In October 1951, without any meeting, club or officers, Douglas Strike produced two plays: “Good Neighbours” and “Meet the Family” (Neither production details have become available and not included in our list of productions). He did this as a hobby, any loss to come out of his own pocket and any gain to go to St Andrew’s Parish Hall Fund. The productions took place in the old wooden parish hall.
At this stage the name the “New Amateur Dramatic Society” was tentatively adopted (presumably to announce the difference between this and the pre-war group previously called the 'Burgess Hill Amateur Dramatic Society').
The first general meeting followed in February 1952, when a committee was elected and rules drawn up. Charles Gover was elected Chairman; Nancy Strike as Secretary, Norma Moore (now Phelan) was the other member, while Doug Strike was co-opted as Producer.
Four resolutions were decided at this first committee meeting:
1) That allocation of profits derived from plays should be determined by the committee;
2) That three plays be performed annually;
3) Costumes and etc. required for plays be obtained by the individuals concerned;
4) That play readings should be held on the second Friday of each month during the summer until rehearsals commenced.
This was followed in the same month by “Hawk Island” – the first full length play of the Society, which received very favourable comment in the local press.
In December 1952, “School for Spinsters” was performed which cost £33 to put on and made a profit 15 guineas which was presented to St Andrews Church Jubilee Fund. At that time all plays were put on at St Andrews Church Hall (which subsequently burned down).
Strangely enough, after this apparently successful start a rather ominous note creeps into the minutes of the second recorded meeting of the Society, which stated “in the event of dissolution any remaining funds will be devoted to objects similar to those of the Society”. At this time we also have the first mention of Club rules. There were seven – the vital one being that the Club should be affiliated to the British Drama League.
In April 1953 Douggie directed “Captain Carvello” which turned out to be his swan-song, and it was was much criticised as a play unsuitable for performance in the Church Hall, but it still made a profit of £3-11s-8½d. Further notes discovered identify that the production was also notable for the appearance of two actors now entirely devoted to Gilbert and Sullivan – Messrs Compton and Denman. A straightforward gramophone was used to provide the sound effects but with no microphone.
When the Strikes left the town shortly after, Alison Butler (who lived at The Gattons - The Old House) became Secretary, and in November 1953 Joy Sinden (sister of professional actor Donald Sinden) produced “A Hundred Years Old”, which was entered for the Sussex Rural Community Council’s drama festival. Further notes discovered mention it was memorable for the acting of Ian Clayton as Papa Juan. As a guest David Campion appeared as 'Trino' and it was the first appearances of Angela Dorling and Derek Timmins. Scenery for the production was borrowed from Cuckfield and transported in Alison’s jalopy.
This play was a tremendous artistic success but a disastrous financial failure, and at a meeting in December 1953 the Society almost disbanded. A note of some interest at that time states “The conclusion was reached that the extra money spent on posters was not worthwhile”. Many people said that they did not know the play was on as the posters were not put in strategic places. A discussion on the following took place:
1) With a deficit of £2 we could fade into oblivion with our heads held high;
2) Amalgamate with Downlands Players;
3) Continue for one more production at least.
It was ultimately decided that the £2 deficit would be made up from subscriptions owing and as people were depressed by
“Captain Carvallo” but impressed by “A Hundred Years Old”, it was eventually decided to carry on for one more production which would be
"Charity Begins-" again produced by Joy Sinden.
More interesting points arising at that meeting in the Club’s history included:
1) If anyone wanted to produce they should offer to do so;
2) If they wanted a particular part, they should let the producer know;
3) And, most important of all, a new name for the society should be discussed.
“Charity Begins-” was rehearsed at Mrs Joan Moore’s house at Oak Lodge and performed in the Spring of 1954 but was again a loss financially, but friends came to the rescue eg: Mrs Moore returned the coffee money from rehearsals at her home and we found ourselves still alive and very much kicking.
The issue of a name change for the society was again discussed at a meeting held at Oak Lodge (on what is now the Oakhall Park Estate), home of the Eagletons in June 1954. It was pointed out that the society was no longer “New” and this had been the reason for misleading publicity in the past. The feeling was that we should become a club with social activities, play readings, talks and club meetings in addition to peforming productions. The name “Burgess Hill Theatre Club” was proposed by Derek Timmins and seconded by Miss J. Goddard – the proposal was carried unanimously and on 15th June 1954, Burgess Hill Theatre Club was born.
Charles Gover remained as the Chairman with Jill Collingbourne (Now Jill Felix) of Balcombe as Secretary. Other issues discussed included the appointment of a President and Vice President - but were not actioned and the often discussed amalgamation with the Downs Players was finally turned down. All sorts of efforts for raising money and publicity were made in recognition that the small membership was a problem and it was proposed that the Club should canvas the estates in Burgess Hill. At this time many of the members came from Ditchling, such as Ian Clayton, the Sindens and the Kilbrides.
In 1954 the Club staged it's first BHTC production,“Corinth House”. Again produced by Joy Sinden it was entered for the Sussex Rural Community Council’s drama festival. The adjudicator, whist placing us rather low in his list – the festival was competitive in those days – said “This Society is going to do great things in Sussex”. Further notes discovered clarified the first appearance of banner advertising the production placed over Church Road and the production hailed the first appearances of Sheila Rumney (to become Sheila Wells) and Bernadette White. The usual flutter of anxiety followed this production, as there was a loss of £2.10.4d leaving only £1.5.11d in petty cash.