This history has been compiled largely from documentation from the archives and from interviews with Paddy Mansfield, one of the founding members of the orchestra. There is virtually no documentation prior to 1980, and as a result it was been very difficult to determine clearly the dates and sequence of events. It is hoped that the following account will jog some memories and that further information will be forthcoming.
The photograph shows:
Front row, left to right:
Mr Rayburn, Doris Curry, Paddy Mansfield, Pat Draycott, John Lewis (Conductor), Alan Hammer, Helen Lewis (wife of John Lewis), Marjory Pryer at the piano.
Back row, left to right:
Unidentified, William “Drummy” Baldwin, Unidentified, Jack Stilwell, Unidentified (possibly a dep).
The orchestra appears to have started in 1967 or 1968 in Yateley. Jack Stilwell, a local resident and benefactor, after whom Yateley's Stilwell Close was named, had put an article in the Yateley parish magazine inviting players to form an orchestra. Only about three people turned up at the first meeting at Jack's house in Stevens Hill. One of those attending was John Lewis, who had been trained at Kneller Hall and who went on to become the nascent orchestra's conductor. According to Paddy, “He was very good, and very professional.” Oboist Barry Collisson joined only a few weeks later and at the time of writing is the longest-serving member of the orchestra. Another early member was flautist and organiser of the committee William “Drummy” Baldwin, who used to ride the drum horse in Trooping the Colour, and who eventually became a Chelsea pensioner.
The first couple of rehearsals were held at Jack's house, but it rapidly became apparent that there was no room for expansion, and the orchestra moved to Moor House in Moulsham Lane, Yateley, at that time the home of Pat Draycott (née Walker). Pat is thought to have joined the orchestra in 1968, a short time after it had started. To begin with there were only about 6 or 7 members, but it rapidly expanded to over twenty, and within about a year there was no longer enough room in Moor House.
It was some time before the orchestra started to give concerts, and there was no regular schedule of public appearances. The first serious concert took place in the Wokingham Theatre in December 1968. A contemporary newspaper cutting shows a photograph of the orchestra, clearly taken at the same time as the one reproduced here, with the caption “Musical venture for theatre” and the following text:
A new line in entertainment comes to Wokingham Theatre on Sunday, December 1. A concert of light classical music is being given by the 28-strong Yateley Orchestra conducted by John Lewis. The two hour concert will include music from Faust and a selection from Mary Poppins. Yateley Orchestra has been going for nine months and includes members from Crowthorne, Sandhurst and Yateley areas.
Although the original name was Yateley Orchestra, some time later it was re-named the Yateley Light Orchestra, not so much a conscious decision that there would be a focus on light music, although it did indicate the nature of the repertoire, but more a simple reflection of the music the orchestra could lay its hands on. Paddy commented that “we had no music when we started, but a lot of military bands were disbanding at that time, and they all did orchestral music as well, so we welcomed anything we could get”.
The next rehearsal venue was Yateley Hall Convent, in Firgrove Road, where there was much more room, even a stage, and the occasional concert was also given there. The nuns seem to have been well disposed towards the orchestra, because at Christmas time the players would be treated to sherry! This may have been influenced by the Reverend Mother Pelly at Yateley Convent. She was a playing member and an enthusiastic supporter of the orchestra. When the junior school at the Convent closed down, she moved to Farnborough Convent, where she was known just as Sister Pelly.
Although the orchestra continued to rehearse at Yateley, it gave concerts at
Farnborough Convent, where it became well enough acquainted with the nuns to be given food – for a time at least, but it seems likely that someone objected to such (mis)use of the Convent's assets and eventually the party was over.
In those days the orchestra gave concerts in all sorts of places, often by invitation and not always as self-promoted concerts. One such concert had to be cancelled because the flute player objected to playing for Masonic events! A number of concerts were given at the MVEE (Military Vehicles Engineering Establishment) at Longcross. Paddy reported that “there used to be a military flavour to the concerts. The Queen first, then overture, march or waltz – there was a definite order of things.” Drummy obtained many extra players through his army connections.