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Its all in the name....

Samuel Franklin Cody
Many of our long established followers will be aware of the society's history and the various name changes along the way. A more detailed history of the society is given below, but here's just a potted succession:

  • Royal Aircraft Establishment Dramatic and Operatic Society
  • Royal Aircraft Establishment Operatic Society
  • Farnborough & Royal Aircraft Establishment Amateur Operatic Society
  • DRA Farnbrough Amateur Operatic Society
  • DERA Farnbrough Amateur Operatic Society
  • Cody Farnbrough Amateur Operatic Society
  • Cody Musical Theatre Company

Like many societies, who started out as a group associated with a local company, ours was the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), who as the area's largest employer was keen to sponsor social activities for the benefit of their staff and the local community. Very soon interest broadened well beyond the confines of the RAE and the society has long been appreciated as the principal source of high quality musical theatre throughout not only Farnborough, but also Rushmoor and beyond....

Through the years the RAE has changed its name on a few occasions and so subsequently have we. With the latest change, and part privatisation, to form QinetiQ, it was felt that a more permanent name was overdue. To maintain the connection with Farnborough’s strong heritage in flight the society is now named Cody Musical Theatre Company in honour of Samuel Franklin Cody, the great showman and aviator who made the first powered flight from British soil – Farnborough, October 1908.

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Society History


Please note that if further information about the history of the Society is required please feel free to contact the committee at committee@codymusical.co.uk


The Society was first formed in 1920 and having a Dramatic Section it became known as the Royal Aircraft Establishment Dramatic and Operatic Society. This title was maintained until 1923 when the Society split into two separate bodies. The first musical production (performed in 1921) was a Chinese operetta "The Golden Amulet", which was performed in the old RAE Concert Hall (on the site of the present QinetiQ (formerly DERA) Assembly Hall in Farnborough). It was so well received that the society gave a repeat performance in the Farnborough Town Hall in aid of charity. Incidentally, the Farnborough Urban District Council gave the use of the Town Hall for the princely sum of £1.

There followed a sequence of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, each proving equally successful. It is interesting to recall that during this period it was the fashion for ladies to wear large picturesque hats and it was thus necessary to include a note in the programme asking them to remove their hats before the performance.

Unfortunately the old Concert Hall was proving uneconomical to maintain and was demolished in 1929. The Society was lucky enough to be granted the use of the Farnborough Town Hall which ushered in the second phase of its history which continued until 1940, when the Town Hall was taken over completely as a Civil Defence Centre. Although the Society was grateful to have a "home" the Town Hall had is disadvantages such as there was no way to cross backstage from one side to the other. Cast members had to go out into the open air and run around the back of the hall! There was also no changing room for the gentlemen who had to make do with a marquee erected behind the hall. This worked reasonably well except for the winter of 1932 when due to a heavy fall of snow the roof of the marquee collapsed. The snow then melted and despite the use of duckboards the cast had a very muddy passage around the back of the hall. The show being performed at the time was "Iolanthe" and the fairy costumes worn by the ladies suffered rather badly!

During this period the association with the town of Farnborough grew to the extent that in 1935 the Society was reconstituted as the "Farnborough and Royal Aircraft Establishment Amateur Operatic Society".

With the loss of the Town Hall in 1940 the Society was again without a home but a saviour appeared in the unlikely person of Mr. Garcia, the lessee of the Theatre Royal, Aldershot. The theatre was doing good business with acts designed to entertain the thousands of troops pouring into Aldershot (one of the regular favourites being Phyllis Dixey, the famous striptease artiste!). Nevertheless the Operatic Society was a great success playing to packed houses every night. It was an exciting time appearing in a REAL theatre where the smell was redolent of decades of "Twice Nightly" variety performances. During the very first production ("The Mikado") the Air Raid Warning sounded and Pooh-Bah kneeling before the Mikado said "your Majesty, I have to announce that the sirens have just gone off". The audience responded with one of the most prolonged rounds of applause the Society has ever received. Needless to say the show went on!

The large stage of the Theatre Royal enabled the Society to expand its repertoire of Musicals with shows such as "A Waltz Dream", "The Desert Song", "The Vagabond King" and many others. An average of 5,500 people saw each production and it was with some regret that the Society had to say goodbye to the Theatre Royal at the end of the war.

However the new RAE Assembly Hall became available in 1944 and the Society returned to its original home again. This ushered in a long period of stability when the Society staged a wide range of shows, many of them quite ambitious for such a small stage. The Society was also lucky in having a series of excellent artistic directors and musical directors who were responsible for raising the overall standard of the productions to make it one of the best Amateur Operatic Societies in the area. The Silver Jubilee of the Society fell in 1945 but because of wartime difficulties celebrations were postponed until the 30th Anniversary in 1950. The theme was "Music Maestro Please" and included excerpts from every show produced by the Society up to 1950, with all the solos being sung by their original singers. This was probably the last time such an event could be staged.

For its Golden Jubilee in 1970 the Society chose the most ambitious and expensive show it had staged up to that time "Chu Chin Chow". This was a tremendous success and enabled the Society to donate a record £210 to charity. As part of the celebrations the Society also staged a concert of "Ballads, Songs & Snatches", a Gala Dance (with cabaret by the then internationally famous Ada Unsworth Dance Formation Team) and a Reunion dinner to which all past and present members were invited. Finally a "Musical Extravaganza" was staged depicting the Society through 50 years of musical and stage entertainment.

The year 1973 saw the start of the fifth era of the Society's history when the Princes Hall opened in Aldershot. The Society immediately saw the possibilities offered by the much larger hall with its big stage and auditorium. The first show put on by the Society at this venue was "Fiddler on the Roof" and this was followed by a large number of equally successful and ambitious productions. One of the greatest of these was the 1981 production of "Carmen" which demonstrated that the Society was in the front rank of amateur companies. The Society's Diamond Jubilee was celebrated in 1980 with productions of "Carousel" and "Oliver", and a concert a barbeque and a Garden Part. The concert was honoured by the attendance of Mrs. Mollie Rye-Williams who appeared in the 1921 production of "The Golden Amulet".

The Society's achievements broadened further with critically acclaimed operas such as Kurt Weill's "Street Scene" and musicals such as "Jesus Christ Superstar" (the Society being the only amateur company allowed to present the show in 1995, prior to its subsequent revival in the West End). And the Society continues to set itself new challenges by taking on productions as diverse as "Crazy for You" (using the choreography notes from the West End production) to the incredibly demanding "Sweeney Todd", which won the Society its most recent NODA (National Operatic & Dramatic Association) Award for Excellence.

Throughout the long history of the Society there is an unbroken record of loyal service given by all members, whether on stage, in the production team or front of house. Three members have been awarded the NODA Gold Medal for 50 years service to the amateur stage and over 30 members have the Silver Medal for 25 years. One must not fail to mention that since 1939 the Society has contributed nearly £50,000 to charitable organisations, mostly local.

It can be proudly claimed that the base on which the founders built the Society was well and truly laid, and that the objective to "cultivate the Operatic and Musical arts, and to educate the public taste in these arts, with the additional object of raising funds for charity" has been worthily maintained. And as the Cody Musical Theatre Company (as it is now called) moves in to the new millennium (and its 9th decade of providing "non-professional" musical theatre) there are no signs of it slowing up, with 2 major productions staged every year, and a desire to continue entertaining audiences with a wide variety of musical fare.

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