John’s Italian job launched 50 years’ Players’ service at Millgate

SADDLEWORTH Players are currently enjoying their Golden Jubilee season, having moved to the Millgate in 1972 and launching their first production in October 1973.

In future years, they were joined by other volunteer led groups that also remain an integral part of the Delph theatre.

The former Co-op required significant conversion work including the build of a stage (still in operation) and installation of seating obtained from a Stockport cinema.

John Tanner (left) in Pride and Prejudice

John Tanner, fresh from university, was among the new members in 1972 and remains a fully-fledged cast member.

“So, you want to act?” was how he was welcomed. A relative told him about Saddleworth Players where he was met by legendary figures Joan Nuttall and Millicent Mallalieu.

Having filled in his membership form, John was given a paint brush and told to start painting the auditorium!

The first play was in The Italian Straw Hat in October 1973 with John cast as ‘Felix’, a manservant to another legendary actor John Kenworthy and an array of the best local acting talent.

Some including Ian Perks, Pat Redshaw and Brian Hodgkinson (who runs Dobcross Post Office) are still around.

Throughout the 1970s, Saddleworth Players performed in Millgate as well as at The Saddleworth Festival and one act play festivals around the North West.

They were soon joined by two other societies that were destined to become part of Millgate Arts Centre: Saddleworth Concerts Society (SCS) and Saddleworth Film Society.

Millgate Arts Centre Delph

SCS (formerly Saddleworth Chamber Concerts Society) was formed in 1975. It was the brainchild of the late Roger Tanner, who remained chairman until his death earlier this year, and Ruth Gillespie.

Its object was to put on high quality classical music concerts by professional musicians.

Loyal Saddleworthians rallied round and a pilot concert by the Lindsay String Quartet was successful.

The first full season opened with the Kings Singers who filled the Civic Hall in Uppermill.

Thereafter, all the concerts have been in the intimate and comfortable theatre in Delph. In June 2014, the name was simplified to Saddleworth Concerts Society.

Saddleworth Film Society was established in 1978. Frustrated there was nowhere locally to see contemporary and arthouse foreign films, a group of friends held a meeting at The Swan, Dobcross with the British Federation of Film Societies.

The organisation was supported in obtaining equipment and guaranteed against losses in the first year.

The first season opened with Lenny on October 2, 1978 and included Cabaret and Bugsy Malone as well as films from Italy, France and Germany.

Volunteers picked up film reels from Delph Post Office and before each film night had to fit the temporary wooden kiosk for the projector over some rear seats in the theatre, construct the big metal frame for the screen and then lace the screen to the frame.

Now the operation is much slicker, thanks to modern technology and Millgate Arts Centre’s refurbishment.

However, the membership-based organisation has always been run by local volunteers and continues to thrive due to their commitment.

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