Founded in 1958, BATS is a self-funded, not-for-profit amateur theatrical group that is run by volunteers who share a passion for musical theatre – whether on-stage or working behind the scenes.
The Society does not receive any form of ongoing financial support to fund the cost of staging productions or subsidise running costs. We rely on the ticket sales and programme sales from our strong following of loyal audience members from Basingstoke and the surrounding areas to remain operationally viable.
Over the years, BATS has established a reputation for staging musical theatre productions that are of an exceptional standard, using talent from in and around Basingstoke.
In the mid-1950s the fortunes of Basingstoke's Haymarket Theatre were at a very low ebb and the future of the building itself was in serious jeopardy. Had it not been for a group of public-spirited local people, who generously invested private donations, and the formation of the Basingstoke Theatre Club (the forerunner of BATS), then the present Haymarket and the rich history of amateur and professional productions in the town might never have been.
Revues were presented in 1956 and 1957, then in 1958 the Basingstoke Theatre Club produced its first pantomime, Cinderella. From that time, amateur pantomime was established as a regular feature of the town’s theatre season – right up until 1994.
In 1959, fears over the future of the theatre remained a concern as the lease was due to expire. The Chairman Len Pegrum urged all theatre groups in the town to co-operate and "put on the maximum of entertainment to make this a most successful season. To sell more tickets, popular appeal must be the first consideration." The Theatre Club decided to go all out to stage its first musical production, Chu Chin Chow. The total budget was £182!
With its 1960 production of The Vagabond King, the Theatre Club was renamed Basingstoke Amateur Theatrical Society – BATS.
In 1966, BATS staged its first classic American musical, South Pacific. It was a complete sell-out and people queued round the old town hall to get tickets. Its popularity set the pattern for the future choice of shows and was followed in 1967 by Oklahoma! which saw the appointment of the Society’s first professional director, Maeve Hewson. She was followed by several others, of which by far the most prolific is Ray Jeffery, who has been responsible for more than 50 productions to date.
1968 again saw BATS breaking new ground. My Fair Lady had completed its professional run in London’s West End and was released for amateur performance. BATS immediately applied for permission to perform and so became one of the first amateur companies in the world to stage the show.
The 1970s and 1980s were a hugely successful period for BATS and nearly every show was a sell-out. To quote Arthur Attwood (Basingstoke Gazette in 1979): "From small beginnings BATS have become one of the strongest and most competent Societies in the South of England, with a high standard of performance very exceptional for amateurs."
BATS Next Gen
1985 saw the formation of BATS 12-Up (later BATS Next Generation) giving under-18s the chance to take part in professionally-directed musicals under the BATS banner. Their first show was Grease.
Unfortunately, due to the demands on the adult membership BATS Next Generation became inactive for a number of years after 1994, but was reincarnated in 2003 under the name BATS Next Gen. After reaching 16, significant numbers of Next-Genners have proceeded to join BATS and some have made a professional career in the theatre.
New milestones were reached in 1988 when BATS went on tour, taking Half A Sixpence to Ireland’s Waterford Festival of Light Opera, winning awards for choreography and costume.
Perhaps one of the most significant changes came in 1995 with the opening of the Anvil as a concert hall and additional theatrical venue. This provided the Society with a stage that could accommodate the larger-scale American musicals as well as larger audiences. BATS committed a vast amount of resources to stage the first amateur show at the Anvil, 42nd Street, which turned out to be a theatrical success. Recent years have seen BATS return to the Anvil for productions of Me and My Girl in Spring 2006 and Gershwin’s Crazy for You in May 2008, which also saw the Society celebrate its Golden Jubilee year – 50 years!
Over the years since 1958 life has changed. Fewer people work regular 9 to 5 hours and that is reflected in the cast and crew who step into the rehearsal room on a Monday and Wednesday evening. Some come straight from the railway station after commuting back from London. Others make the long drive from Southampton, Hungerford or further afield to pursue their hobby. At the end of the day, they all agree it’s worth it.