When iconic conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent founded a musical performance group in Melton a year after the end of the First World War he would have been delighted to know that it would still be going strong 100 years later.
The great man was organist at the town’s St Mary’s Church, having beaten off competition from 150 other applicants to do the job, when he started up Melton Mowbray Amateur Operatic Society.
Back then, members mainly performed the operatic works of Gilbert and Sullivan with a cast including several members of the landed gentry in front of packed audiences at the old Corn Exchange which often included the Prince of Wales, when he was in town for the hunting season.
The group has since changed its name to The Melton Musical Theatre Company to take into account its more varied productions, such as plays, dramas and musicals.
A constant in the group for the last 55 years has been chair, Marilyn Pepper (75), who told the Melton Times: “The group would never have happened without Sir Malcolm Sargent, who then left Melton for London in the middle 1920s and became famous.
“The fact we are still going 100 years later is incredible.
“There have been ups and downs and we nearly ran out of money a few times but we are still here and performing.”
As Marilyn looked through a programme from that very first production - Patience in 1920 - she explained how tickets were sold from a shop in South Parade in those early years with people queuing round the block to get hold of them.
The group has been based at various different venues over the last century, including The Plaza Cinema and Sarson School before moving to Melton Theatre in 1976.
Marilyn, who is now the oldest active member, said: “One of the main things which has changed in my time is the loyalty people show to the group.
“In the early 1960s people didn’t have cars so they would perform only with us but now they are more mobile and they will go and do another show and then come back to us.
“Also back then we didn’t have microphones so you had to project your voice more and, of course, there is so much more technology we can use now.”
The group has been a showcase for a succession of talented performers, including star of stage and screen, Adrian Scarborough.
“The first time I appeared on stage with Adrian, he was dressed as a cockerel,” chuckled Marilyn.
“I have so many great memories from shows.
“We did a production of Calendar Girls a few years ago and that was quite strange being topless on stage.”
Members are preparing to celebrate the group’s centenary with a production called Showtime 100, when they will perform for the first time at St Mary’s Church, fittingly in view of its links with Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Marilyn is directing the show, which will feature music from every decade in the group’s history, with James Gutteridge as musical director.
A special VIP performance will be on Thursday October 3 with £100 packages available to admit four people and entitle them to attend a Champagne reception and receive a souvenir programme. Tickets for the other nights, October 4 and 5, are priced at £12.
Tickets can be bought from the Samworth Centre, in Burton Street, Melton.
Alternatively, go to www.gigantic.com and enter ‘Melton’ or search for Gigantic Showtime 100 on Google to buy tickets online.