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The First Festival

Christmas 1975, and the Parish Church choir had just finished their Christmas concerts.

Over a glass of sherry at the Vicarage, the vicar’s next door neighbour, Roy Rimmer, said “What a pity this only happens at Christmas. What Wetherby needs is a Festival, to bring in the schools, as well!” Roy was Leeds Education’s music adviser and knew a lot about concerts.

So in 1976 the Vicar, the Rev Jonathan Bailey, floated the idea more widely. ‘Some sort of community activity’ was his concept.  The responses were enough for him to call an open meeting. Some 40 organisations turned up. They ranged from a Drama Society to Flower Clubs, Rotary and the Lions.


They chose the period in November 1977 between Guy Fawkes Day and Remembrance Sunday so the whole thing could start with a bang.


An eleven-strong committee was chaired by the Vicar. They included Val Humphries as Social Secretary, Peter Osborn, who used to manage the Rodney Cinema, on publicity, and Ted Kilner the youth leader who was put in charge of booking the professional artists.

Ted Kilner and Peter Osborn

“Marvellous” said Mr Bailey. “A collection of such able people with so many contacts and so wide an experience.”


The Vicar defined the Festival as ‘by the people of Wetherby and for the people of Wetherby’ with a certain amount of professional sparkle to ‘stiffen’ the acts.


Among the acts was a performance of SMIKE about Nicholas Nickleby put on by 100 school pupils from all the Primary Schools. Fauré’s Requiem was sung by the Choral Society, the Elysian Singers sang and the Literary Lunch speaker was Patrick Nuttgens.

8,500 free programmes were distributed and a Box Office was set up in a caravan on the Market Place.

There was a Dance organised by the Chamber of Trade and a reading by the Pennine Poets.

Allan Ebdidge, Margaret Grant, Beryl and Max Andrews in Deadline Dawn by St James Players

Overall, some 25 different events in the 9-day programme. 380 tickets were sold for the George Melly Concert in the High School at £1 each. A grant of £150 from Yorkshire TV enabled it to happen.

George Melly had been stationed in Wetherby during the war.

The first Festival started with fireworks and a Festival Service addressed by the Dean of Ripon. It ended with a Remembrance Sunday Service where the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, Brigadier Hargreaves, preached.