charge of production and in the role of Pitti Sing, Daisy was cast as Yum Yum with the local vicar, Reverend G.S. Provis cast as the Mikado. With rehearsals seemingly running into the small hours of the morning, one dress rehearsal in the Vestry Hall saw a man sent into the gallery with a hand bell under instruction to ring it every time he was unable to hear the dialogue - after several furious appeals, without success, he gave up.
Finally presented on January 28th - 29th 1920 in the Vestry Hall, the production played to full houses of local press and public, delighted and amazed at the talent shown by the local people. Eva's husband, Mr W. Campbell was in the chorus of the show, along with a Mr Hart, a local farmer, who would later drive members in his lorry to see various shows the Society were contemplating doing.
Eva became the first Secretary of the Society producing and acting in the production of "Miss Hook of Holland" before aspiring to Vice Presidency in 1921 and 1922 - leaving the district shortly after.
Until her tragic death at the age of 82 only a week before CODS Diamond Jubilee musical, Daisy Allen had been the last surviving founder member of the Society which to date has produced over 150 productions. Daisy's family have always taken an active role in the affairs of the Society. Her father, Thomas Allen, was orchestral secretary from the formation until 1935, playing the double bass.
Daisy owned a silver bowl which had been presented to her father, with the inscription 'Presented to Mr Thomas Allen by Cranbrook Operatic Society, 1919 - 1939'. Shortly after receiving this tribute, he passed away aged 80.
Daisy's brothers, Fred and Victor both played cello in the orchestra and her sister, May was in several of the early shows. A real family affair!
Daisy took a leading role both on stage and off and was always ready to lend items to the property list for a show - her untimely death was a sad loss to the Society.
The Early Years
Very little is known of events in the pre-war years, but out of the 14 musicals performed before the war, 8 were Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas - we've expanded our horizons since then!
Virtually all the shows up until 1977 were staged in the Vestry Hall in Cranbrook. At first, the Society had to pay for the stage to be put up.and taken down again professionally but later, timber was bought by the Society, and cut to make it possible for a team of members to erect and strike the stage for each production. The stage crew have an easy life now though! Ed. Only joking!
This stage had to be built in the Vestry Hall at one end of the Hall against two doors whose tops were then not high enough for the actors to get on-stage without bending double - many a bump on the head until you got used to it. In fact one actress in "Watch on the Rhine" (1925) bumped her head and had to be revived with brandy before she was fit to go on stage. Ed. A poor excuse!
The show in the early years not performed in the Vestry Hall was "Prunella" (1951), performed outdoors in a garden at Bakers Cross.
For this purpose, a few of the front rows of cinema seats had to be unscrewed from the floor and a special stage built, taking all night and immediately preceding the first performance. The whole process then had to be repeated in reverse before the Sunday morning when the cinema was handed back to the proprietor. It was decided that it wouldn't be practicable to repeat this in the future.
Two CODS shows performed in the Vestry Hall were repeated elsewhere, namely "The Chiltern Hundreds", (1951) repeated in Goudhurst and "Half a Sixpence", (1971) repeated in Hastings. We even staged "Annie, Get Your Gun" in Cranbrook's Regal Cinema - What a shame it had to make way for progress!
Previous Presidents of the Society have included such esteemed actresses as Dame Ellen Terry (1925-1927), who attended the matinee of "Outward Bound" in 1925 and Dame Edith Evans (1929-1931). Our Vice-Presidents have all been men and women who've given yeoman service to the Society in various capacities.
During the early years, the Society was able to make donations to several charities. In 1926 for instance, it was stated in a programme that the total amount given to charities as a result of the previous 14 shows was £364.00. It later became impracticable to do this as production costs increased so separate events
were staged - 1971, Christmas carols were sung to members of Hartley House - 1973, entertainment was provided in aid of the Leprosy Mission - 1978, Christmas carols were sung again in aid of Cancer Research and in more recent years, the Charity concert has emerged which makes money for both Charity and Society.
The War Years
CODS went into temporary hibernation during the war although members who remained in Cranbrook held play readings. One show, "To Have the Honour" was actually prepared for public production, but had to be abandoned because no available hall could be found for the performance.
This seems an opportune moment to mention "There'll Always Be An England", CODS 1995 VE Day celebration show which not only packed our current home, Queens Hall, but filled the theatre in our twin groups home of Lelystad. Many memories were drawn from the war years and the music and spirit echoed 5 decades later - continuing CODS tradition of show cases.
After the War
Revived in 1946, CODS produced only plays for the next 6 years. But after special efforts were made to raise money, the Treasurer reported at the 1951 AGM that the Society had £197.00 in hand - it was then decided that "The Mikado" should be staged the following Spnng.
Some interesting and amusing incidents have occurred during the passing time.
In "Candled Peel", (1946) one actor hadn't learned his lines in time, so his wife, the shows director, knowing the part by heart, put on trousers and acted the part instead.
In a one-act play performed in Maidstone shortly after the war, one scene took place in a kitchen, where there was supposed to be a kitchen range. The director insisted on a real kitchen range being used, so when volunteers prepared to strike the set in a 10 minute interval, they discovered this very heavy old range made of cast iron.
