Music and Drama played a key role in the school’s development from the very early days; both were in their prime between the two World Wars.
The advent of the first Entertainment Committee in 1907 (comprising Messrs Merrifield, Wood, Barnes and James) sprang from a desire to utilise the talent revealed by a series of lecture-concerts given during the winter months and which had started in 1905. Some 51 lectures-concerts, presented on Friday evenings [later extended to Saturdays as well] to boys, parents and friends were held in the 9 years to 1914. Attendances varied between 300-500 with the school fund benefiting accordingly.
The first Christmas Concert was held on December 18 th 1907 (even though the programme says it was November). By 1908 the second concert was rather more ambitious with a school choir of some 50 strong and a school orchestra conducted by Mr Goodfellow. The Evening News report referred to "…..the excellence to which the scholars had attained was a thing undreamed of a few years ago". Amusingly, there was a minor hitch at the second performance when the curtain was raised in error and revealed that Mr Wood’s ventriloquist’s dummy was in reality a boy named Scaddan who had removed his mask too soon!!! The audience loved it!
By 1909 the concert ran for 3 evenings including a humorous operetta called Breaking Up and miscellaneous entertainment of conjuring, limelight effects, slides, songs and solos. This pattern of entertainment followed for the next few years until disrupted by war in 1914 - although for 2 years the Concert Committee did continue until the pressure of events forced an interruption; the final concert in 1915 consisted for the first time of a burlesque operetta Drake an adaptation of Dogs of War.
All of these concerts provided useful sums towards financing school activities (as well as local charities) in particular sports and games which, from 1904 onwards, had been encouraged as a means of developing the corporate life of the school; no money was forthcoming from official sources. And the first libraries were also funded from music and drama events. The importance of these funds for the development of a wide range of activities cannot be overemphasised – it was indeed the lifeblood for so much that became focal to the school’s ethos.
The next Concert was held in December 1919 – the first to be held at the South Parade Pier with the programme entirely devoted to an operetta Westward Ho (Dogs of Devon). Once again many of the main parts were played by masters. 2,500 attended and the sum raised (and part of the following year’s profit from Don Quixote) paid for the cost of the War Memorial.
1922 saw the first genuine attempt at light opera (The Highwayman) and the following year the bold decision was taken to produce a Gilbert & Sullivan opera (The Pirates of Penzance). This successful experiment opened a long series of Gilbert & Sullivan operas which made the school concert such an important event for the next 16 years; indeed, in 1927 an Evening News report summarised the impact of the operas on the Portsmouth public; "With a reputation established over a period of years which is second to none in the City the Portsmouth Southern Secondary School has set a very high standard with their annual concert at the South Parade Pier……..in fact their December concert is now looked to as one of the premier engagements in Southsea’s winter programme". Praise indeed.
For many years the principal parts continued to be played by staff members and Old Boys. Messrs Goodfellow, Hore, Steed, Waite, Ellison and Wassell were prominent performers. Female parts were similarly worthy of high praise Mrs Annie Winter (a box office draw on her own account), Miss Meech, Miss Wassell, Mrs Hore being particularly prominent. In later years Dr & Mrs Machin, Miss Winter, Mr Oliver and Mr Stephens emerged as leading lights. And at the conductor’s stand was Mr James (22 years) who was succeeded by Mr Winter (20 years) and Mr Steed.
In anticipation of the ending of the series the School’s Dramatic Society was established – founded by Messrs Hancock and Davies – and was starting to produce results. In 1934 The Lost Silk Hat was put on with an all-boy cast as a curtain-raiser to The Pirates of Penzance. Furthermore, just as school dramatics were taking an independent line the orchestra no longer relied upon the stimulus of the annual entertainment but under the direction of Mr Steed became a regular school institution competing in the Schools’ Festivals. Easter concerts were organised in which the new Dramatic and Music Societies (the latter formed by Dr Machin in 1937) took part.
With the advent of the Second World War the school evacuated to Brockenhurst but the Music Society continued to flourish with recitals all year and 3 concerts were produced in the County School hall. Indeed, in 1941 the opera 1066 or The Invasion of England – written by Arthur Hitchins – was performed and raised substantial funds for the Russian Red Cross Fund.
Post War saw big changes in the annual entertainment with senior boys taking important parts in 1949’s Merchant of Venice – the last play in which masters took part. But expectations had changed in the City and the importance of the Concerts was never quite regained to the extent that they had enjoyed pre-War. Nevertheless, both music and drama continued to play an extremely important part in the school’s cultural approach.
The Music Society developed further under Arthur Hitchins independently of the annual entertainment with junior and senior choirs and the orchestra continuing as important features; public performances raised useful sums towards the War Memorial Appeal. The continued importance of music was underlined by the decision to purchase a War Memorial Organ in addition to the plaque commemorating those who had given their lives during the Second World War.
The effort expended in these important areas of the school’s life gave rise to notable successes in terms of awards to boys including J. Wilkins (1949) and J R King (1952) w ho obtained Open Leverhulme Exhibitions to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. And David Taylor (attended from 1957) is a well known actor on television under the stage name of David Calder.