BATS celebrate 100 years of song, dance and drama

RAVE ON: Batley Amateur Thespian Society's Centenary show.
RAVE ON: Batley Amateur Thespian Society's Centenary show.

Fresh from its action-packed musical show, an amateur dramatics company is celebrating a century of song, dance and drama.

Batley Amateur Thespian Society (BATS) was formed in October 1913 to raise money for Batley and District Hospital with its performances – and is still going strong 100 years on. The society, which has members from across the district, kicked off its 100th birthday year with The Magic of Musicals, an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of classic shows from the West End and Broadway.

The finale of Batley Amateur Thespian Society's centenary show.

The finale of Batley Amateur Thespian Society's centenary show.

From Buddy Holly to the Blues Brothers, Chicago to Sweet Charity, the show included a memorable tribute to cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show, featured the ladies from the Moulin Rouge and ended on an uplifting homage to theatre smash The Lion King.

Director and choreographer Frank Hammond also led a fun wartime singalong, leading the audience through a gas mask routine and reminding them that the Thespians have survived not just one but two world wars.

In October 1913, a small group of theatre enthusiasts met at a Mr S B Shelton’s cafe in Commercial Street, Batley.

A notice in the November 7 edition of the Reporter said Fred Ineson, an amateur entertainer, presided the meeting to form an amateur dramatic society for Batley.

It was named the Batley Amateur Thespian Society at a meeting at the Temperance Hall in January 1914, presided by Mr D M Lawson.

But the outbreak of World War One nearly scuppered the Society’s first show.

The Thespians were affiliated with the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) and preparing for their first production, Iolanthe, scheduled for December.

But the outbreak of the war led to fears that cast members could be called up to fight, potentially putting the show in jeopardy.

However, these proved to be unfounded and the members trod the boards at Batley Hippodrome with gusto, recieving rave reviews.

The Reporter said: “For an initial effort the society surpassed all expectations and its members have won golden opinions from all sides.”

Over the years the society has entertained audiences at the Empire Theatre, Dewsbury, Batley’s Super Cinema, Batley and Dewsbury’s town halls, the Picture House in Dewsbury and Dewsbury Little Theatre, in Batley Carr.

President Margaret Sheard said the centenary was a huge achievement for the society in a time when other societies have had to combine with other groups or even disband.

“I’m very, very proud,” she said. “I just wish we last another 100 years. None of us will be around to see it, but it would be lovely for the three young boys, Jack, Dan and Cameron to still be members or even president, that would be a great achievement.”

Margaret has been a member for 46 years and president since April 2006.

“I think we’re a very friendly society, we try to make everyone welcome,” she said.

“We have no age barriers. Everybody can find a niche for themselves, there’s always something to do.

“I think since our director Frank Hammond joined he’s taken the society to a higher level.

“He’s put these package shows together for us based on the individual society.

“He’s chosen songs to suit the society and the wide talent we have.”

Centenary celebrations are currently being planned by the BATS committee.

Vice-president and former president Margaret Hyomes joined the Thespians in 1952 and remembers a special show for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation performed on the football field in Mount Pleasant.

“It was very, very exciting,” she said.

Margaret, who is no longer active in BATS but still attends all of its shows, remembers performing her first two shows at the former Empire Theatre in Dewsbury.

“In 1970 we did our first show in Dewsbury Town Hall, that was quite an event.

“We did the show Merrie England. We had very good audiences at the town hall.”

Margaret, who was president in 1999-2000, said the Thespians were a ‘special group’.

“I had a lot of friends,” she said. “I think all groups like that, which get together and sing together are usually very friendly. We joined with Carlinghow Theatre Company and the Gilbert and Sullivan Society for various shows.”

Margaret came to support BATS in their centenary show last week. “It was excellent,” she said. “The standard was very good. I still like to see the Thespians and support them.” People interested in joining BATS can find them at www.facebook.co.uk/groups/batleythespians, and on Twitter @batleythespians. Email batleythespians@live.co.uk or call 07792634360.