The QMT 40th Year Gala

Gala Committee (L-R): Andrew Piggott, Elliott Bunker, Matt Gray, Claudia O’Connell (Chair), Amy Walker & Amanda Campbell Phillips

Our 40th Year Gala committee hope you had a great evening celebrating on Saturday 8th July.

Here are some fabulous photos from the evening taken by Chris Wright


Here also, is a copy of the speech made by the Chairman of The Bancroft Players & The QMT, Elliott Bunker.

Firstly, I am so thrilled to be able to welcome you all here for such a significant milestone in the history of our society and theatre. It’s amazing to think that The Queen Mother theatre has been at the heart of the local arts scene for 4 decades and is still the only purpose-built public theatre in Hitchin. In 2025 The Bancroft Players will be 80 years old, and I cannot wait for the celebrations that that will bring.

I am also pleased to welcome so many members and guests tonight who were involved in the building of the theatre all that time ago and many of the subsequent changes we’ve seen since then; specifically, Richard & Wendy Whitmore, Christopher Mann, John Simmons, Les Edwards, Frank and Edith Pratt, Chris Lane and Brian and Sally Hull. But also, to those members who were so influential, that are no longer with us, but will never be forgotten like John Coxall and Roger Hawkins.

The life of The Queen Mother Theatre in fact started almost a decade before 1983, when Richard wrote to the Council enquiring about the possibility of building a theatre here at Woodside. Many conversations later, which even included ideas about the refurbishing of St Anne’s Hall, where The Bancroft Players rehearsed and performed for over 28 years, or an old coach house at the end of the car park, were toyed with but ultimately rejected, plus several attempts in the mid-70s to raise any funds needed. But following the conversion of The Bancroft Players into a registered charity and the formation of a partnership with Hunting Gate, John Willmott and Daniels Bros, the initiative was officially born. An appeal to raise £80,000 was launched and the work began on 4th May 1982. By August of that year the walls were up and by September the roof trusses were in place. At this point over 200 people attended a special ceremony where the foundation stone was laid, which you can see on the front wall of the theatre. In the February of 1983 there was a topping out ceremony and the appeal had managed to raise £72,000 of the needed funds, but the outstanding amount to complete the project remained elusive – until an anonymous guardian angel donated £20,000 to the funds and the final phases kicked off at a pace. And on the 9th of July 1983, (40 years ago tomorrow) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother performed the official opening ceremony.

Since then, the theatre has gone through many a transformation – including the addition of a studio rehearsal space in 1985, a new foyer extension in 1997. In 2004 the studio rehearsal space was converted to a Studio Theatre, with more improvements made between 2008 and 2011 as part of the Youth Wing appeal, which saw a new workshop, new rehearsal room, extra space given to the studio, including a new bar and foyer.

And the work doesn’t stop. Even now, following some of the harshest years for many smaller regional theatres with the COVID pandemic having such a massive impact, we have been very fortunate to start yet another phase of improvements to our wonderful theatre. Over the last month the bar and foyer has completed phase 1 of a refurbishment project, which has seen it completely redecorated, with new seating and carpet. With future phases including a brand-new bar, improved exterior, updated signage, and even the possibility of some large windows to open us up even further to the passing traffic and potential audiences. I would like to say a massive thank you to Andrew Piggott, who has project managed this work with the contractors and kept them to very tight deadline between the end of our production of Company and tonight.

None of this work would have been possible if it wasn’t for the amazing members and volunteers that continue to give their time and skills to help run our theatre, and while in recent years those numbers have diminished, the dedication from those remaining has been nothing short of inspirational.

And so, to tonight and the future of The QMT. I want to say a massive thank you to the Gala Committee, who have made this evening such a memorable event – Special thanks to Claudia O’Connell, who has chaired the committee – please can I ask those people to stand up and for us all to give them a huge round of applause.

The future for The QMT is in a very secure place. Things are changing, evolving and a new generation of Bancroft Players are stepping in to carry on the hard work of the generations of Bancroft Players before us. I look forward to being part of, and celebrating all the future milestones and events and I am very proud to be the Chairman of such an amazing society and theatre.

Thank you.

Elliott Bunker – Chairman