1920s & 1930s

George V was on the throne and A. Bonar Law was Prime Minister, the BBC was just beginning to broadcast and Mars Bars were first appearing on the market when, in the summer of 1922, the birth of the Society took place. On a Friday night in August of that year, a meeting was held at the home of the late Mr. & Mrs. G.W. Manly when it was agreed that St. George’s Church, Hornsey, should have an Operatic and Choral Society.

After much deliberation it was decided that Gilbert & Sullivan’s ”The Mikado” should be the first production of the new St. George’s Choral and Operatic Society. On the night of Wednesday 10th January 1923 the curtain rose at 7.30 p.m. – the producer being G.W. Manly and Cecil R. Rawles, the capable organist and choirmaster of St. George’s Church, in charge of the music. The Society was an immediate success with its members and audiences alike.

1920-1939About a fortnight before the second presentation, ”Trial by Jury” and ”H.M.S. Pinafore”, there was a ‘difference’ between the producer and the company resulting in two major parts being suddenly vacated. Without fuss Bob Baker seized his opportunity and at once became the Society's comedian, a position he held until after the Second World War.

1926 saw the name of the Society change to Finchley and Priory Operatic Society and also a change of the venue for the following three years. Performances (two a year) were staged at Woodside Hall and "The Mikado" was repeated on a further four occasions. The orchestra by this time was twelve strong and amongst its numbers included the violinist Stanley Andrews, later to become Jack Payne's right-hand man.

"Merrie England" was staged at Alexandra Palace in 1933 to which all the Operatic Societies of North London were invited. Finchley nominated

several stalwarts to take part, Frank Hoblyn being among them (he played Sir Frances Drake). Keenness was personified in Bob Baker who took the trouble to be word perfect in the part of Walter Wilkins ‘just in case’.

Another change in name and venue took place in 1934 when the Finchley Amateur Operatic Society moved to the Church Hall N.11 and it branched out from G&S and staged a variety of shows. Around this time the Committee, ever mindful of the comfort of patrons, provided cushions for the most expensive seats.

The Daily Sketch had a write-up of the Society in 1935 when the critic wrote 'there was much to admire in Finchley's "Miss Gibbs"...'. It was also in this year that the name of Bob Slatford first appeared in programmes, his happy association with the Society continuing for very many years as a back-stage 'star'.

The Society grew and thrived on the endless enthusiasm, corporate spirit and zeal of its members who were determined to give of their best to the audiences who came to see them. The same policy the Society still has 85 years on.

In April 1939 the Society tackled the three act G&S "Princess Ida", perhaps not the best known of their operettas but reveals in many subtle ways the ingenuity of its collaborators.

Despite the gathering 'storm clouds' over Europe, the autumn hoped to see "Trial by Jury" and "The Pirates of Penzance" being produced. Both were in rehearsal when the war broke out. This prevented the Society from proceeding and members were forced to turn their attention to more serious matters. During the 'phoney war', however, concerts were staged in Friary Park in an effort to keep the company together.