Monday, August 27, 2012

Co-op Pageant 1944

Pageant Pioneers Co-op 1944
The costume drama has always been popular in the theatre and films. Especially anything Victorian. The old Queen may have just past over in 1901 but the early cinema pioneers were shooting one reel silent movies of scenes from Dickens novels.

In 1944 the Co-operative Movement celebrated its Centenary of the Rochdale Pioneers. Given that there was a major war in progress and a shortage of materials they did a good job with events, plays, and a film. The photograph is from the Co-operative Pageant at Wembley Stadium. A group of fine young fellows are representing the Rochale Pioneers. All top hats and sideburns. Very unlikely to be historically accurate of weavers in a Lancashire industrial town. But doesn't costume drama reflect more of our own times, its values, myths and cliches?

 The display advertisement is from the Manchester Guardian in July 1944. It's on the front page, because back then the broadsheets had eight columns of typeset adverts from the personal to the latest at the cinema showings, and no sensational headlines. Lawrence du Garde Peach wrote the drama. He was a prolific writer of screenplays, theatre plays, and Ladybird books. He'd be 54 when this production was staged. Not only was it performed in Manchester it was acted out in at least another 150 locations in Britain by co-operative societies drama groups. I must try and obtain a copy of it.

Six Manchester Co-operative societies were in the performances staged at the Opera House : Manchester & Salford, Beswick, Pendleton, Failsworth, Droylsden and Blackley. They told a story of not just the Pioneers but their historical influences. The American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the Luddites, and the Chartists. It ended with the singing of "Jerusalem".

If you were dramatising the Pioneers story today it would have different historical "facts" that reflect today's hindsight. We will see this in a few months when the new remake of "Men of Rochdale" is released and we can contrast it with original 1944 film.

One a side note, the advert has John Gielgud doing five nights of "Hamlet" in the next week. A warm up before the bright lights of the West End. Maybe it wasn't so bright because of the blackout and the danger of being hit by a V2 rocket?

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