IN March 1940, when the Second World War had been going for six months, Baildon residents Hilda La Page, Rayner Tetley and Donald Bottomley decided to boost morale by bringing together a small theatrical group.
Their intention was to help the Baildon Services Comfort Fund by presenting a comedy thriller, Someone at the Door. The production ran for two nights in the former Westgate Schoolroom at Baildon Methodist Church. Proceeds were divided between the Comfort Fund and the Old Folks' Party at the church.
The event was such a success that the group, known then as the Baildon Methodist Amateur Dramatic Society, continued to present amateur productions twice a year to raise money for local charities, and annual donations to the Methodist church.
By 1965, the society had been thriving for a quarter of a century and in the chairman’s newsletter of the time, it was noted that “during these years they have endeavoured to maintain a high standard of dramatic entertainment” as well as forming a concert party, The Westgate Revellers, who put on variety shows around the district.
In 1982 major changes occurred for the society, most notably when a fire destroyed its home in the old Westgate Schoolroom. The stage, dressing rooms and storage facilities containing props, costumes and theatrical lighting equipment were lost in the blaze, and the society’s insurance money was given to the church to help to build a new multi-purpose hall.
While re-building went on, new challenges faced what was now known as Westgate Drama Group. Where could they present their next planned production, Hindle Wakes? Should the production be cancelled? Eventually it was decided to present the play in the church itself - “in the round”, a first for the drama group but a format which it has since repeated several times over the years.
The new hall was designed with purpose-built seating, creating an intimate little theatre with an ambience recognised several times with awards by the Wharfedale Festival of Theatre. But with no traditional raised stage and no proscenium arch, Westgate Drama Group had to make major adjustments to their productions. With only one obvious entrance from the dressing room to the stage, "ingenuity" and "challenge" became key words for directors, stage managers and set designers.
During the 1980s Westgate Drama Group began to compete in local amateur drama festivals; awards started to steadily flow and have continued to do so.
The Best Actor Award in 1988 at the Bradford Festival went to a member of Westgate Drama Group; and in 1989 they won a cup at the Bradford Theatre Guild Drama Festival with a one-act play called The Big Cats.
Other awards over the years went to productions such as After September Educating Rita and Plaza Suite.
Today Westgate Drama Group is one of the district's oldest amateur theatrical societies and this year is its 75th anniversary.
Current chairman Anthea Petts says: "It has been tremendous to receive such accolades for our theatrical presentations but one of the most important aspects of Westgate Drama Group, and one which lies at the very heart of our being and the reason for our formation, is fundraising.
"Annually, members have nominated one organisation, in addition to Baildon Methodist Church, which is supported by the group and receives a donation. Over the last 75 years organisations that have benefited have included Bradford’s War on Cancer, Candlelighters, Chapel Grange and Thorne Park Special Schools, Children in Need, Emmaus, Help for Heroes, the ICU Unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary, Riding for the Disabled and Yorkshire Air Ambulance."
She adds: "In addition to the profit from our two annual productions, we have also hosted other events to raise money for our charities and to encourage young local talent, including concerts by the Woodhouse Grove School Orchestra, Bradford Youth Orchestra, the Yorkshire Saxophone Choir and an ensemble from Bingley Grammar School.”
Earlier this year, Westgate Drama Group faced further challenges when it made the difficult decision to move from its base at the Methodist church, due to financial constraints. At their inaugural meeting in March, members discussed finding a new home while maintaining their ethos of theatre-making for the Baildon community, friendship and fundraising.
"We now meet on the second Wednesday of the month at Baildon Golf Club at 7.30pm for a social evening - sometimes a quiz night, sometimes a play reading, sometimes a speaker, always to have a chat!" says Anthea. "Anyone is welcome to join us. We also keep in touch with fish and chip nights and the occasional Sunday lunch at the golf club.
"This year the charity we're supporting is Beechcliffe Special School in Keighley. They are trying to raise money for a specially adapted minibus to take the children out, and need to raise at least £35,000 for this.
"We hope we can help in some small way and plan to present theatrical events during the autumn to raise money, and celebrate our 75th anniversary at the same time.
"In 75 years Westgate Drama Group, Baildon has presented concert parties, one-act plays and nearly 150 full-length plays. Almost 95,000 people have seen productions presented by the group, around 1,200 actors have performed with them and more than 50 different directors have led casts and production teams. We hope the group will continue to flourish over the forthcoming decades with the continued support of its members and the public."
A fundraising event is planned for Saturday, September 19 at Baildon Hall Club, Hallfield Drive, Baildon. The event, a murder mystery dinner called The Wake, includes a two-course dinner and tickets are available on (01274) 583901.
A two-night event is also planned, to celebrate the group's 75th anniversary. It will be held in Baildon on Thursday, November 26 and Friday, November 27.
* Westgate Drama Group would like to hear from anyone who would like to share memories of the group, or Baildon Methodist Amateur Dramatic Society, and past productions, or who has photographs or memorabilia they are willing to loan for the anniversary celebration.
For more information contact Liz Hall on (01274) 568149.