Towards Tomorrow: A Pageant of Co-operation
Place: Wembley Stadium (Wembley) (Wembley, Middlesex, England)
Number of performances: 1
2 July 1938, at 3.30pm
[Staged by London Co-operative Societies.The performance lasted two hours]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Gyseghem, Andre Van
- Scenario: Montagu Slater and Andre Van
- Music Composed and Arranged by: Alan
- Costumes: John Gower Parks
- Dances Arranged by: Margaret Barr, Katie
Eisenstaedt, Teda de Moor
- Assistant PM: Rollo Gamble
- Property Master: Peter Judge
- Stage Managers: Northam Rutherford,
Basil Royal Dawson, Reginald Cornish
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Mrs. E. Astley
- Secretaries: Mr. R. Thorp and Mr D.L.
- Other members: Mrs A.M. Benton, Mrs D.R. Sargent, Mr
A.J. Turner, Mr L. Cornlillie, Miss S. Cheesman, Mrs A.G. Bell, Mr W. Garlick
- Chairman: R.G. Gosling
- Secretary: W.G. Daniels
- T.M. McGiff and W. Harnwell
- Mrs E. Astley
- Publicity and Organising Committee
- Chairman: Mrs. C.S. Ganley
- Chairman: Mr J.F. Redhouse
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Slater, Montagu
Names of composers
- Bush, Alan
Numbers of performers3000
Object of any funds raised
Sixteenth International Co-operative Day
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: 60000
Source The Times, 4 July 1938, 20.
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
[Admission to the standing terrace was free].
Part of the Festival of Co-operation
Performed by the LCS Eastern Area
A crowd comes in led by Morris Dancers who perform. There are quack doctors sellling cure-all medicines, punch-and-Judy stalls, dancing bears, and gipsy caravans. The music becomes merrier until a siren, ominous at first, and then blatant and shrieking, cuts through the air.
Performed by the LCS Western Area
Harsh and rhythmical music accompanies a harsh and rhythmical procession, iron-clad and stiffly jointed, who take up positions by machinery. Another siren pierces the air and symbolic figures of Capitalists are borne in on decorated lorries, each with a bodyguard of overseers with long whips. ‘From the midst of a green ivy bush appears the blackened cowl of a factory chimney. It grows until it towers 30 or 40 feet above the heads of the overseers, who are standing beneath in militaristic positions, their whips raised in salute.’ [International Co-Operative Day: Souvenir Programme (London, 1938), 20-1.] The lorry proceeds around the arena, visiting the workers. The huddled people are bewildered and ask the capitalists what to do, to which the response is ‘Go to the Workhouse. The Workhouse Master will sell you to the factories.’ [Ibid, 21] The people of pastoral England are driven into the machines by the overseers’ whips. Some drop out, exhausted, and are swiftly replaced. Some revolt and gather into groups. Orator Hunt breaks off and gives a speech exhorting defiance. The capitalists and overseers, impotent and enraged, watch the growing anger of the crowd, which begins a Luddite chant. They proceed to break machines and finally destroy the chimneys. A detachment of mounted troops enter and disperse the crowd, running them down and driving the people away.
Chant from Shelley’s ‘Mask of Anarchy’ and ‘Men of England’.
After the commentator talks about the troubled times Tom Paine addresses the crowd on the rights of man. The capitalist brings children to the machines who, after a short time, collapse with exhaustion. William Godwin addresses the crowd (his words taken from On Population), followed by Cobbett, who recites from Cobbett’s Tour of Scotland. Yet the capitalists continue to drag children to work at the machines.
Robert Owen addresses the audience about the building of New Lanark. Children in white enter singing, and call to the ragged children. They begin to play. Owen continues to speak and the children begin to learn how to read and write. The capitalists conspire to close what they see as an irreligious and socialistic school. Overseers break up the school and drive the children away.
Performed by LCS Northern Area
Twenty-eight men from Rochdale arrive. Together, they describe founding the first co-operative store in 1844.
Sir Rowland Hill walks into the arena with sixteen of his postmen who the pioneers meet. By means of a procession around the arena, the history of the movement is shown by the following groups:
- The Rochdale Pioneers
- Sir Rowland Hill and the Postmen
- Paine, Cobbett, and Godwin
- The Lancashire Mills
- The Chartists
- The Christian Socialists
- The People’s Mill
- 1850. The Lancashire Co-operative
- 1863. The North of England
- 1868. The Scottish Co-operative
- 1869. The Central Co-operative Board
- 1872. The Co-operative Wholesale
- 1893. The Co-operative Union
- 1914. 1385 Societies and 3053770
Performed by the South Suburban Co-operative Society.The peace and constructive atmosphere is shattered by—once again—the shriek of a siren. A newsboy announces that war has been declared. The procession stops and reads the newspaper. Bugles play a martial tune as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse gallop around the arena. Artillery and machine guns are heard as the music builds to a crescendo. The attacking force appears with bomb-throwers, riflemen, machine-gunners and tanks, driven forwards by overseers.
A Ballet of mourning women, who mourn the soldiers’ deaths, reciting the more modern struggles at Guernica and Almeria.
