Wiltshire North Girl Guides’ Pageant
- Celebration: The Olave Years, 1889-1989
Place: Link Centre (Swindon) (Swindon, Wiltshire, England)
Number of performances: 1
20 May 1989, 2pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- County Arts Advisor and Chairman of Committee: Sylvia Chandler
- Vice Chairman: Pam Little
- County Commissioner: Christine Clist
- County Music Consultant: Lynne Harper
- Scriptwriter: Sue Duncan
- Scriptwriter: Allison Burrows
- County Archivist: Pat Clark
Subcommittee for Allocation of Subject:
- 4 women
For each meeting there were up to eight different representatives from different district branches.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Duncan, Sue
- Burrows, Allison
Names of composers
- Parr-Davies, Harry
- Chater, Mary
- The Beatles
Many pieces by unnamed creators also used – see musical production below.
Numbers of performers35
Rarely more than 10-20 performers on stage at once, and many played multiple parts. It seems likely no more than 40 performers as a total. Estimate: 35.
- Total expenditure (£542.98)
- Total income (£788.98)
- Profit: £246.00
Object of any funds raised
The Olave Centre appeal for Pax Lodge.
‘If we happen to make a profit after all expenses have been taken into account it was decided that profit should be donated to the Olave Centre appeal for Pax Lodge.’1
Linked occasionCentenary of Olave Baden-Powell’s birth.
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
The hall capacity was 700 raised seats and 228 on the flat.
Seemingly disappointing audience: ‘I was only sad to see so many seats empty.’2 See pageant summary.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
£2 for adults, £1 for children and concessions
Initially the stage is clear except for a large World Badge at the back, narrator side, corner of the stage. ‘Jubeleana’, ‘Come and Join Us’, and ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ are sung.
Two groups of girls enter, one group skipping and chanting skipping rhymes, while the other group sits on the floor, sewing and reading. After a short time 10 scouts (played by girls) march onto the stage. The narrator tells of the first Scout Rally held in September 1909 at Crystal Palace, and how a handful of girls, including Margarette de Beaumont, the then leader of the Wolf Patrol, joined the rally to take part themselves. At this point the groups of girls pull on neckers and join the Scouts. The Scouts leave the stage, to be replaced by Guides. The narrator describes how Baden-Powell was a wise man and realised it would be wise to not deny women their wish to have a girls’ movement. More girls enter onto the stage as the narrator tells of the rapid growth of the movement, and the publishing of The Scheme for Girl Guides. Various girls speak to the audience, describing the early activities of guiding and their wish to ‘prove to the general public that Guiding was worthwhile.’ The narrator then tells how Baden-Powell recruited his sister Agnes to become president of the Girl Guides and to rewrite the boys’ handbook for girls. The narrator then introduces Olave, who appears on stage pushing a wheelchair, and her early career of helping to look after invalid children—against the wishes of her wealthy parents.
A secretary on stage sits at a typewriter, as the narrator tells of the first headquarters of the guides’ movement, the adoption of the trefoil symbol, and the publication of the Handbook for the Girl Guides by Agnes Baden-Powell in 1912, How Girls Can Help to Build up the Empire. Girls cross the stage and put up a flag pole before breaking the flag with a whistle. At this point all the girls salute. Tasks then take place, such as cooking at a fire with pot and stick, making gadgets, and pitching a tent, while the narrator describes the tasks they are undertaking. The narrator then returns to the story of Olave, her meeting with Baden-Powell, and their rapid engagement. By 1917, the narrator relates, she had borne three children, and was partly running the Guides movement as Chief Commissioner and Chief Guide. The choir sings ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’. The narrator then describes how the First World War gave the guides a chance to prove their worth, and how the Brownies were formed in 1914-1915 and the Rangers in 1917. A short flag ceremony takes place on the stage, before all the girls left.
1920-1929. Sisters in Guiding
Princess Mary enters the stage to inspect a girls’ march, as the narrator describes her taking up the presidency in 1920, as well as the general growth of the movement—such as the foundation of a training centre at Foxlease House and a World Camp in 1924. During this narration, guides with international banners come on stage, and dances take place. The narrator tells how, with Lady Olave at the helm, the movement became increasingly international, as guides representing different countries cross the stage and form a line at the front; the narrator then tells of various fundraising campaigns, conferences and new associations—like the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 1928. A re-enactment of the opening ceremony for Waddow Hall in 1927 is then performed.
