On song with the Dunstable Girls Choir

RESPLENDENT in matching green dresses on a makeshift stage at Grove House Gardens are members of Dunstable Girls Choir, pictured in 1950.

Sunday, 15th July 2012, 1:07 pm

The choir, previously called the Young Dunstablians Music Club, had changed its name earlier that year.

It had been started in 1946 by Margaret Britt, a teacher at Britain Street School, and was originally for boys as well as girls.

First rehearsals were held in her large bedroom at 20 Priory Road.

Founder member Shirley West (now Mrs Kelly) recalls that the choir rapidly outgrew those premises and moved to the old town hall in High Street North.

And the boys were banished – “they stood in the back row and pinched the girls during concerts!”

The choir’s first public performance was in the town hall on May 15, 1947 when Shirley was one of the soloists.

And she has a particularly fond memory of the 1950 concert in Grove House Gardens which included an appearance by the Dagenham Girl Pipers.

They grabbed an unsuspecting member of the audience to perform a dance with them and the “victim” happened to be Shirley’s boyfriend, Larry Kelly, whose embarrassment caused much amusement.

The choir’s concerts were hugely popular and it won many awards.

Alderman Harold Parrott became its chairman, Vera Walton was treasurer, Doris Holton played the piano and Shirley was appointed secretary as well as singing many of the choir’s solos.

Florence Perry, wife of local historian Bill Twaddle, was invited to become the choir’s musical director after Miss Britt left to get married.

Miss Perry is in the foreground of our picture in which the pianist is Fred Costin.

Another choir member, Beryl Pearson (now Mrs Errington) particularly remembers two of the highlights – singing in a Cavalcade of Song and Dance at the Albert Hall and an appearance in 1953 on the Carroll Levis discoveries show on television.

This was one of the BBC’s top programmes – a forerunner of Hughie Greene’s Opportunity Knocks and today’s X Factor.

The invitation to appear came because choir soloist Joan Lawrence was related to Violet Pretty, who was the hostess on the show.

Violet Pretty later changed her name and became famous as the film star Anne Heywood.

And Joan Lawrence, who also appeared in the Carroll Levis show at Luton’s Alma Theatre, went on to be a singer in the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and later was in the famous touring production of The Desert Song starring John Hanson.

The choir altered its name to the Chiltern Singers after some of the younger members left and the remaining singers decided that the title “girls” was no longer appropriate!

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of Dunstable and District Local History Society