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The Jersey Gilbert and Sullivan Society

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A Brief History

In the early 1970’s, a dozen or so people gathered to consider whether it was desirable and indeed possible, to establish a society dedicated to perform the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

For as long as most present could remember, Jersey had enjoyed a fine G&S tradition, with as many as four separate opportunities a year in the early 1970’s to attend a mixture of amateur and semi-professional concerts and productions. The question therefore deserves to be posed; just why did this group of enthusiasts believe in 1980 that this was the appropriate juncture at which to form a specialised G&S body?

To find the answer, it is necessary to travel back in time, just like Doctor Who, to the occasion of a small dinner party in 1972, during which much of the conversation revolved around the merits of England’s most celebrated originators of light opera. With the hour becoming late and the wine bottles empty, Barry Jordan suddenly suggested to Terry Neale, that what the island needed was its own Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

In common with the majority of observations made under such convivial circumstances , this one seemed very good at the time but would no doubt evaporate along with the hangovers the following morning. However, this particular notion persisted and the lengthy gestation period which elapsed between the conception of the idea and the eventual birth of the new society, is explained in part by the afore-mentioned plethora of G&S available to local theatre-goers throughout the decade.

By 1980, it was possible to detect a change of mood. The number of groups willing to promote the works of Gilbert and Sullivan was beginning to decline and, in order to ensure the unthinkable should not happen, the dust-covers were removed from the eight year-old plan and the wheels set in motion. Thus it was the twelve people that met on that warm, early-summer evening that concluded that the time had come to form a specialist company.

The result of that first meeting was that a “ways and means” committee was elected from those in attendance, charged with the task of bringing the project to fruition. Barry Jordan was prevailed upon to chair this august body - a fitting punishment for his earlier impulsive, original thinking!

Having taken this momentous decision, the action party remained inactive for the next three months, the argument being that the summer was not the best time to persuade people to take an interest in indoor pursuits. Then, in September 1980, a general interest meeting was held and the Jersey Gilbert and Sullivan Society was officially launched, recruiting its first 26 paid-up members in the process.

It was decided that the first undertaking of the society should be an inaugural concert. This was staged at St Saviours Parish Hall on 8th December and was remarkable for a variety of reasons.

To begin with, 26 members (some of whom had not joined up to sing) hardly seemed sufficient to cope with the solos, choruses and ensemble items required to make up a complete programme. To overcome the difficulties, invitations were extended to a further 20 or so recognised local singers, who turned out in force, to give the fledgling society a memorable launch.. Ian Kennedy, the renowned musical director of the English company “Gilbert and Sullivan for All” came twice to the island, once to rehearse and then again to conduct the show, and the ex-D’Oyly Carte soprano Margaret Smith also agreed to sing.Both professionals kindly appeared without a fee and a local businessman even met all Ian’s travelling expenses.

By popular demand, more concerts followed and then in 1982 the society staged ‘Ruddigore’, its first full scale production in the Lido de France theatre in Hotel de France.

It was the start of a series of annual productions which has continued without interruption to the present day. In 1986, the move to the Opera House was made and ‘The Gondoliers’ played to packed houses proving that the decision to take on Jersey’s premier theatre was indeed a wise move.

Based on “The Jersey Gilbert and Sullivan Society -A Brief History” which can be found on page 8 of the 2006 programme for ‘Ruddigore’ here.