History of the Lichfield Players
It all began in the early years of the Second World War when small groups of people, all anxious to help with the war effort, were raising money for charity.
One such group gave a musical concert and raised £38, quite an amount in those days. It was given to a Mrs Edith Bithall (later called Mrs Bith Davies) to help the Red Cross. The group decided to stay together as a musical society and called a general meeting and the Lichfield Operatic Society was born.
During rehearsals for their first production Merrie England the producer brought a friend along, Mrs M Byas, (a Colonel’s lady) who was anxious to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund and wished to borrow about ten of the members to put on a dramatic production. The chosen play was London Wall. This was put on at the Guildhall as it was the only suitable venue to house the expected audiences. There was no stage so a platform had to be erected over the magistrates benches. As long as the actors trod lighty and did not cough – then the scenery stayed upright!
A very good write-up appeared in the Lichfield Mercury on the following Friday, June 25th 1943. It began:
That there is ample scope in Lichfield for a permanent amateur dramatic society was again made manifest by the two crowded and appreciative audiences at the Guildhall on Saturday, when a company of local amateurs gave excellent and thoroughly enjoyable performances of John Van Druten’s three act comedy London Wall.
Mrs Byas and Mr Peach were the co-producers and Mr Peach called a meeting and suggested that the company stay together as a dramatic society based on the Canterbury Players. that is:
1To become a member by invitation
2To take part onstage or backstage
3Once a member always a member
4No membership fee
5All profits to go to charity
Thus the LICHFIELD AMATEUR PLAYERS (as it was then called) was born.
In the early years the society toured with their productions, taking them to the Royal Air Force at Fradley aerodrome, the Army at Whittington Barracks and also Brownhills and Chasetown areas. The Assembly Hall at the Grammar School in Lichfield was also used for productions. In 1945 the society entered their production of Black Chiffon by Lesley Storm in the Tamworth Drama Festival and won the cup for the best play with a mixed cast.
The society later became the Lichfield Players and although the original objectives changed over the years, they held their 50th celebrations at St Mary’s Centre, Lichfield on Saturday May 8th 1993. Around 125 members, past and present, met for a grand reunion. Guest of honour was Mr Leslie Davies, the Player’s very first Chairman and his wife Bith, who was a founder member. The very first secretary of the society also attended – Mrs Mary Watkins (nee Harrison). All three of them had appeared in London Wall.
The 60th celebrations were again held at St Mary’s Centre and took place on Saturday January 16th 2004. Mrs Mary Watkins and her husband were present, but as Leslie Davies had died, his wife Bith, felt it would be rather too much for her to attend. She sent a letter of apology including a humorous account of her early life in the Lichfield Players.
Mr Leslie Davies wrote his autobiography called One Man in his Time in which there is a more detailed report on the founding of the Lichfield Players. It is written in a highly amusing way and is well worth a read. Lichfield Library have copies.
The society also has some lovely archive scrapbooks, they include items dating back to 1943. The photographs and programmes in them are of great interest and they are still kept up to date, with all of the latest productions.
The original first programme, other original early programmes and various interesting items, including photographs and press cuttings are now with the St Mary’s Centre Archive Department for safekeeping. Any items can be requested and seen on their premises.
I would like to thank Leslie and Bith Davies for their help in compiling this short History of the Lichfield Players.
Past Chairman and President