The narrator tells of the building of a new headquarters, as the building is put up on the stage. The narrator then describes the Guide Car ‘Gulliver’, a model of which is driven onto the stage, and its travels across Wiltshire in the early 1930s to help give aid to unemployed families.
A trek cart crosses the stage, with guides collecting salvage, as the narrator tells of the various war efforts in which the Girl Guides took part—such as helping and befriending evacuees (who now enter the stage), taking part in the Home Emergency Scheme, and working in canteens, hospitals and day nurseries. Guide International Service volunteers come on stage, and are then waved off by all on stage; they leave singing. Meanwhile the narrator describes how the International Service was formed in 1942 to train volunteers to carry out relief work in the aftermath of the War.
Interval of 15 minutes
The Guides come on stage to build an altar, before the trefoil standard is laid across—a hymn is then sung. The narrator describes how after the war things slowly got back to normal and, in 1951, the North Wiltshire Standard was dedicated, followed quickly by a new Campsite at Wroughton. The altar girls collect the flagpole and erect it, before building a camp and campfire. Songs are performed, ending in a party scene and conga off stage. The narrator tells of the 1957 centenary celebrations of Baden-Powell’s birth in four World Camps—Switzerland, Canada, The Philippines and Windsor Great Park, Britain, and representatives from these countries gather on the stage. The Canadian contingent perform the Red River Valley Dance. The Narrator tells of the invention of a special Camp for ‘handicapped Guides’ and more local events, such as a Scout and Guide Week held at the County Ground.
Patrol leaders come onto the stage and are presented with new handbooks before scattering to different parts of the stage to discuss the handbook with their individual patrols. The narrator tells of the new Guide Handbook, published in 1968, and its 8-point programme, and a ‘radically different’ approach of giving the individual a great deal more freedom and flexibility with which to interpret the programme. Various activities from the programme are then performed by the Patrols, such as aerobics, helping an old lady across the road, cooking over a fire, undertaking household jobs, and persuading people to stop smoking, as the narrator describes the point of the activities. Two groups of girls are then on the stage, one group going to a rock concert. The guides manage to persuade the rock girls to go with them instead, where they then have fun and music of their own ‘exploring the arts’. The narrator then tells of the international integration, before several guides in the ‘national dress’ of other countries cross the stage. All leave the stage as the choir sings ‘Hej, Goddag’.
Three guides come onto the stage in the guise of recording engineers, and position microphones at the front of the stage. The choir assemble, before performing, as the engineers record. The narrator then tells how, in 1975, the County of Wiltshire Girl Guides was split into two to reduce the burden of county administration. The narrator then tells of the death of Olave Baden-Powell and the sadness it brought, but reminding the guides of the recording she made a few years before her death, to give hope and inspiration to all. The recording is then played as the guides sit listening, the choir singing gently ‘Go Well and Safely’. While the choir sings, the girls leave the stage.
1980-1989 and beyond
The narrator tells how Guiding lived on just as Olave said it would and describes the celebrations they held in 1985 to commemorate 75 years of the movement. On the stage the girls re-enact the Buckingham Palace Candle Ceremony, when the birthday cakes from all over the country were lit by a single flame. The narrator then tells of the local celebrations at Wroughton Air Field and the tea making challenge—which then takes place on the stage. Guides and Brownies join on stage and sing ‘Join Hands’. The future scene now takes place. A computer appears at the back of the stage. One performer stands with her fingers to her temples; a print-out miraculously comes out from the computer. Brownies, Guides, Rangers and Guiders enter in jumpsuits. Brownies have a sign saying ‘Beam me up Brown Owl’. The narrator declares, ‘Who knows what the future may bring.’ As the County Commissioner passes a light to a Rainbow, Brownie, Guide, Ranger and Guider, in present day uniform, the narrator states: ‘Now, symbolically, I want to pass that force and inspiration to our future, for all our young people to take guiding to their hearts and make it their own.’ All performers join hands and sing ‘Join Hands’.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Powell, Olave St Clair Baden- [née Olave St Clair Soames], Lady Baden-Powell (1889–1977) leader of the world Girl Guide movement
- Mary, princess royal (1897–1965) [also known as Mary, Princess]
Piano, guitar, and taped music. Choir of 30-50. Pieces included:
- ‘Jubeleana’ (Introduction).