The commentator asks that now the war is over, how long will peace last? He declares that the Soviet Union and Co-operative societies around the world stand for freedom and peace: ‘Who stands with them?’ The commentator further exhorts support for the Co-operators of Czechoslovakia and Spain, Europe and the USA:
Are there enough of us to prevent a new destruction of the world? Yes! There are enough of us, if we stand together. ONLY IN THAT UNITY IS THERE HOPE FOR MANKIND AND PEACE.
The international procession, representing all countries where the Co-operative Movement exists, headed by young workers who smother the figures of capital.
Ballet of Young Workers.
When all countries have entered they form a vast tableau of national costumes and flags. There is a fanfare and all sing ‘Men Awake’. Two cars with peace and democracy enter with the figures of Peace and Democracy. A resolution is made by R. Gosling, President of the London Co-operative Society.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Hunt, Henry [called Orator Hunt]
- Paine, Thomas (1737–1809) author and
- Godwin, William (1756–1836)
philosopher and novelist
- Cobbett, William (1763–1835)
political writer and farmer
- Hill, Sir Rowland (1795–1879) postal
reformer and civil servant
- Owen, Robert (1771–1858) socialist
- David Brooks (1802/3–1882) Rochdale
- James Daly (1811/12–1849) Rochdale
- James Smithies (1819–1869) Rochdale
- William Mallalieu (c.1796–1863)
- Miles Ashworth (1792–1868) Rochdale
- Charles Howarth (1814–1868) Rochdale
- Samuel Ashworth (1825–1871) Rochdale
- John Holt (1777/8–1852) Rochdale
- Cooper, William (1822–1868) promoter
of the co-operative movement
- William Taylor (1813/14–1854)
- Holyoake, George Jacob (1817–1906)
freethinker and co-operator
- James Tweedale (1818–1886) Rochdale
- Episode I. The Lonely Plough
- Episode VIII. England Arise.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Hendon and Finchley Times
Book of words
- None known.
Other primary published materials
- International Co-Operative Day: Souvenir Programme. [Price 6d.]
References in secondary literature
- Burton, Alan. The British Consumer Co-Operative Movement and Film, 1890s–1960s. Manchester, 2005. At 35.
- Craggs, Stewart R. Alan Bush. A Source Book. Aldershot, 2007. At viii–ix, 17 and 40–42.
- Gyseghem. Andre van. ‘British Theatre in the Thirties: an Autobiographical Record’. In Jon Clark, ed., Culture and crisis in Britain in the thirties’. London, 1979. At 218.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘Pageantry and the Popular Front: Ideological Production in the “Thirties”’. New Theatre Quarterly 10, no. 38 (1994): 132–156.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘The Popular Front Pageant: Its Emergence and Decline’. New Theatre Quarterly, 11 (1996): 17-32.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘Heirs to the Pageant: Mass Spectacle and the Popular Front’. In A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, edited by Andy Croft, 48–67. London, 1998.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Programme in British Library
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Mask of Anarchy and Men of England. 
- Godwin, William. Of Population. .
- Cobbett, William. Tour of Scotland. .
After the costly failure of the London Pageant of Labour (1934), whose organisers were pursued through the courts for several years by their creditors (eagerly reported on by the right-wing press), the left-wing pageant movement was set back by several years, with the Labour Party unwilling to associate itself with pageants. However, during this period, in the context of the growing international crisis and the seeming inability of British politicians to cope with the protracted economic depression, there emerged a Popular Front among liberals and the left. The Popular Front was an organisation of intellectuals and politicians, including Stafford Cripps, which sought to unite disparate groups such as the Communist Party, left-wing members of the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, and subscribers to Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club against fascism. In particular, it sought to give both moral and financial support to the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War.1 While many dismissed the Popular Front as either wholly ineffective or largely co-opted by the Communist Party for its own political ends, it was, if nothing else, important in bringing together artists and intellectuals and creating a unity of modernist aesthetics and radical politics.2
Towards Tomorrow was the first Popular Front Pageant. A number of the organisers, including Sadie Cheesman, a member of the Pageant Sub-Committee, had helped organise the Pageant of Labour. The radical theatrical producer, Andre van Gyseghem, on returning from producing a Pageant of South Africa in 1937, came together to stage a pageant for the Co-operative Movement with two fellow-travelling Communist artists, the composer Alan Bush and the writer Montagu Slater. At this time, the London Co-operative Movement had 750000 members and over £1.5 million in capital (approximately a tenth of the national total), and the movement had branches across the world.3 As the President of the Movement, R.G. Gosling, declared:
To-day is International Co-operative Day and in every land where consumers’ co-operation is an integral part of national life vast celebrations have been organised to emphasise the achievements of our movement and to enable members and their families to reaffirm their belief in the extension of the principles of co-operation as a means to secure international peace and prosperity.4
As Gosling made clear, speaking to the Times, the Festival and Pageant ‘would be devoted to advocating the cause of peace, and people of all races, colours, and creeds would take part.’5
Although coming six years before the centenary of the Rochdale Pioneers (which would be commemorated by over 150 performances, staged across the country, of Lawrence Du Garde Peach’s Co-Operative Centenary Pageant (see entry for Manchester), Towards Tomorrow represented, in the view of the Times, the ‘outstanding feature of the festival’6, which otherwise featured speeches, demonstrations, and performances by Howard Baker’s Radio Band and the comedian Tommy Handley. The Pageant told, in vivid and highly-stylized form, the story of the Industrial Revolution in Britain in an account widely popularised by the historians J.L. and Barbara Hammond, presenting a bucolic society being destroyed by the coming of the machine and the harsh discipline imposed by the factory system. The romantic intellectual protest against the Industrial Revolution—memorably described in Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society (1958)—is conveyed through speeches by Orator Hunt, William Godwin, William Cobbett, and ultimately Robert Owen.
