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When Merrie England came to Stourbridge

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 23, 2014

By Gavin Jones

Charles Hackett as the Earl of Essex

Charles Hackett as the Earl of Essex

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THE BLACK COUNTRY has a long, proud history of amateur dramatics, with dozens of societies staging hundreds of plays and musicals over the years. It's a tradition that is very healthy to this day; several such groups advertise their productions regularly in the Bugle, and long may it continue.

We take you back to the years before the Second World War with these pictures though, to a staging of Merrie England by the renowned Stourbridge Amateur Dramatic Society.

It was billed as their 'Twenty-Seventh and Coronation Production', to mark the crowning of King George VI, and ran at Stourbridge Town Hall for a week, from Saturday 30 October to Saturday 6 November.

Merrie England, written by Edward German and Basil Hood, was set in Windsor on May Day 1565, during the reign of Elizabeth I. As the curtains parted, the Town Hall crowd were met with the sight of Gertrude Perry, playing the May Queen, being crowned.

Guarding the scene are the keepers of the forest, Long Tom and Big Ben, played by Charles Vann and Horace Greaves. Ben has already fallen for the May Queen, while Tom has designs on Jill-all-alone, a suspected witch played by Gladys Moyle, with the aid of a stuffed black cat.

The main plot revolves around a love letter written from Sir Walter Raleigh (Frank Stone) to Bessie Throckmorton (Kathleen Danks), which she manages to lose in the forest. It's found by the Earl of Essex (Charles Hackett) who, knowing that the queen, played by Gwen Vann, favours Raleigh but having designs on her himself, shows her the letter to rid him of his rival.

In the fashion of many a Shakespearian play, confusion and comedy reign, with Jill being sentenced to death by the queen, before being saved at the last when everything finally falls into place for the obligatory happy ending.

As is often the case with the programmes produced for such events, there are some fascinating glimpses into local shops and businesses, thanks to the adverts they'd placed. We've selected just two here in the hope they'll revive some strong memories.

'Save Walking – go by Bus!' advises one from Midland Red. There can't be many among us can honestly say they never took a ride on a Midland Red – but it seems a very long time ago now since the driver was sealed away in his own little compartment, leaving the ticket inspector – shown here on the step in cap and long coat – to deal with the passengers.

Less well-known perhaps was Samuel Smith and Sons Ltd, who occupied the Beehive Foundry in Smethwick, where they produced their patented Foresight Grates. Offering '4 Fold Service', they acted as a living room fire, cooker, and supplier of constant hot water, promising to reduce your coal bills into the bargain.

Do you have memories of a local amateur operatic or dramatic society you'd like to share? Send them to us by post, give us a call, drop by our office or email gjones@black country bugle.co.uk.

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