- ‘Come and Join Us’ (Introduction).
- ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ (1889-1909).
- National Anthem (1889-1909).
- ‘Liza Jane’ (1910-1919).
- ‘As We Trek Along’ (1910-1919).
- ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ (1910-1919).
- ‘Sisters in Guiding’ (1920-1929).
- ‘World Song’ (1920-1929).
- ‘Guide Marching Song’ (1930-1939).
- ‘White Cliffs of Dover’. Vera Lynn (1930-1939).
- ‘Wish me Luck’. Words by Phil Park, music by Harry Parr-Davies (1940-1949).
- ‘Trefoil Song’. Words and music by Mary Chater (1950-1959).
- ‘Now Thank we all Our God’ (1950-1959).
- ‘Come Come Light up the Fire’ (1950-1959).
- ‘Ging Gang Gooli’ (1950-1959).
- ‘My Aunt Grete’ (1950-1959).
- ‘Oh How Lovely is the Evening’ (1950-1959).
- ‘Royal Round’ (1950-1959).
- ‘Red River Valley Dance’ (1950-1959).
- ‘It’s a Small World’ (1950-1959).
- ‘Wiltshire Jubilee Song’ (1950-1959).
- ‘She loves you, Yeah Yeah Yeah’. The Beatles (1960-1969).
- ‘Hej Goddag’ (1960-1969).
- ‘Swinging Along the Open Road’ (1970-1979).
- ‘Timber Yell’ (1970-1979).
- ‘Land of the Silver Birch’ (1970-1979).
- ‘Tzena’ (1970-1979).
- ‘Go Well and Safely’ (1970-1979).
- ‘Join Hands’ (1980-1989).
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Evening Advertiser. Swindon.
Book of words
Other primary published materials
- ‘Wiltshire North Girl Guides Present Celebration: 1889-1989, the Olave Years’. A leaflet that also acted as a ticket for the pageant. In Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (2 of 2). 1h 46m video of pageant.
- Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2). Includes script, drafts, letters following the pageant, committee minutes, ephemera.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Baden-Powell, Agnes. How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire. London, 1912.
The Olave Years, or Wiltshire North Pageant, was a small one-off performance pageant-play held in 1989 to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Olave Baden-Powell, wife of the Scouting and Girl Guides Founder, Robert Baden-Powell, and Chief Guide of England from 1918. It was produced by the Wiltshire North guides association, which represented 3902 uniformed members, and took place indoors at the Link Centre in Swindon.3 Its ten scenes were undertaken by eight divisions—North West Wilts and Swindon South each taking an extra scene due to their relatively larger size.4 In terms of its staging it relied on a small cast, with many taking multiple parts, and favoured a prominent microphone narration rather than dialogue. While ostensibly a celebration, the organisers hoped it would also ‘stir up some interest’ in the local community—as the scriptwriter Allison Burrows told the local press on the day before the performance: ‘we’re desperately short of… Guiders—people to run units. Several Guides’ companies in West Swindon and the town’s central district are under threat.’5 According to the historian Tammy Proctor, this was seemingly a wider problem in the Guides movement in the period—with the rise of television, and then computers, adults increasingly ‘found reasons to stay at home rather than volunteering their time’.6
It was both a history of the Girl Guides generally as well as the movement at the local level of Wiltshire. Particular attention was given to showing the role the Guides played in times of national crisis, such as the First and Second World Wars and the economic depression of the 1930s. It was, however, mostly a brightly positive pageant, making extensive use of both live and recorded music and group singing to emphasise the happiness that participating in the Guides could bring to its members. While supposedly a celebration of Olave Baden-Powell, she featured only once as a young woman—reflecting the Committee’s belief that it was better to not have too much representation of real people on the stage due to the ‘difficulties of “getting it right”’.7 It also extensively told of the growth of internationalism in the Guiding movement, leading to one presumably amusing scene, if perhaps not politically correct in today’s terms, where girl guides entered in ‘national dress’—‘Onion Man’ for France, ‘Grass skirt and garlands’ for Hawaii, ‘Poncho and wide hat’ for Mexico, ‘corks around hat—croc under arm’ for Australia, and ‘Coolie hat and pigtail’ for China.8
