A fascinating trip into living memory is launched on 15 July at Swindon Museum & Art Gallery, Bath Road when an exhibition called Entertaining Swindon focuses on performance arts in the town from 1955 to 1985.
It celebrates thirty years of people involved in shows, starting from the closure of the now demolished Empire Theatre in 1955 to the opening of the arts suite at Link Centre – exactly thirty years ago.
Curator Kate Parsons said: “Life in Swindon (and Britain) was very different in 1955. Few homes had a TV and many more people made their own entertainment.
“Many performing arts groups sprang up around a political movement, church or employer, in particular the railway – its venues and staff associations are connected to many performance groups, many of which continue to this day.
“Swindon’s working classes, reaching for their pens and warding off lethargy, soundly reproached Coun. Peter Stone for suggesting they were too weary to seek out evening entertainment,” reported the Swindon Evening Advertiser in 1974
“1950s Swindon was very much a blue collar town with a strong community spirit, civic pride and a focus on betterment – amateur and professional performers mucked in and helped each other to form an incredible interconnecting network of musicians, dancers and actors.
“By the 1970s, although more people were happy to be entertained by the telly, the arts in Swindon flourished aided by a healthy arts budget, and visionary community arts leaders – this continued to the Link Centre where the arts suite was opened to engage the new community of West Swindon.*
“This exhibition barely begins to tell the story of all the people who performed in Swindon from 1955 to 1985. We have omitted arts festivals and Swindon’s much fêted famous exports, such as Diana Dors and XTC, in favour of showcasing Swindonians who have performed for Swindonians. We could easily put on another few exhibitions on the same subject.”
Entertaining Swindon will certainly draw in people across the generations. It will be open from Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 3pm.
*Link Centre arts suite lasted for about 6 years from 1985 to the early 1990s before it closed and was converted into the present day gym.