Everybody can sing!

Derek Hill from the Swindon Gilbert and Sullivan Society has the innate belief that hurdles should not be put in front of anyone who wants to sing - even opera.

He said: "If anyone says: Can I join? I say come along. We are a friendly society, not elite just because it is opera. As a group we help each other, and we want people to be in it, and enjoy it. With the right sort of development everybody can sing.''

The beginnings of the society began when Derek was a teenager in the 1960s hanging around the juke box at St Joseph's School Youth Club.

"Our headmaster/maths teacher wanted to form a youth club choir, but we were not interested. He kept pestering, so we agreed to go once to a choir meeting. It was in a room next to the youth club and we found it full of girls!'' said Derek.

So began a path that led Derek through many years of enjoying singing, both in school and church choirs, and becoming a member of the choir committee.

"With the youth club choir we sang at local concerts and at the American Airbase at Fairford. We hired a coach to take us out there, it was good fun,'' said Derek.

His choir was approached by the Pinehurst singers who wanted to do a Gilbert and Sullivan Show. From this first show blossomed an evening group, a mixed group of all ages who would go on to focus on Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilbert's fourteen operas, and grow into the Swindon Gilbert and Sullivan Society.

In 1964 the first production of the newly formed society was the Mikado, and it has been a popular choice in seven incarnations since.

Derek said: "In it were Roger Suter, Betty Stratford, Ray Howell, Ted Packer, Vic Baker. We all enjoyed it and it went on from there. I still have the programme.''

Moving from the youth club to the Mechanics Institute in 1969 and then once the Wyvern Theatre opened in 1971 the society trod its boards, along with other popular music groups such as SALOS.

"We all decamped to the Wyvern. We did Yeoman of the Guard in 1972 and didn't miss a show until 2007, when there was the asbestos scare in the theatre. In 1971 we filled 600 seats a night,'' said Derek.

Like many local groups over the years numbers dropped, and less people were going to the theatre for a night out, so the society moved to the Arts Centre in Old Town.

In 2002 Derek swapped centre stage for the director's chair, in Iolanthe, and he has directed every opera for the group since, including the society's current production of The Sorcerer, to be performed in April.

This will be Derek swansong as director although he says he will still help out with the music and stage management on future projects.

He said: "The society has given me a life time of enjoyment. I was a withdrawn teenager and never thought I could do all that.''

Away from rehearsals members of the society enjoy a social side with Christmas parties, barbeques in the summer and singing at charity events.

The Sorcerer runs from Tuesday April 9 to Saturday April 13 at the Arts Centre. For more details call 07483 306965.


Today the Gilbert and Sullivan Society have around 30 members and newcomers are always welcome.

The society meets at the Wroughton Men's Working Club on a Tuesday night.

Benefits of joining the society are that singers are brought on from the chorus to singing leading roles. Meet different people and gain confidence.

Many have gone on from the group to become professional such as Verity Dams and Tom Mullins and some even joined the D'Oyly Carte

Behind the scenes members also welcome to join the backstage crew and musicians for the orchestra.

Society Membership fees (paid annually) are £70 per person, £60 each for a couple, £35 for students.

For more details of the club visit http://swindongilbertandsullivan.weebly.com/