The Alan Turner Opera Company’s eye-catching archives

Last month, Derbyshire Record Office was delighted to accept the donation of five rather extraordinary albums of photographs and news-cuttings (D8089) assembled by Alan Turner (1902-1965).  Turner was Managing Director of the Ernest Turner group, which included the Spa Lane Mills in Derby.  However, the principal focus of the collection is not textile production, but theatrical productions.  Alan Turner’s eponymous Opera Society/Company put on numerous performances in London in the 1920s and 1930s, before relocating to Derby in later years.  Here is a sample of some of the fantastic photographs and ephemera in the first volume:

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It wasn’t just opera, though – there were also murder mysteries…

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…acrobatics from “Katherine and Aragon”…

…and even appearances on stage by live animals:

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The textile industry was a competitive business which demanded Alan Turner’s attention, yet somehow he found a great deal of time and energy to devote to the performing arts.  He even provided his own English translation to some of the works performed, including “Der Lustige Krieg”, an operetta by Johann Strauss.

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In the Derby productions, workers from Spa Lane Mills often made up the chorus – accompanied by music directed by conductor John Pritchard (1921-1989), also conductor of the Derby String Orchestra.

Turner was also a supporter of Open-Air Theatre in Derby.  See, for instance, these photographs of a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1947:

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Note that the programme has been autographed by Betty-Isabel Meakin.  Meakin was a well-regarded performer, who can be seen wearing a spectacular gown in one of the following shots, hand-in-hand with a princely Alan Turner.

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A lot of those photographs would have been taken inside the Grand Theatre in Derby’s Babington Lane. Here is what the Grand Theatre looked like from the outside, during the the two-week run of “Chu Chin Chow”, which was attended by a total audience of more than 15,000 people.

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Does the front of the building seem familiar?  That might just be because it is adorned with similar faux-Chinese lettering today – as home to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet!

Much of the material in the final couple of volumes relates to Alan Turner’s religious convictions, especially his attachment to the idea of “the Christian factory”.  His approach to running the business, in a way that incorporated both organised worship and a concern for the welfare of workers, led to his being knighted in 1956 by Pope Pius XII. This material is largely textual and so does not lend itself to reproduction in a blog post in the same way as the photographs, but it certainly makes for an interesting read.  If you would like to browse this set of volumes, please look at our Visiting Us page.

2 thoughts on “The Alan Turner Opera Company’s eye-catching archives

  1. Alan Turner albums of photographs and news-cuttings (D8089) assembled by Alan Turner (1902-1965).

    It is indeed an amazing collection.
    But I have a question.

    Who is the Alan Turner who was recording music from 1906 onwards up to at least 1917.
    see this Discogs site for details.
    And that site does have a photo of an “Alan Turner” but gives scant biographical information.
    The Discogs site currently has details of 33 songs that were recorded by “Alan Turner” from 1906 to 1917
    And note that the Discogs “Alan Turner” supposedly toured the USA, particularly Chicago and Philadelphia.

    It seems to me that there is (was) a second person named Alan Turner ??
    Perhaps the father of the Alan Turner who was born in 1902 and died in 1965.

    I would be very grateful if you could supply information to clarify the identity of the Discogs “Alan Turner”.
    My email address is given below.

    Max Meth

    • Dear Max,
      The Administrative History section of our catalogue for this collection records that Alan Turner was the son of Ernest Turner (his middle name, which he used in preference to Joseph, his first) so I don’t believe the two people are connected. The link you gave suggests the other Alan Turner performed with various opera companies in the UK and USA, so I had a quick look on the Times Digital Archive. The first thing I hit on was The Times, 19 Oct 1909, which reviewed the Carl Rosa Opera Company’s production of Lohengrin at Covent Garden and noted that “Mr Alan Turner sang with great vigour”. I bet there are loads more of that kind of thing. Holders of a Derbyshire library card can access the Times Digital Archive – a thing of wonder – as described on this page: I see from your email address that you are in Australia so hope that there is a local method of accessing this kind of resource online if you want to pursue this. Another thought: If Mr Turner was still singing in London at the time of the 1911 census, you might manage to grab biographical details of him that way.

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