About Us

Founded in 1980, Variety Express is a North Hertfordshire-based community theatre group with a current cast of around 40 members, which has raised over £130,000 for local and national causes. We produce a positive and entertaining family show for all.

For many years, we have delivered an annual musical spectacular, performed each October at St. Francis’ Theatre in Letchworth Garden City. Previous show themes have included Beauty & The Beast, The Greatest Showman, Pirates! & a journey through animated classics.

Tickets for this year’s show are available here.

Our Committee

In the beginning...

A great number of ideas are born over a few drinks in the pub and Variety Express’ birth was no exception!

In 1980 a few people, several of whom had previously been involved in local community theatre productions, suggested forming a new entertainment group. They thought that a combination of singing and dancing with a little comedy thrown in would be a good recipe. This group could perform locally and hopefully be able to raise some much-needed money for local charities.

The proceeds of that first show, some £200, were tripled the following year and have increased substantially ever since. In fact, since its conception back in 1980, Variety Express has donated over £130,000 to charities including nursing homes, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Lister Hospital and dozens of specialist care organisations.

Variety Express is still going strong, involving a team of around 40 members with each person providing an essential role, from backstage ‘hands on deck’ to sound and lighting technicians, and of course there’s the cast! Our Musical Director Geoff Page has been with us from the very beginning!

Variety Express has come a long way in its forty-year history and our aim is to provide a fabulous evening’s entertainment at a very reasonable price, and most importantly to provide our chosen charities with the biggest donation we can!

How it all began...

Written by our Musical Director, Geoff Page

Over 50 years ago, as a founder member of BYO (Baldock Youth Organisation), I played piano for my first show. BYO was formed when the four church youth clubs (Congregational, Methodist, Catholic and Anglican) attended a meeting (I can’t recall what the purpose of the meeting was!). It was the first time the four church youth groups had met and it seemed a good opportunity to talk about getting together. So after much discussion, it was decided to form a new group for those who were interested from the four youth clubs, this new group we named “Baldock Youth Organisation” (BYO), a further meeting for the newly formed group was arranged to decide what we could do for the town (chaired by Terry Gray).

We would organise working parties to do jobs for the town’s elderly, eg. gardening, decorating, etc. We decided (as we had a pianist!) to put on a concert for the town’s over-60s which we staged at the Secondary school hall (now Knights Templar).

The show was successful, so we decided to stage the same show for the public the following April. This we did for 3 or 4 years until BYO membership started to decline, some members emigrating, some going to Uni, and some, like me, getting too old to be a youth! Around 1969, a few members of BYO joined forces with “The Happy Players”, a fairly small group who were putting on entertainment at homes for the elderly in the area.

As the Happy Players grew, we were soon putting on productions similar to today’s at venues such as Hitchin Town Hall with Keith Watson as compere; a talented guy! We were also putting on small shows at village halls, homes for the elderly, etc. Some of the pianos I encountered were unplayable (no keyboard in those days!) so I carried a guitar with me to strum if the piano was bad. In one December we had a small show nearly every night, with two on a Saturday! I think we did 24 that month – madness! Around 1980, for various reasons, the Happy Players folded, so a few of us held a meeting in a pub, again chaired by Terry, to propose starting up a new group. I said… how about “Variety Express”…? Most of you will know the history of VE… and here we are! Since the start of VE there have been a few changes, the format of the show had to change after Keith Watson left, and did so successfully into our present format.

The original Variety Express band: Dave Ewans, Geoff Page and Chris Page on mini drums
The original Variety Express band: Dave Ewans, Geoff Page and Chris Page on mini drums!

Who else have I played for?

  1. Hitchin Pantomime Company (early 1970s)
  2. The Maguire Singers (a madrigal group, early 1970s)
  3. North Herts Variety Players (a short-lived group)
  4. St John’s School, Baldock Panto (with Chris Page on drums)
  5. Baldock Congregational Church (now Baldock United Reformed Church) Sunday school pianist (from age 13) and on the rota of organists (for services, weddings, funerals) until around 1982.
  6. Buffs Christmas carol concert (1982 – 2012)
  7. Baldock Theatre Group (with Pete Dawson/Chris Page on drums)
  8. Baldock Catholic Church - Occasional weddings/funerals
  9. K&L Sports and Social group (50 years ago!)
  10. Herts Variety (still going strong today) with Chris Page on drums
  11. Plus one or two I’ve probably forgotten...

Terry Gray estimates that over the last 50 years, the groups have staged around 1000 shows large and small!

Instruments I have used:

In the early days: pianos, some good, some bad! I built my first organ in 1982 and used it for a couple of years – it sounded awful! I bought two further portable organs with bass pedalboards which I used at the start of Variety Express. Pedalboards are hard work!

I started using Yamaha keyboards over 25 years ago. The one I use now was given to me by Steve Bavister, I also have one given to me by Carol Nash which I use in my garden studio, they are superb instruments.

A final thought from me…

I would never have dreamed 50 years ago that 50 years on I would still be doing this!

See ya next year!

Geoff Page
Musical Director – Variety Express