Bishopstoke Players' story began in 1939 when neighbours Mrs Glays Elkins and Mrs Rene Buxey and daughters, Peggy, Maureen and Irene, together with Ron Burford, Margaret Elkins and other neighbours and friends, formed a Bishopstoke branch of the Young Leaguers Union, an organisation working to raise funds for the National Children's Home.
Fundraising soon flourished in the homes and gardens of Bishopstoke's Longmead Avenue where activitites included the staging of short plays and sketches. This led to the formation of a drama section and in 1947 a dramatic society was created to be known as the YLU Players.
The first season began with J.B.Priestley's "Mystery at Greenfingers" directed by Harold Bonnett. The cast included Ron Burford and Peggy Elkins. Coincidentally, 40 years later Ron directed the society's 100th production, "When we are Married", also written by J.B.Priestley.
From the outset the society had two aims, those of raising money for the National Children's Home and providing entertainment for the audiences and participants alike!
In the first year the society raised £40 for the NCH. Now the usual annual donation is £2,500. This is raised from 3 productions per year usually playing to full houses at the Bishopstoke Memorial Hall.
The early days saw problems with the storage of bulky scenery which has, at times, been stored in a coal yard, a barn and a butcher’s shop. Nowadays the society has its own purpose-built scenery store.
Comedy has always been the mainstay of the group. During the 50s and 60s the company soon discovered that this was what the audiences preferred and what its members enjoyed staging. Straight plays were included from time to time for variety.
In the 1970s mysteries and dramas such as “Murder at the Vicarage” and “The Miracle Worker” were included. The 1980s saw some more outrageous comedies such as “Not Now Darling” and “Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something”. The 1990s continued in similar vein but with some poignant plays too like “Steel Magnolias” and “Out of the Sun”. The latter was produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day. Between 1986 and 1993 the society participated in several one-act drama festivals, often with self-penned plays.
The society's president is founder member Peggy Walters (nee Elkins), who, when not appearing on stage, has the onerous task of Front of House Manager. Other original members still active in the society are Elizabeth Apps (nee Davis), Margaret Gould (nee Elkins) and Pat Abraham (nee Woodford). Another original member who deserves a special mention is the late Ron Burford who was the sole director of the company for many years. Other current members who've given many years of service are all-rounder Denise Street and Chairman George Brown, who, in 1960, came along "only to do the lights" and has been doing them ever since, other than when he's performing on stage!
The society performs 3 productions a year - in January, May and September. Now the Bishopstoke Players (the YLU was dropped in the 1980s) goes from strength to strength with the addition (since 1996) of Old Tyme Music Halls and Pantomimes to the mixed repertoire of dramas and comedies.