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GODA - The beginning

As part of the celebrations for the Guild's 75th anniversary we delve into the official archives and take a look at how it all began.

Most of the significant amateur theatre activity during the period immediately following the Second World War involved, to some degree, the British Drama League (BDL) which, in 1972, changed its name to the British Theatre Association (BTA). The events which led to the setting up of the Guild of Drama Adjudicators (GODA) were no exception. Indeed, the Guild’s title at the time of its formation was ‘The British Drama League Guild of Adjudicators’ and that is the name which appears at the head of the Minutes of the meeting at which the Guild was formed. The inaugural meeting was held during the evening of the 8th January 1947 in the BDL’s premises at 9 Fitzroy Square, London, W1.

Among the twenty people gathered at this first meeting were several who were prominent in the amateur and professional theatre of the time and who had experience of drama festivals and their adjudication; but there were two in particular to whom those now involved in amateur drama and drama festivals have good cause to be grateful. The two were C B Purdom and Geoffrey Whitworth. Along with E. Martin Browne they all played parts in its formation.

Charles Benjamin Purdom (15 October 1883 – 8 July 1965) was a British author, drama critic, town planner, and economist. He was one of the pioneers and founders of the first garden cities, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City, the latter of which he was appointed Finance Director between 1919–1928. He was then made Honorary Secretary, then Treasurer of the International Federation for Housing and Planning (1931–1935). He was also founder of the Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City Theatre Society, now the Welwyn Drama Club. He won the Howard Walden cup at the Welwyn Garden City Drama Festival and the David Belasco cup in New York in 1927. He was an author of many books on city development, on Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw plays, Harley Granville-Barker, and on producing plays. He was editor of an English literary periodical called Everyman, covering books, drama, music and travel and featured articles by renowned authors such as Ivor Brown, Arthur Machen, G. K. Chesterton, A. E. Coppard, and Bertrand Russell. He was General Secretary of British Equity (1939–1940) and joint secretary of the London Theatre Council. He was also the earliest biographer of Meher Baba. He was father of the actor Edmund Purdom. He died in Welwyn Garden City in 1965.

Much could be written about the BDL/BTA and its gradual sad slide into liquidation, but it will suffice here to say that it ceased to exist in 1990.

But in 1947, when the GODA story began, the BDL was a thriving body under the leadership of Geoffrey Whitworth with its fingers firmly on the national theatrical pulse. It was then an organisation which supported and helped to co-ordinate amateur drama in Britain, having several thousand members including professional affiliates. It had a training facility for amateur actors and producers, an information and advisory service including lending and reference libraries, a theatregoers club in London and a quarterly magazine entitled ‘Drama’.

Geoffrey Whitworth, CBE (7 April 1883 - 9 September 1951) was an English lecturer and author who was also instrumental in the founding of the National Theatre and served the committee lobbying for this as its secretary. Though not an actor, he was praised by George Bernard Shaw as one of the most important figures in the history of British theatre. The library he assembled was a large and important collection. From 1919 until 1948, Whitworth edited ‘Drama’. He was the drama critic of John O'London's Weekly (1922) and the Christian Science Monitor (1923). In 1924–5, he organized the theatre section of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

Whitworth was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an author. He wrote two notable plays, ‘Father Noah’ (1918) and ‘Haunted Houses’ (1934) as well as works on the theatre: ‘The Theatre of my Heart’ (1930; revised 1938), ‘The Making of a National Theatre’ (1951) and ‘The Civic Theatre Scheme’ (1942).

There was a boom in drama festivals in the years immediately after the war, accompanied by much criticism of the standards of adjudication then prevailing. It was the extent and force of this criticism which eventually persuaded the BDL to set up a small sub-committee to examine the feasibility of creating a body which would go some way to meeting the clear need for improved standards of adjudication and the training of new adjudicators. The sub-committee recommended the setting up of a body to be known as the BDL Guild of Drama Adjudicators and it drew up a draft constitution for such a body. It is a pity that no copy of this draft constitution seems to have survived. From there, it was a short step to the convening of the meeting on the 8th of January 1947 for the purpose of considering what flesh may be put upon the skeleton assembled by the BDL’s sub-committee and the meetings first actions was unanimously to resolve that E. Martin Browne should take the Chair.

Elliott Martin Browne (29 January 1900 – 27 April 1980) was a British theatre director, known for his production of twentieth century verse plays. He collaborated for many years with T. S. Eliot and was first producer of many of his plays including ‘Murder in the Cathedral’. In 1951, Browne produced the first revival since 1572 of the York Cycle of Mystery Plays and in the following year he created the International Amateur Theatre Association based in The Hague. He was to hold the Guild Chairmanship for only a year because in 1948, he was appointed Director of the BDL in succession to Geoffrey Whitworth.

It may be reasonably asserted that during the early and uncertain months of its existence, the Guild was fortunate to number two notable men among its founder members; one dedicated to ensuring excellence in amateur drama festivals and the other equally resolved that such festivals would, in future, be adjudicated to the highest possible standard. Whitworth additionally ensured that in those formative days, the BDL’s premises and facilities were placed unstintingly at the Guild’s disposal. The initiative and drive of Purdom, who as the Honorary Secretary was in the Guild’s ‘engine room’, ensured that those facilities were put to the most effective use, and under Martin Browne’s urbane Chairmanship, the Guild’s first year seemed to have passed remarkably smoothly.

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