History

Shortly after the First World War, Grassington looked forward to a brighter future with its call for a Dramatic Society, as follows: "Will all persons interested in the formation of a Dramatic Society for Grassington and neighbourhood, having for its initial object the raising of funds for the new Town Hall Extension, by means of the production of Stage Plays, please attend an inauguration meeting to be held at Mrs.Yarker's Tea Rooms, Station View, Threshfield, on Thursday, the 11th January 1923, at 8 pm, when it is hoped to elect Officers and Committee and to enrol members willing to take part in the production of Stage Plays. The desirability of such a Society, has, it is believed, long been felt in the locality and a good attendance is requested William Walker, Convener." The Rivals October 1952About 40 budding local thespians answered that first call, and the Society was born as 'The Grassington and District Amateur Dramatic Society', becoming 'Grassington Players' in 1928. The first President was the Rector, the Revd. J A Leighton, and the annual subscription set at 5 shillings. The first general meeting the following month drew 45 members and friends. A play 'The Younger Generation' was proposed, but withdrawn on the grounds that it might have hurt the feelings of the devout, since it was considered a slight skit on chapel going, "out of deference to the Rector." Instead, four one act plays were the Society's first offering:- 'Mother O'Pearl', 'No Servants', 'The Monkey's Paw' and 'Should This Meet the Eye'. Echoes of past arguments and occasional genteel discord gleam amidst the formal notes of old minute books. A member and his wife turned down the offer of parts in 'The Admirable Crichton' because "the parts were too small and suitable for less mature members of the Society". That was in 1927 and in 1974 it is recorded that "some reminder should be given regarding the general rules of behaviour, both written and unwritten, by the Secretary and/or Stage Manager, to the cast." Intriguing to know what occasioned that rebuke. In 1980, the production 'Saturday Night at the Crown' led to a minuted complaint over "the quantity of drinking involved." No doubt the contentious minutes of the committee meetings we hold today will be looked back upon with similar amusement in years to come. In those early days the committee chose the play to be performed, cast it and chose the producer, also known as the 'coach'. In the early years, the same producer was regularly used, Mr. Broxholme being selected for ten years, until in 1931 he resigned to stand for the Council in Bradford. However, he was back again later that same year. Mention is made at this time of the hire of Cordingley's Panotrope for musical accompaniment at a cost of £1, whilst Miss Harker's Band had also been used for musical selections in earlier productions. In 1932 Mr Sampson agreed to 'coach', conditional on the cast being word perfect before he attended rehearsals! Apart from the break for the duration of the Second World War, there is a continuous record of productions, usually three a year. There is also a proud record of success in competition, with outright wins in both local and Welsh Drama Festivals, plus individual best acting awards going to Jas. Harrison, Ruth Keighley, Wynne Anderton, Robin Garstone and David Baxter. The society has also been fortunate in being able to draw on the talents and services of stage professionals in J.R. Gregson and John Armitstead,both of whom have acted, produced and written plays for the society. Bear in mind that Grassington also supported a thriving Amateur Operatic Society in the early years, drawing on the same pool of performing talent. Thus the same names appear in early programmes for both:- Yarker, Lowcock, Rymer, Harrison and Benson, stalwarts also in physical as well as cultural pursuits. Similarly in latter years, Grassington Pantoloons were formed in order to stage an annual pantomime often featuring some Players stalwarts.
50th Anniversary Celebrations 1973Grassington Players have donated several thousands of pounds to worthy charities over the years. In 1942, in an article 'Drama in the Dales' published in the Dalesman, the producer - coach Mr. Sampson, wrote that £700 had been given to various charities by the Players. By 1947 that had risen to over £1000 and by 2006 at least £30,000, with the Players consistently raising in excess of £1000 per annum; no mean feat for an amateur theatre group in a rural location. A Christmas party at the Wilsons Arms in 1952 was budgeted at 5/- (25p) a head, whilst in 1960 Mrs. Garston was awarded 15/- (75p) for having had her hair rinsed red for a production. In the same year the AGM paid tribute to Mrs Smedley, for her role as Secretary for 25 years! A "confession" was recorded in 1961, when Stephen Butcher revealed that he had accepted a part with Skipton Players. This led in 1966 to concern being expressed over the "borrowing" of players by other societies - Skipton specifically. There are echoes again today as newly local Penny Plain travelling theatre company cast shares some of the Grassington Players members. The 50th Jubilee dinner planned for 1973 was budgeted at £1.50 each, plus service, at Tarn House, Skipton, whilst a buffet and dance at the Plough, Wigglesworth, cost £2.50 including coach fare. At this time programme advertisements cost £1 per1/4 page, which was increased to £10 per page in 1979. In 1976 a proposed production of Beside the Seaside was cancelled because of David Baxter's tragic death in a motor accident. In December 1982, a Panto, Dick Witty was produced and over 1000 people saw it performed over 4 nights.
Midsummer Nights Dream 1983In common with other societies, the same controversies have recurred amongst the Players down the years, ranging from the choice of a suitable play, the choice of producer, then the choice of cast. In addition, Grassington have had the extra dimension of a close and sometimes uneasy relationship with the Trustees of the Devonshire Institute. Ironic in that helping the Town Hall's finances was a prominent feature of the original convening appeal. In recent years, the Players have gained immense popular appeal nationally with their pre-Christmas Dickensian productions coinciding with the festivities in the village on December Saturdays. The Society is indebted to Keith Bromley, Andrew Jackson and Mark Bamforth, among others, for script writing for these productions which have generated substantial funds for charity and for the future plans of the society. Whilst not claiming to be a definitive list, it appears that over 200 plays, full-length, one-acts, shows and pantomimes have been performed, a proud record for a society operating in a small community looking ahead to its centenary.