A HIGHLIGHT of life in Basildon during its 70 years is the town’s theatre.

Back in 1968 when the original arts centre was introduced, it was the talk of the town and put Basildon on the map.


Throwback - a performance of Oklahoma

Combining live music and theatre with literature and film, this multi-purpose venue was the first of it’s kind to be built in the country following the Second World War.

During it’s 20 year life span, the Arts Centre, which was built as a temporary theatre for £100,000, hosted famous names including including Harry Corbett, Brian Cant, Charles Hawtrey and even David Bowie.

The Basildon Players, Basildon Choral Society and the Basildon Operatic Society all shared the historic stage, with all providing entertainment during the launch.

During his opening speech at the launch, Lord Goodman, the then chairman of the arts council of Great Britain, described the arts centre as “unique” and “tailored for all it’s functions”.

Terry Doubleday, 75, whose been a member of the Basildon Operatic Society for 53 years, said: “There were rooms for people who wanted to paint, a folk club, wine evenings and themed events.”

His wife, Joan, 75, who was also part of the society, formerly known as Laindon and District Amateur Operatic Society, added: “It was very exciting. Back then there was a real art and culture scene in Basildon, so the centre was always busy.

“As an amateur dramatics group, we had been performing in school halls and community centres so it was a huge step for us. The Arts Centre quickly became our new home.”

Joan joined 55 years ago, and the group came to modernise to tie in with how Basildon was changing. They changed their name to reflect the developing town and began performing musicals including Oliver, My Fair Lady and Calamity Jane.

Today, we know of the Towngate Theatre, which replaced the Arts Centre in 1988. BasOp officially closed the original venue with the first act of The Gondoliers, a Savoy Opera, and opened the new theatre with the second act.

Making their first comeback to the theatre since 2013, in May this year BasOp will perform a production of Evita to celebrate the 70th anniversary. Due to strict licensing restrictions, Evita hasn’t been performed by an amateur group in the region for a decade.

Joan, from Langdon Hills, continued: “All of my family have been involved in the society, it’s in my blood. This is our biggest ever challenge to date. It’s such a hard show, especially as we have to learn to sing in Latin and Spanish!”

An 18-piece orchestra will take part in the homecoming, which has a budget of £60,000, the highest ever in the history of BasOp.

Fred Woodrow, Vice Chairman of BasOp, from Billericay, said: “I was very impressed with the Towngate Theatre as soon as I saw it, I was used to performing in churches and pubs so I was blown away with the atmosphere. My favourite view is standing on the stage and looking out at the auditorium when it’s empty.

“We’re so lucky to have a venue like this on our doorstep and as a group we’re committed to putting on professional productions which wouldn’t look out of place in the West End.”