History of the Society
Episode 1: The Beginning, The Little Theatre, and the End (almost) 1948-77
Way back in 1948, Bill Reeves, then Superintendent of the Evening institute, organised a drama class, which proved popular and developed into “Play Reading” sessions. Bill and Gilbert Gregson, joined by others such as Bill Carter and George Young, gradually formed the “Faringdon District Dramatic Society (FDDS)”.
Rehearsals were held in the Friends Meeting House opposite the Duke of Wellington in the Lechlade Road. Sets were built in garages and back gardens and the productions were staged in the Faringdon Corn Exchange (photo). The very first play “The Ghost Train” was presented in the Corn Exchange in April 1949.
The hut had been built by the Royal Marine Engineers during WWll and had been used as a cinema and afterwards as a agricultural store shed. The members did all the conversion themselves – repairing the roof, re-wiring, making theatre curtains etc. The seats were bought for 3/- each from the American Base at Brize Norton. At this time the society was affiliated to the Swindon & District Amateur Theatre Guild who sent representatives to help with the initial renovations.
A memoir: “The Little Theatre was the hut on the right and the Cadets on the left. l remember we put on a production of ‘The Water Babies’ there when I was at school. Our Drama teacher, George Young, belonged to the Club. It was very nice, looked so posh with beautiful red velvet curtains across the stage with red cinema seating. I don’t think anyone of us had seen inside a theatre before.” Gloria Stallard Foley.
After a lot of hard work by members The Little Theatre was official opened by Lord Faringdon in December 1953 with the production of Emlyn Williams’ “The Late Christopher Bean“. In 1954 the name of the society was shortened to the “Faringdon Dramatic Society (FDS)”.
During the twenty years at the Little Theatre, the Society staged 53 plays and this, of course, involved a considerable number of performers. Among them there appeared in 1970/71, an unknown amateur actress called Pam Ayres, who became the well-loved writer, broadcaster, entertainer and irreverent poet. She continued to be a patron of the Society for many years and her photograph was hung in the foyer of the theatre.
In 1972 the redevelopment of the old Marines Camp into the present housing estate (Marines Drive and Town End Road) was begun. So, after the final production “A Basinful of the Briny” staged early that year, the Little Theatre was lost, and the Society had to find alternative accommodation. There then followed a long period of virtual inactivity with just 4 productions over 6 years – two productions “The Brides of March” and “Beside The Seaside” were staged at Buckland Village Hall and “A Jubilee Pageant” was presented in All Saints Church.
Faringdon was transferred from Berkshire to Oxfordshire in 1974 and at some point changed their affiliation to the Oxfordshire Drama Network (ODN) and the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA).
The following press articles provide the full story:
Episode 2: The Faringdon Community Theatre 1978-94
In 1978 we became corporate members of Faringdon Community Association and were able to make good use of the fine new Faringdon Community Theatre and Community Centre that was the old Pump House (photo).
The name of the society was changed for a third time to the “Faringdon Community Dramatic Society (FCDS)“. Our first production there in October was “Post Horn Gallop“.
During the seventeen years as part of the Community Theatre, the Society staged a total of 49 plays. We started doing pantomime seriously in 1987 with “Sleeping Beauty” and have since produced one every year. A number of our plays and pantomimes have since received awards from the Oxfordshire Drama Network.
All profits received from the performances went into the coffers of the Community Association and it was becoming increasingly difficult to get the use of the premises.
Episode 3: Independence, Forward and Beyond 1995-2020
During the pantomime “Peter Panto” in 1995 relations with the management of the community centre finally broke down such that we became financially independent, broke, and homeless again. This produced a large split in the society and some long-standing members who had perhaps a limited idea of what was really going on behind the scenes left the society for good. If you are interested, the following document contains a collection of press articles that provide a more detailed account.
The Community Centre finally shut down completely in 1999. It was reported in The Folly Newspaper that three members of the Community Association were required to pay back £73,000 to the Town Council. Our ambitions for, or involvement in the future development of the theatre never came to fruition and it fell into dereliction for many years. A charitable organisation called “The Pump House Project” raised £19,000 to revamp the building and renovation work finally started in 2013. It is now well-used by the whole community for all sorts of activities. We do occasionally use the building but only for small events.
So after the panto in 1995, the name of the society was shortened back again to the “Faringdon Dramatic Society (FDS)”. Our next production was “Old Tyme Music Hall” or “The Good Old Days”, which was performed in the Faringdon Corn Exchange. Future productions then alternated between the Corn Exchange and the Secondary School, but mostly back at the Community Theatre for our pantomimes until 1999 when it and the Community Centre finally shut down.
With the new millennium, in January 2000 the Faringdon Dramatic Society website first went online. Its initial purpose was to advertise the society and start creating an archive of past productions. From 2010, tickets for our performances could also be purchased online.
Since 2004, with the production of “Dancing at Lughnasa“, we have taken up a more permanent arrangement with Faringdon Junior School and the occasional special performances at the Sudbury House Hotel and Buscot Park Theatre (photo). We have also had an ongoing exchange partnership with the Garrison Little Theatre in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada.
Please download our PowerPoint Presentation (7MB), which gives an overall view of the Society. It was shown to the public in the Corn Exchange in late 2018.
Due to the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, the general shutdown and stay-at-home policy instigated throughout the UK on 23rd March 2020, all planned productions following the pantomime had to be postponed until further notice. Meetings of the society continued occasionally via video conferencing, notably with a quiz and the occasional variety performance on a Friday evening.
Episode 4: 2021 – Post Coronavirus – Onwards and upwards (we hope!)
As the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic continued with a vengeance into 2021, no pantomime could be planned for that year and any other performances were uncertain.