Tracey Arkell, was a local musician and the organist of St Marys Church and a keen fan of Gilbert and Sullivan. He put an advertisement in the local Twickenham paper asking for people to come and form an operatic society to perform the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, many came to that first meeting in the church hall and thus was founded the Twickenham Amateur Operatic Society ( now called TOPS) in 1927. Productions were staged at York House in Twickenham and the society presented G & S shows until the early I950s. After Tracey Arkell retired the company was soon expanding its horizons, producing shows such as The King and I, Pink Champagne, Bitter Sweet and The Merry Widow.
In 1951, Peter Holloway became the Musical Director and the company went from strength to strength. Peter also became Chairman and Director and saw the society celebrate its 50th production, Brigadoon in 1977 having overseen every production since his first in 1951. Peter handed over the role of Director to his daughter Gillian in 1979 and in 1988, after nearly forty years as Musical Director, Peter relinquished his baton to Mervyn Bryn-Jones and Peter became the TOPS President. Peter sadly passed away on December 21st 2001, in his 94th year and to commemorate his long association with TOPS a memorial plaque was unveiled at a reception in Richmond Theatre during the run of 'Carousel' in July 2002 at the theatre.
In 1988, having outgrown the facilities and audience capacity of York House, the society moved its production of lvor Novello's 'The Dancing Years' to the Queen Charlotte Hall in Richmond, which became a very happy home for the society providing the stage for many successful and memorable productions. Just twelve years later, TOPS found itself with capacity audiences again and an ever-growing membership, so made the decision to move to a larger venue. The society was very proud to enter the new millennium presenting its production of Oklahoma! at the historic Richmond Theatre in July 2000.
TOpS is renowned for its all-singing, all-dancing chorus and has been privileged since 1960 to have had Babette Langford as its Choreographer. Babette's dancing inspiration and sheer enthusiasm has contributed so much to the life of TOPS. Babette became an honored Vice President of TOPS, in 2000 she was awarded the Richmond Arts Council Accolade and in July 2014 she was awarded the NODA Flame Award. 2014 sees Babette celebrate 54 years with TOpS, and she is still telling the members what to do with their feet!.
Gillian Wade (TOPS Director) first joined the society in 1964 and appeared in many productions before becoming Director in 1979, During her time as Director, she saw the company continue to flourish and grow into a successful and award-winning society. In 1993, Richmond Arts Council acknowledged this when they presented Gill with their highest award -The Accolade- for Services to Musical Theatre. After the death of her father, Peter Holloway, in 2001 Gill was elected President of TOPS thereby following in her father's footsteps.
In 1996, Mervyn Bryn-Jones retired as Musical Director and the baton was passed to John Davies, who conducted both Broadway Pirates and Barnum. Paul Reynolds, a professional musician, composer and theatre producer was with the company from 1997 to 2003 as Musical Director then John Davies took up the baton again for 'Fiddler on the Roof'. Mervyn made a welcome return to conduct 'My Fair Lady' in 2005, The Scarlet Pimpernel in 2006, 'Hello Dolly!' in 2007, 'Oliver!' in 2008, Guys and Dolls in 2011 and his last production was Oklahoma! in 2012.
In September 2008, Professional musician Dave Roberts was appointed to the role of Musical Director for TOPS when he musically directed Godspell and Smokey Joe's Cafe. TOPS produced Godspell at the newly built LIVE ROOM at the RFU Stadium in Twickenham and were honoured to be the first company to use the multi million pound facilities. TOPS had come home to Twickenham.......at least for a short while.
In March 2002 (TOPS 75th Anniversary Year) had joined forces with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in a sponsorship that saw the RFU provide rehearsal space and use of their suites for many cabarets and small productions at the Twickenham stadium, a relationship that continues today and TOPS looks forward to continuing the long and happy association with their friends at the RFU.
In 2013 after directing The Pirates of Penzance TOPS Director Gill Wade retired; she had directed the company since 1979. Gill and her husband retired to the peace and tranquillity of Salisbury in Wiltshire and TOPS are delighted that she will continue to be President of the company that has been a part of her life for so long.
.As well as Richmond Theatre TOPS presents it's productions at various venues in the area. In 2013 The Pirates of Penzance was performed in the magnificent surroundings of The Normansfield Theatre in Teddington, a Victorian theatre which formed a wonderful backdrop for G&S. Also in 2013 TOPS were guests of The Hampton Hill Playhouse with The Wedding Singer and 2014 saw TOPS performing the heartwarming Whistle Down The Wind at the theatre in Hampton School.The last three productions having been directed by TJ Lloyd, an accomplished actor, singer, director and member of TOPS.
Being a member of TOPS is a fun experience because as well as appearing in the "big" productions we are invited to appear in professional productions when "extras" are needed, the last being the tour of Evita in June 2014 when it came to Woking and Wimbledon and we entertain at various functions throughout the year. Watch out for TOPS appearing in the 2014 Christmas edition of Cuckoo as carol singers and the list goes on........................Peter Holloway's grandson, Ian Stark became TOPS Chairman in July 2014 and hopefully TOPS will go on to even greater things and celebrate it's 100th birthday in 2027!
TOPS - The Story So Far
© TOPS Musical Theatre Company 2016