In negotiating the steep narrow steps from the stage, the bollom of the stove disintegrated and the four stage hands doing their best to cope were enveloped in a cloud of black soot. They somehow managed to restrain themselves and finished the job, but off the stage they laughed their heads off.
In "Quality Street" (1949), a bride had to enter in her wedding dress, but discovered that the dress was unfortunately in a drawer on the stage. Her maid therefore came on, and with great presence of mind went round the room with a feather duster and unostentatiously took the wedding dress out of the drawer and made a quick exit.
In "Watch on the Rhine" (1955), the director hung a portrait on the wall of a recently deceased lady, and was annoyed when an actress, who had known the lady in the portrait, said she would not act with the portrait on the stage. To satisfy the director, the portrait was put up, but before the actress appeared it was taken down, and put up again at the end of each show when the director saw it, not knowing it hadn't been there during the scene.
In one show, birds were supposed to be heard singing offstage. This was done with playing sound effect 'bird noises'. One member of the audience was heard after the show saying, 'Even the birds in the churchyard came in at the right time'.
Continuity is always a problem. In the one act play "A Kind of Justice" (1968), performed in Tunbridge Wells, some soldiers having recently climbed up through rough mountain country, arrived on stage with highly polished shoes!
"Annie, Get Your Gun" (1969) had one elderly member of the chorus who had sometimes to be a villager, sometimes a Red Indian and sometimes present at a ball in formal tails. One problem - he could never remember which scene he was preparing for, so someone had to keep an eye on him to see that he didn't go on stage as a Red Indian in a tail coat.
CODS gave a repeat performance of "Half a Sixpence" in Hastings in 1971. Shortly before the show started, the leading actor, ready on stage for the show to begin, asked a friend to bring him a glass of water. This the friend did quickly, but when he got back on stage, the curtain had gone up, so the friend had to back out hastily.
In "A Letter from the General" (1966), a well built actor sat heavily on a chair, the seat cover of which was fixed on with drawing pins. With a loud crackling noise, the pins flew out and shot all over the stage.
The hilarious production of "Noises Off" (1991) would've had a serious problem if any of the cast had needed a prompt, because she was in floods of tears of laughter watching and following the hectic action which takes place.
Some audience members at "Blue Remembered Hills" (1994) always looked skyward as a Spitfire flew overhead at the beginning of each show - the plane was on a sound track played over speakers!
In "The Sorcerer" (1973), several children took the parts of spirits. When the call-boy looked for them, they were found out in the churchyard, sitting on gravestones in 'spirit costumes' making frightening faces at passers by.
At the vital moment when Jack Worthing tells Lady Bracknell where he was found in the production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" (1989), a member of the invited audience uttered the immortal words' . . . a handbag?' before the actress playing Lady Bracknell even opened her mouth!
In the same production, the character Algernon had to consume a number of cucumber sandwiches - he has to clean the plate - so as the performances progressed through the week, the pile of sandwiches on each plate grew and grew! He still managed to eat them all though!
One demonstrative musical director used by the Society turned to the audience before the overture at one performance and told them quite categorically that they should listen to it tonight - previous audiences had talked through the overture and she didn't like it! Ed. Any guesses as to who this dear friend was?
At one time it was not the custom for the Society to give bouquets to the actresses. The only bouquets were those sent by members of the audience at the beginning of the show. On the last night of one particular show, it was discovered that bouquets had been received for all the actresses except one. One enterprising official of the Society rushed home and made a bouquet from flowers picked from his garden, so that no feelings were hurt.
In one show the Treasurer mixed up his own cash with that of the Society Ed. A likely story! - The Society suffered some loss as a result.
"Trial by Jury" (1965), was performed in modern dress of the time. The 'defendant' was a pop singer.
During one performance to the invited OAP audience, one old lady in the front row was a little deaf. Her friend kept explaining to her in a loud voice what was happening, the actors hearing every word. One remark the friend made was, "Oh, that's Mrs C. I never knew she was such a cat!"
An actress injured herself during a performance of "Show Boat" (1986), and had to be taken to casualty in an ambulance still in full costume and black make-up.
One of the leading actors in "The Gondoliers" (1985), lost his voice and had to mime as all his musical numbers were sung from the wings by another actor.
In "La Vie Parisienne" (1979), in an early scene the stage was a railway platform. A train arrived drawn by of course an engine driven by the stage manager. Only the engine was visible to the audience, and when the engine stopped, passengers from the train came on stage from a side entrance. But on the first night, the engine got stuck and the passengers came in from the entrance before the engine was seen. This was put right for the rest of the week.
In "Tom Jones" (1993), an actress and actor were left on stage ad libbing to their hearts content, seemingly abandoned by two cast members who were supposed to be on. It turned out, the two missing characters were deep in conversation outside having a swift cigarette!
One pirate in "The Pirates of Penzance" (1993), asked some passing pirates when it was time to go on for a particular scene, only to find out that they were just coming off and he'd missed the moment.
In "The Mikado" (1952), some of the male chorus were late on the stage, having been playing cards in the dressing room.
In "lolanthe" (1954), the Queen of the Fairies got her crinoline costume caught on the scenery, and had to 'do her stuff' from a fixed position, until one of the fairies noticed her predicament and went to release her. In the same show, after the fairies had tripped round the stage and come into position, one of them absentmindedly did another round on her own!