History of the Festival

The first Festival took place in 1960 at Old Pool Bank Village Hall under the patronage of the West Riding Further Education Department, and subsequently under the Airedale and Wharfedale College of Further Education, who financed the Festival until well into the 1980s.

The College did all the administration but, from the outset, the entrants formed the Committee. The entrants came from all parts of the area and were a mixture of local dramatic societies and Townswomen's Guilds, backed by tutorage from Further Education drama tutors.

In 1963 the Festival moved to a new home in Pool-in-Wharfedale, where the newly built village hall had better facilities. The Festival was hosted and staged by Pool Country Players and it was at this stage that I became part of the Festival team. This then one act play Festival ran over three nights, with the usual entry being nine or ten plays. The Festival ran successfully until it outgrew the venue and moved to St Mary's School Menston - then a new school with even better facilities. It ran there until the1980s when changes at Airedale and Wharfedale College and at St Mary's School forced the College to hand over the reins to the Committee and we were left, with the banked receipts handed over by the College, to go it alone.

Undaunted by the task before us, we moved venues to Otley Civic Centre where the Festival ran until 1998, but this period saw a decline in entries. This was partly due to the lack of facilities and location of the venue, the cost to societies of transferring props and scenery to the venue, and the increasing shortage of new and powerful one act plays. Other local Festivals such as Bradford Festival and Harrogate Festival suffered similarly and eventually ceased to exist and, in 1999 with only three entries, it was decided that we too should call it a day.

But instead of dying, the Festival was re-born as the Wharfedale Festival of Theatre. At this point I came up with the format by which our Festival is currently run - a peripatetic eight-month Festival in which assessors visit entrants and adjudicate on productions at the entrants' home venue, followed by an Awards Evening loosely modelled on the Oscars presentations. We put this plan forward at an open meeting and then re-launched the Festival at the start of the new millennium. Immediately we had fifteen entries, and in the ensuing eleven years this has doubled to thirty per year - the maximum the Festival can accommodate with the present number of assessors. It has been, and continues to be, extremely successful, and I am proud to say that its aims - to celebrate, and to advance the standards of, amateur theatre in this area, and to encourage young people into amateur theatre - have not changed.

Companies who have supported the Festival during most of its 60-year existence are:

  • Adel Players
  • Menston Thespians
  • Calverley Players
  • Otley Little Theatre
  • Menston Methodist Players
  • Pool Country Players*
  • Overdale Players*
  • Aireborough Players*
  • On-Set Players*
  • Westgate Drama Group
  • Baildon, Shipley and Otley Townswomen's Guilds

* now no longer functioning

Thanks and gratitude for support from 1960 to 1998 are due to the following individuals:

  • Mr Thompson, Mr Marsden, Ms Stamp (West Riding Further Education Department)
  • Dorothy Fenwick, Walter Williams, Cyril Spencer, Margaret Fallon, Russ Whitely (Tutors/Adjudicators)
  • Mike and Dorothy Arnold
  • John Smith
  • Mike Sellers
  • Wilf Arrand
  • Eileen Routledge
  • Jan Abberton
  • Norman Fowler
  • Jack Pitts
  • Margaret Wilkinson
  • Tommy Lodge
  • Bill and Janet Otley
  • Mary Payne
  • Betty Brewster
  • Ken Stott
  • Paddy Stefal
  • Jeanie and Graham Chadwick
  • Carol Allan
  • Charmian and Roger Thomas
  • Joan and Mike Newman
  • Ted Joce
  • Rae Barker
  • Mike Armstrong
  • Margaret Biglands
  • Molly Lyth
  • Dick Porter
  • Mavis Morton
  • Pat and Tony Clifton
  • Frank Marrow

..... and many more .....

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© Wharfedale Festival of Theatre 2017