Another 50 years of Imperial's Budleigh shows?

This year is the 50th anniversary of Imperial Productions performing shows in Budleigh Salterton.  

Its name has gone through various changes over the years, but the gifted performers who’ve been entertaining Budleigh audiences for over half a century can all trace their roots back to London’s Imperial College.

One can get a bit lost amidst all the name changes: IC Dramatic Society, IC Operatic Society – or ICOS as it became in 1956; and then ICU Musical Theatre Society in 2003… but there was also Imperial Opera until 2007, when it finally became Imperial Productions. 

The company’s relationship with the town goes back a long way, states the website. 

 Since 1968, the Public Hall, pictured above, has been the permanent location for the annual summer tour. Indeed, this is now the only venue at which the company performs outside of London.

But why Budleigh?  No precise answer has emerged. ‘Our love of the place probably stemmed from ICOS,’ reads another online explanation.

The programme cover for a performance of Edward German's work 'Merrie England' in Yeovil Opera Week, 1929 

Perhaps someone at Imperial College thought it would be appropriate to offer traditional entertainment such as Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to Budleigh audiences. After all, according to a character in Noël Coward’s play 'Blithe Spirit', the town was notable for performances of Edward German’s 1902 comic opera 'Merrie England'.

The title itself of German’s opera refers, according to a definition that I found elsewhere online, to ‘a utopian conception of English society and culture based on an idyllic pastoral way of life’ full of ‘nostalgic overtones’ and ‘incorporating such cultural symbols as the thatched cottage, the country inn and the Sunday roast’. 

Such a conception, it is said, ‘may be treated both as a product of the sentimental nostalgic imagination and as an ideological or political construct, often underwriting various sorts of conservative world-views.’ It reveals ‘a nostalgia for aspects of an earlier society that are missing in modern times.’

Is this how Budleigh Salterton was viewed from London by Imperial College in the heady days of the 1960s and ‘the student revolution’?

Preparing the Public Hall for a show in 2011

Whatever the explanation, there’s no doubt that there is a mutual bond of loyalty between both Imperial performers and Budleigh audiences. As well as the summer tour, the company’s programme has ‘Christmas Budleigh’ -  which it describes as the affectionate name for its annual long weekend spent in the town, ‘planned to coincide with local late-night Christmas shopping and general festive cheer’ as the website explains to prospective performers. ‘It's much shorter than the summer tour, a lot more frantic, but loads of fun.’  

 With all the anniversary events that have occurred in 2018, one might well feel that Imperial Productions deserved its own place of honour.  So here’s my feeble tribute to the talented entertainers who have so loyally kept up their link with Budleigh. It’s just a list of the shows that have been put on in the town’s Public Hall under those various names:

And here are covers of some of the shows' programmes that I've managed to track down: 

So can Budleigh audiences look forward to another 50 years of Imperial shows?

Putting on a production is an expensive business, and ticket sales are vital for the company’s survival. Its members are volunteers, and are warned that they will need to meet the costs of their travel to and accommodation in the town. 

In 2014, Imperial College Operatic Society closed down. It had been taking operettas and musicals to Budleigh since 1956, and there was some doubt about whether the tours would continue.  

Following a general meeting in London in September 2014, it was decided that the Budleigh link would be maintained, with Imperial Productions as the successor to ICOS.  

In these harsh economic times, companies like Imperial Productions need all the help they can get.  ‘Taking two shows to Budleigh a year is a major drain on our resources,’ Imperial’s Chair David Phipps-Davis told me in 2015.
Of course the best and most appropriate tribute that Budleigh can pay  to the talented performers of Imperial Productions is to ensure that each performance is a sell-out! 

A list of the company’s past shows can be found on the
I’ve also consulted the excellent site at


Popular posts from this blog

"A woman who knew her own mind": interview with actress Jenny Coverack on her portrayal of Kathleen Scott

People from the Past: 3. Reg Varney (1916-2008)

Would you like to buy an original Reg Varney painting? (1)