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the pageant was the context of cultural challenges and the necessary modernisation of Guiding in which it took place. Firstly, the association was clearly aware of the important changes in technology and communication. One brainstorming document titled ‘Heading for a Century’ speculated, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, about the changes that Guiding might see in the next 15-25 years. Would space travel become the norm, and the ‘traveller badge take on a whole new meaning’, Guiding now taking place on a ‘British space station’? Or would there be a folding microwave oven or fold up moon boots?9 Perhaps more tellingly, the document ended with a question: ‘will new technology change our unit meetings and the programme for the girls? Or will we carry on in the same old way? And if we do… will there be any girls interested in joining us???’ Secondly, the Guides movement was going through a transitional period as it tried to maintain its relevance and popularity in the changing social scene apparent from the late 1960s. Perhaps reflecting this, the only newspaper article I have managed to find that covered the pageant led with the headline ‘Guiding the Girls On Sex’—the tenuous link being Olave’s supposedly progressive opinions on sex education.10 Sylvia Chandler, County Arts Advisor and Chairman of the Pageant Committee, told the newspaper that ‘It’s no longer a question of charging around getting muddy, tying knots and rubbing two sticks together’, and the article went on to describe how the Association’s magazine carried features on teenage fashion and beauty as well as arts, crafts and nature.11
As Tammy Proctor has argued, however, such modernisation of the Guides was not merely reactive but also proactive, Guiders recognising the great expansion of activities for young women especially—from feminism and the peace movement to dance and fashion crazes—and the competition this created.12 According to the Guardian, the organization had experienced a downturn at the beginning of the 1980s, only reviving towards the end of the decade with the creation of the Rainbows and a new uniform designed by Jeff Banks.13 A former Girl Guide, writing in the Independent, remembered that her non-Guiding friends in the 1980s were put off by the organisation’s ‘uniform and seemingly nerdy activities’ as well the ‘fact that make-up wasn’t allowed and that we hardly ever got to mingle with the boys in the local Scouts’, though she instead appreciated the chance to learn new skills in a caring environment while creating a sense of community.14 Regardless of these issues, 1980 did still see the movement at its peak with more than eight hundred thousand members.15
These questions of balancing the future of maintaining the popularity of the movement without jeopardising the educational spirit of improvement that Olave Baden-Powell represented became especially apparent in the final episodes of the pageant. In the ‘1980-1989 and beyond’ episode the Guides humorously made clear their willingness to be forward looking. With the appearance of a computer at the back of the stage, one Guide put her fingers to her temples and appeared to telekinetically communicate with the screen. Brownies, Guides, Rangers and Guiders entered in jumpsuits, and several Brownies held up a sign saying ‘Beam me up Brown Owl’, parodying the popular television series Star Trek.16 If the association was aware of the need to modernise, however, it did not lose touch with the older ethos of the promotion of a more moral and healthy lifestyle. In one incident, for example, two guides persuaded another two girls to stop smoking—the narrator reminding the audience that ‘Having the courage to say no and stand up for what is right is needed so often these days. Here these girls are really trying to keep the Guide Laws.’17 In another scene, from the 1960s, another group of girls on their way to a rock concert are persuaded to go to the Guides instead—where they are then seen having fun and ‘exploring the arts.’18 Acceptance of cultural change and the uncertainty of the future was not, therefore, a resignation to the inapplicability of the past values of the movement.
