‘Orphans’ still bring smiles century on
By Roger Moroney
There will be few, indeed if any, orphans in the variety clubs across the land which bear that word in their names.
Of those rendered parentless – those who then bond together accordingly to provide support for each other.
But then, as history tends to show, the Hastings Orphans Club is pretty well that.
A club of support and friendship but also of entertainment and enjoyment and brought about as the “family” they could have belonged to had been unable to take them in.
For in many cities there are two clubs, which are deemed “kindred” with one being The Savage Club and the other the Orphans Club … which had been set up to effectively take the overflow from the well populated Savage Clubs.
The Orphans Club is a place for fellowship and the promotion of various arts and entertainment, and of assisting with worthwhile charities . . . and good conversation.
That is made clear in the rules, for it is very firmly declared that there are two “taboo” subjects within the walls of the Hastings Orphan Club and throughout the other “kindred” clubs.
Talking of politics and religion is a no-no.
“Very clear on that one,” the club’s deputy chief and treasurer, Noel Thomson, said with a smile.
What is also very clear is the club’s devotion to stepping up to provide entertainment for the residents of rest homes, given many have a spot of age on their side also, and of helping charities.
Earlier this year they raised money for Cranford Hospice through their talents, and this month they will be staging a fundraiser for Romanian orphans, then in October the club’s members will be staging a fundraiser for the Blind Foundation’s guide dogs programme as well as putting on a concert for the Hawke’s Bay Founders Association.
“There’s always something going on – keeps us young,” Mr Thomson (who is set to turn a sprightly 80) said.
The club also raises funds to help young musicians in schools and recently provided two students with $250 each to help with their studies.
There is history aplenty behind the now 104-year-old Hastings club, which, after decades of moving about, has been situated on the corner of Miller and Albert Sts since the mid-60s.
The club effectively had its origins in England in 1875, steered by actors, musicians and writers who would meet in a London pub to simply catch-up and enjoy each other’s company.
They decided to create their own club where they could sing, perform, chat, eat and drink away from the public eye and titled it after playwright Richard Savage, who had been on the literary landscape a century earlier.
It was somewhere for creative kindred spirits to go, and accordingly that very first London Savage Club became a most popular and appealing place for the members to head along to.
And there were some colourful members, along the way; the likes of Charlie Chaplin, WS Gilbert, Sergei Rachmaninov and Sir Alexander Fleming joined the gatherings.
The club, for the creative, began to spread, and of course crossed the seas and touched the colonies.
They were popular, so popular the numbers expanded to that stage where there had to be an “overflow” club to take them . . . they emerged as “orphans” of the Savage Club and accordingly sparked the creation of Orphans clubs.
Which is how it was for the Hastings Orphans Club and since the first meeting in 1913 (at dental rooms in the city) the club has been through thick and thin in terms of membership but the shows most certainly go on.
They stage 13 concerts (korero) for the members to enjoy between April and October and also hit the road at least once a year.
While there had been a time, particularly during the 1930s, when membership got up around the 300 mark, today it sits at 68.
“Which is not too bad,” Mr Thomson said, pointing out that dwindling numbers had caused some “kindred” clubs elsewhere to call it a day.
“But it is tough to keep the numbers up because we’re all getting older – it’s in decline to the tune of three or four a year so we are looking for some new members, particularly younger members in their 40s, 50s and 60s.”
He joined about 10 years ago after being invited along by a current member and enjoyed what he saw and heard.
“That’s pretty well the way we recruit – if they like it they stay.”
While the club was formed around music, verse, skits and songs, members did not have to be musical to join.
“Just come along and watch and have fun.”
A couple of members have been doing that for quite a time.
Norm Compton and Bill Elms have been with the Hastings Orphans Club for about 60 years.
“They were young when they joined, of course, but times were different then – you had to make your own entertainment.”
Mr Thomson said the club had some fine musicians and entertainers, although he did not play an instrument himself: “I play the fool – I do some skits.”
Among the 68 members there are harmonica bands, guitar bands, vocalists, storytellers and pure hard-case comedians. They carry on a long sociable and entertaining tradition sparked more than a century ago.
The only disruption to proceedings came in 1916 as World War I raged, and the club went into recess for four years.
By the time the Hawke’s Bay earthquake struck in 1931, membership had risen to around 300 and until securing its present site, where members built their hall, operated out of a string of venues.
There have been many memorable moments and shows through the decades, and during World War II the Hastings club, along with other kindred affiliated clubs throughout the land, staged morale-boosting concerts to keep community spirits high.
Basically, it is simply about creating good entertainment and smiles, and within the Orphan Club framework there are events dubbed as “Inwards Raids” and “Outward Raids”.
An Inward Raid is when a visiting show from another club is staged – the Outward Raid is when the Hastings members take their entertaining pieces to other clubs.
“Always plenty going on,” Mr Thomson said.
“We’ve got a few raids lined up.”
Folk wanting to check in with the Hastings Orphans Club can call Noel on 876 8036 or Brian on 878 9928.
Photo caption – FOR LAUGHS: Entertainers Dave Sayner (left) and Brian McFlynn (as Lily) perform a skit. PHOTO/SUPPLIED