As presented by the pageant, Owen’s New Lanark experiment and subsequently the combination of workers in the co-operative movement offered the best means of respite. In contrast to many accounts, such as A.L. Morton’s A People’s History of England and G.D.H. Cole and Raymond Postgate’s The Common People, which were both published in 1938 and foregrounded political struggle and trade unionism, Co-operativism is here presented as the only real response to industrialism and, belatedly, economic crisis.
Oddly enough, Towards Tomorrow bears an uncanny resemblance to Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s ‘Isles of Wonder’, which opened the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. In fact, the visual iconography during the early scenes is practically identical, down to the spontaneous emergence of the factory chimneys. There may be a direct intellectual link. Boyce’s script was inspired by the film-maker Humphrey Jennings’s book Pandaemonium (1985), written during the 1940s as an anthology charting the rise of the machine.7 A key moment in the long gestation of the book (incomplete at the time of Jennings’s early death in 1950), was the July 1938 issue of the London Bulletin on ‘The Impact of the Machine.’8 Jennings had previously worked with Montagu Slater on the 1935 documentary for the GPO film Unit, Coal Face,9 and given their overlapping intellectual circles (both wrote for a number of the same Popular Front journals), it is highly likely that Jennings would have been aware of the Co-Operative Pageant.
The production staff of Towards Tomorrow were encouraged by the performance to continue developing Popular Front Pageants which presented a People’s History of Britain since the Industrial Revolution. An ‘All-colour Talkie’ film of the Pageant was produced and shown by the Co-operative society across the country.10 Andre Van Gyseghem recalled that:
It was not a subtle performance, but simple, straightforward, and visually effective. Everything that was said was pertinent, but not said at too great length. This I found very impressive, a form of mass theatre which I and the actors could believe in. It is not an ideal form, because it does not go to any great depth; it shows only the broad outlines of human development. But living pictures do make an impression on the mind of an audience, and that was our aim. The theatre is a weapon, and we were using it in numerous forms.11
Despite the Co-operative Movement refusing his request to establish a permanent Workers’ Theatre, Gyseghem staged three major Popular Front Pageants the following year; the South Wales Miners’ Pageant, Heirs to the Charter (celebrating the centenary of the Chartist movement), and Music for the People. Whilst these pageants could hardly be said to have prevented fascism (Music for the People was held in aid of Republican Spain during the week when its armies surrendered to Franco), they were instrumental in raising the political consciousness of many who attended and presenting through a blend of history, political speeches, and mass spectacle, an account and justification of the workers’ movement.
FootnotesJim Fyrth, ed., Britain, Fascism and the Popular Front (London, 1985); David Blaazer, The Popular Front and the Progressive Tradition: Socialists, Liberals, and the Quest for Unity, 1884–1939 (Cambridge, 1992), chapters 6–7.
Philip Bounds, British Communism and the Politics of Literature (Pontypool, 2012); Andy Croft, Comrade at Heart: A Life of Randall Swingler (Manchester, 2003).
R.G. Gosling, International Co-Operative Day: Souvenir Programme (London, 1938), 3-4.
The Times, 29 June 1938, 11.
The Times, 4 July 1938, 20.
‘Pandaemonium and the Isles of Wonder’, British Library Sound and Vision Blog, accessed 19 December 2016, http://blogs.bl.uk/sound-and-vision/2012/07/pandaemonium-and-the-isles-of-wonder.html; Frank Cottrell Boyce, ‘Frank Cottrell Boyce: what's the point of culture in Brexit Britain?’, Guardian 15 July 2016, accessed 19 December 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jul/15/frank-cottrell-boyce-proms-lecture-what-point-culture-in-brexit-britain
Kevin Jackson, Humphrey Jennings (London, 2004), 205.
Peter Parker, ‘GPO Film Unit’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 19 December 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/theme/105463?backToResults=list=%7Cgroup=yes%7Cfeature=%7Caor=%7CorderField=alpha
Banbury Advertiser, 1 December 1938, 3.
Andre van Gyseghem, ‘British Theatre in the Thirties: an Autobiographical Record’, in Jon Clark, ed., Culture and crisis in Britain in the thirties (London, 1979), 218.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Towards Tomorrow: A Pageant of Co-operation’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1406/