The following information was compiled from an article by former BODS President Derrick Graham, and archive material including a Dorking Advertiser article for the 60th anniversary. There are photos and programmes for some of the early shows in the Past Productions section, but if you have other pictures or archive material then do please contact us
How it started
The society was started in 1936 by Commander Jack Hatch and his wife Norah, and their neighbour on Pebble Hill, Rachel Rundle. The first mention of 'Betchworth Dramatic and Entertainment Society' is in publicity for a performance of Baa Baa Black Sheep in the Village Hall by The Leatherhead Players on Weds 19th February 1936, with profits being devoted to improvement of the stage and the formation of a new society. The Memorial Hall had been built in 1926, but with the opening of the A25 Betchworth bypass it was now just a few yards from the new road, accessible to Reigate and Dorking. The hall had not been built for staging plays, having just a raised platform which stopped short of the wall at one end to allow access to a kitchen at the rear.
The exact date of the inaugural meeting isn't known, but there was obviously sufficient interest to establish the society, with acting members paying annual subscriptions of 5 shillings. The first President and vice-President were Mr Tritton and Mrs DuBuisson respectively. The very first production was The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley (better known later for playing Private Godfrey in Dad's Army) , performed on 11 & 12th December 1936, although the venue was nearby Leigh WI Hall (now Abbots Pass Hall) rather than the Memorial Hall. Judging from the programme, the society was then known simply as 'Betchworth Dramatic Society', and this appears to have continued until 1938 when the name B.O.D.S first appears.
The second production, in 1937 was Patience, after which Gilbert & Sullivan Operas were to become an annual event together with plays, although productions were of course interrupted by the Second World War. The Society re-formed in 1946 and carried on in the same pattern as before until 1951 when the chairman came up with the idea of a one-act play competition between the local drama societies, as part of the National Festival of Community Drama. Eventually seventeen companies became involved, providing a full week of theatre and, if they had adequate facilities they, in turn, hosted the Betchworth Drama Festival. Similar festivals started all over the country and soon Betchworth became the first round in the All England Drama Festival, when the winners from each area went on to compete against each other.