LOCAL historian DR PAUL JENNINGS looks back at the drama society at Lister’s Mill - part of the immense range of social, cultural and sporting activities its thousands of workers enjoyed:

The Dramatic Society made its debut in 1925 with Raffles but I begin with its 1933 production of A Lass from Lister’s, written by Herbert Wright and produced by Clara Wright. This musical comedy was largely based on the rise to fame of Pat Paterson, the Hollywood actress who was born in Bradford and had once worked in the Velvet Warehouse. The same Lister’s Magazine of January 1934, which reported on the production, also carried a photograph of her en-route for Hollywood with the actor Hugh Williams. Born Eliza Paterson in Fitzgerald Street off Manchester Road, she graduated from child acting and modelling work to films and so to Hollywood, where she enjoyed a modest career in B-movies like Charlie Chan Goes to Egypt and Bottoms Up with Spencer Tracy, in which she sang I’m Throwing My Love Away and Is I in Love? She married actor Charles Boyer and continued in films up to the Second World War. Such was Boyer’s devotion to her that he committed suicide within two days of her death from cancer in 1978, their later married life having been overshadowed by the suicide of their only son in 1965. But this lay in the future when she returned to Lister’s in July 1935 and was pictured with members of her former department, who greeted her enthusiastically, presenting her with a bouquet.

Two years later the Dramatic Society put on Pennygamble, a musical comedy set in the eponymous village, written and produced by Jim Slingsby, who also played the juvenile lead, the whole having ‘a charm that came over the footlights and delighted its audiences’.

Mary Corcoran arranged several dance numbers and the orchestra was directed by G Martin King. My photograph shows the cast, with the squire, played by William (Billy) Child and his wife, played by Annie Tasker, to the left. Both were reported as showing ‘the advantages of stage experience’.

Billy Child eventually worked at Lister’s for 49 years in the Power Department and was a comedy performer and singer, as well as playing football and cricket. Annie was my grandmother, who performed under her maiden name of Tasker. In A Lass from Lister’s, she and Mary Tate had shown ‘a sure touch in their handling of comedy material’. For many years she played a prominent part in Lister’s entertainments, including leading the regular community singing during the War.

My photo shows her on stage with her brother Alf, who not only sang and danced but also played both piano and violin. Some readers, however, may remember him rather for Tasker’s Pickles, a stall he ran in John Street open, and later covered, market. Children in Heaton, where he lived in Quarry Street, collected jars for his pickles. Musical and theatrical talent such as theirs seems to have been common and my family was not unusual. Annie’s dad, Frank Tasker, had been a singer of comic songs in pubs and clubs. My dad played the piano, my grandfather Sibley the concertina, his son Fred, played the saxophone in a jazz band, as did in turn his son, ‘young’ Fred, who also played the piano.

The heyday of Lister’s entertainments then continued through the War and into the immediate post-war years. The Dramatic Society staged The Ghost Train, a comedy suspense thriller. This provoked in the Magazine of February 1950 a lengthy piece from the Society’s Chairman, GES Musgrave, in response to a critical notice in the local paper. He defended the amateurs in the production against professional critics, giving the advice: ‘come and see our plays and to heck with the newspaper’ and concluded ‘that all in all’, it ‘was a very successful opening to our season, and those concerned have reason to be proud of their efforts’.

In his view the best performances were given by Tom Wright as the aged porter-cum-stationmaster and Leonard Flaherty as Teddie, but credit was given to others, including Enid Ogden with a ‘nice study of a parrot-carrying old spinster’; Betty Turner as the vamp; villains Jimmy Holt and Joe Barson; Humphrey Rogers and Daphne Lee as a bickering husband and wife; and James Dunn and Doreen Hargreaves as a honeymoon couple.

The special effects to create the ghost train running through the station ‘had entailed the efforts of half a dozen people handling a vacuum cleaner, a bass drum, a whistle, various odd files and tin boxes with an electrician madly turning the handle of a resistance.’ My later copies of the Lister’s Magazine do not report further productions, so unfortunately, I do not know which was the last. I would love to know if anyone can help or indeed remembers those who took part so enthusiastically in these productions.