From 1898 there was, in Sidmouth, an Amateur Operatic Society which, with the Choral Society, provided the vocal entertainment of the town. Their activities lapsed during the First World War. The need for a concert party to appear at parish socials led to the formation of the Sidmouth Arts Club, whose history falls into three distinct phases.
In 1922 the Rev. C K. Woollcombe (then Vicar of Sidmouth) wrote "The Fairies Dilemma" which, together with a pantomime "The Sleeping Beauty" was produced and conducted by "Billy" Greaves. The success of these performances encouraged the Club to produce "The Rajah of Rajahpore" a modest operetta from a published libretto and score.
Phase one developed rapidly and in 1924"The Rebel Maid" was presented within months of its London production. Under the professional guidance of Percy Stedman and Dorothy Hughes this provided an "amateur musical on a scale never before seen in Sidmouth". Andre Messenger's "Veronique" followed and it was inevitably then decided to enter the realm of the immortal Gilbert and Sullivan. Thus phase two was realised and for many years these productions were presented in accordance with the highest "Savoy" tradition earning for the Club, in the NODA Bulletin, the accolade of "the finest exponents in Devon of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas". This was due to two important factors; R.W. Sampson, doyen of the earlier society, was persuaded to emerge from retirement when he quickly established himself with the new generation as an artist well above the accepted amateur standards. Secondly the Arts Club consisted of a "stock" company exactly as created by Richard D'Oyly Carte who had commissioned the original Operas. Gilbert and Sullivan, interspersed with "Tom Jones" and "Floradora" assured the high position of the Society in the musical life of Sidmouth, culminating with "The Arcadians" -
At the end of the war phase three opened. The Club had the great good fortune to interest Gene Gerrard, the famous West End musical comedy star, in its activities: and under his professional direction the Savoy Operas continued together with many famous operettas and musical comedies -
When Gene Gerrard retired, Frederick Ryland, a producer well known in London amateur circles, assumed the stage direction.