If the resulting narrative was both jovial and an exercise in community spirit, organising the pageant had been, at times, a fraught affair. In setting the price of pageant tickets at £2 for adults and £1 for children and concessions, the pageant committee felt this reasonable in comparison to similar activities like the cinema.19 Ticket prices, however, caused a ‘heated discussion’; the minutes ‘regretted the seeming lack of communication between members of the same movement in the same county.’20 In the final meeting the ticketing system again led to the ‘freeing of tensions’.21 Regardless of these behind-the-scene troubles, feedback from Guiding supporters following the pageant was mostly positive. One representative of Swindon North District congratulated the Pageant chairman on ‘producing a spectacular pageant’ as well as the good behaviour of the guides.22 The Hon. Patricia Simpson declared it ‘another day to add to my happy memories’ and a ‘very fitting tribute to Lady BP’.23 Another praised the performance as ‘just marvellous’, without any visible hitches at all—but also lamented that there were ‘so many seats empty’.24 As the Evening Advertiser for Swindon stated, ‘Olave Baden-Powell would have approved of the Girls Guides’ up-to-date image—but she wouldn’t have been pleased at some parents’ apathy towards the organisation her beloved Robert founded.’25 It seems that, on the day, parents were not roused either. That the capacity was less than a thousand, and three times smaller than the number of Guides in North Wiltshire, made a surplus of seats disappointing indeed. Following the pageant the Committee discussed the reasons this might have been. The ticketing system, in which a certain number of tickets were given to each district to sell, was criticised as ‘in hindsight, not the best one’, since it made it unclear at the time how many seats were still available. More generally the committee regretted organising the pageant on the same day as the FA Cup Final—the allure of the 3-2 thriller of Liverpool v Everton perhaps proving too great.26 Even before the pageant, however, the majority of the invited civic figures had responded in the negative, perhaps reflecting the lack of importance a pageant most usually had to a town or county by this period.27
Despite the poor attendance it was still an important event to local Guides. The Annual Report for the year declared it ‘Undoubtedly the highlight of the year (decade?)’ and a ‘memorable and exciting experience’ which brought ‘many favourable comments.’28 It also made a profit of £246—not terrible considering the investment had only been £542.98.29 The Wiltshire North Pageant, or The Olave Years, was thus interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it represented a visual, and fairly successful, example of the Guiding movement engaging with the past, present and future of the movement in light of wider social changes. Secondly, it reflected the changes the pageantry movement had more generally undergone, through its indoor presentation, attachment to a fringe objective rather than locality-wide celebration, and an unfortunate lack of attendance and attention.
- Minutes of the Third Pageant Meeting, 18 January 1989. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Letter to Sylvia Chandler from Gwen Myers (?), representative of Wiltshire North Girl Guides, 22 May 1989. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Wiltshire North Girl Guides Association Annual Report 1989 (amateur printed, 1989), no page numbers. Local Studies Library at Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre. AAA.303.
- First Meeting of Pageant Steering Committee to be held at Scout House, Swindon, 20th July 1988. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- ‘Guiding the Girls on Sex’, Evening Advertiser (Swindon), 19 May 1989, cutting. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Tammy Proctor, Scouting for Girls: A Century of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (Santa Barbara, 2009), 153.
- Minutes of the Fourth Pageant Meeting, 1st March 1989. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Minutes of the Fifth Pageant Meeting 5th April 1989 and 1960-1969 Episode. Both in Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- ‘Heading for a Century’. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- ‘Guiding the Girls on Sex’.
- Proctor, Scouting for Girls, 152.
- Kimberly Long, ‘Girl Guides go from Strength to Strength’, The Guardian, 27 February 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2012/feb/27/girl-guides-strength-to-strength. Accessed 4/08/2015.
- Gail Edmans, ‘The Girl Guides have Nothing to Do with Religion and Never have Done’, The Independent, 19 June 2013, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-girl-guides-have-nothing-to-do-with-religion-and-they-never-have-done-8665048.html. Accessed 4/08/2015.
- Emine Saner, ‘Keep the Campfires Burning: 100 Years of the Girl Guides’, The Guardian, 21 August 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/aug/21/brownies-girl-guides. Accessed 4/08/2015.
- Script. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Minutes of the Third Pageant Meeting 18th January 1989. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Minutes of the Fifth Pageant Meeting.
- Final Meeting of the North Wilts Pageant Committee. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Letter to Sylvia Chandler from Mary [Higheham? Illegible], representative of Swindon North District Branch, 30th May 1989. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Letter to Christine Clist from the Hon. Patricia Simpson, 21 May 1989. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Letter to Sylvia Chandler from Gwen [Myers? Illegible], representative of Wiltshire North Girl Guides, 22 May 1989. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- ‘Guiding the Girls on Sex’.
- Final Meeting of the North Wilts Pageant Committee.
- See the many letters in Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
- Wiltshire North Girl Guides Association Annual Report 1989, no page numbers.
- Summary of Expenses, and Statement of Account. Wiltshire North Pageant 1989, Records of the Wiltshire North Girl Guides Pageant Committee. 2777/190/1/ (1 of 2).
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Wiltshire North Girl Guides’ Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1139/