A hundred years ago there were two societies in Keighley presenting musicals. The older one was known as the Operatic and the younger one was a spin off, the Lyric. They were at each others throats and no doubt many harsh words had been spoken at the time of the split and thereafter. The Operatic continued to perform at The Queen’s Theatre, otherwise known as the Hippodrome and the Lyric strutted their stuff at the Municipal Hall. By the year 1912 both societies had accumulated yearly losses and were financially and artistically on their beam ends. A wise old bird named Frank Mahoney, then the Mayor of Keighley, called together representatives of the two squabbling groups. The meeting took place at the Town Hall. At the meeting it was agreed to disband the warring factions and by way of armistice take steps to form one new society to present musicals at the local theatre. KAODS presented its first production in 1913 and with the exception of two World Wars when, according to subsequent yearly souvenir programmes ” Activities were temporary suspended” the society has been going from strength to strength ever since. The current society rehearse and hold their auditions at the Slack Lane Baptist Chapel Studio, Mackingstone Lane, Oakworth, Keighley.
Another piece of History
In 1913 filmgoers and theatregoers in Keighley shared a particular interest, musical theatre saw the birth of Keighley Amateur Operatic and Dramtic Society known as “The amateurs or in true Yorkshire style as “T’ Ammerchewers”,. Pronunciation varies but the standard of entertainment has remained high for over ninty years. The first production ” Haddon Hall” was proudly presented at the Hippodrome Theatre in the same year 1913. The First World war then put paid to such activities and it was 1919 before the Hippodrome posters confirmed survival of the Society with the latest popular musical “The Geisha”. Each year from then to 1939 the Hippodrome welcomed “The Amateurs” whose yearly souvenir programme showed an ever growing list of previous productions. Somewhat grimly the list always started
1913 “Haddon Hall”
1914 to 1918 Activities temporarily suspended ………
Once again a World War intervened and from 1940 to 1945 there was no yearly musical. The Amateurs doggedly stayed together with depleted personnel and managed to brighten the dark days of war with a touring concert party and band show for the troops, war workers and the general public throughout Yorkshire. This enabled the Society to reform speedily when peace returned and in October 1946 ” The Desert Song” played to packed Hippodrome audiences. For ten years empty seats were unknown and this was over a period when interest in professional theatre gradually waned.
October 1956 saw the last show professional or amateur at the Hippodrome, which closed its doors for the last time with the Amateurs presentation of “Oklahoma!” . Ironically full houses were enjoyed over the course of the week but the town sadly found itself without a professional theatre. The amateurs searched for a new home and eventually arranged to rent the Ritz ABC cinema for a week in October 1958. The Ritz was by far the largest cinema in Keighley and boated 1500 seats, a cafe and a cinema organ. Unfortunately there was no more than two backstage dressing rooms. Although these served to accommodate the forty ladies of the playing company the gentlemen drew the short straw and had to dress outside the building in a wooden hut and a single decker bus hired for the purpose from Keighley-West Yorkshire Passenger Transport.
The musicians of the pit orchestra were somewhat startled to find their numbers augmented by the large and somewhat cumbersome cinema organ. “White Horse” has probably never sounded the same before or since. Audiences grew in numbers but it became more difficult to fill every seat in this vast new venue. Nevertheless full house were achieved from time to time and eighty per cent capacity was the norm.Year by year ABC’s wonderful but expensive cinema was improved backstage to make it more live theatre friendly. The organ was sold to nearby Malsis Hall School and the existing cinema screen was dismantled and replaced by a movable one which greatly increased the playing area of the stage. despite the changes, ever increasing production costs caused the Society to look for ways and means of boosting the profits out of which donations are handed over mainly to local charities.
In 1965 the Society began to present two shows a year instead of one, the second production being an annual traditional pantomime each January. It was thought this would be a money spinner and so it has proved. With a largely young and enthusiastic company the Society brought back to Keighley a full scale pantomime for the first time since the Hippodrome closed, a lapse of nine years. For over forty years the Keighley Pantomime has attracted big audiences from a large area. From the outset the pantos have been written by the same two members who earlier this year were awarded a civic reception by the then Lord Mayor of Bradford, a keen supporter of the Society.
With finances strengthened the members were then faced in 1972 with their next hurdle. the Ritz ABC Cinema was converted to a Housey-Housey, in other words turned over to Bingo. For the second time the amateurs had to find a new venue. Successful negotiations took place with Keighley Town Council and Victoria Hall became available for “The Sound of Music” in the Autumn of 1973. The auditorium was only half the size of the Ritz but capacity houses were once again the order of the day.
Pantomimes resumed in Januaries following and the Society remained on an even keel. The 1913 Picture House has also survived having been reopened under a new proprietor.
In mid-2017, we changed our name to Keighley Musical Theatre Company from Keighley Amateurs.
The longest break from performances since the war began in 2020. The whole world suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic that sent everyone into isolation for long periods of time. The theatre/arts suffered greatly during this time as they remained closed to avoid the large gatherings of people. In England, things began to re-open in July 2021, and cautiously we followed suit with a Revue entitled “All Together Now!”. This show – a global event celebrating local theatre – run over just one weekend in November 2021, contained a carefully selected array of tunes from musicals. KMTC was one of over 1600 groups in 36 countries worldwide performing this musical revue.