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It is with a heavy heart that MADS founding member, Beryl Smith-Durham, has passed away in New York, at the age of 98. At the recent AGM, MADS paid tribute to Beryl and the chairman spoke of how she had formed and led MADS in the aftermath of WW2.

Old "Mereites" may well remember Beryl as Miss Gray, their first teacher at the Infants School in Dark Lane. She was also a talented dance teacher and ran classes with Mrs. Hole of Mere Youth Club. They put on shows - a little dance drama - with their pupils.

It was in November 1946 that Beryl gathered budding thespians to a meeting at her parents' house in The Lynch and proposed that they form a drama group in Mere. The spring of 1947 saw MADS first production - three short plays performed in the lecture hall. The tradition of live theatre in Mere, which had lapsed during the war years, was revived thanks to Beryl's drive and initiative.

The first production was followed by more ambitious ones. These included an imaginative staging of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, directed to great acclaim by Dick Smith-Durham, an American actor stationed locally. His wartime romance with Beryl became the talk of the town until he was discharged back to his former life across the pond.

Beryl moved to a headship in Tollard Royal but continued her work with MADS - on one occasion, when snow prevented car travel, she walked to Mere to direct a rehearsal. For the Festival of Britain, she devised and directed the society's first community play, Charles II at Mere 1651, and also organised a One Act Play Festival. A talented calligraphist, Beryl produced many MADS posters. She also penned and illuminated Mere's Loyal Address to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her coronation.

Then, as in all good romance stories, a happy ending. Dick returned to Mere. He and Beryl were married in the Quaker Meeting Room of the Lecture Hall where they had worked together for MADS.Beryl went to live in New York and taught dance at some of the city's top schools.

Beryl kept in touch with family and friends in Mere and loved to hear news of her hometown. On MADS 60th anniversary, its members, including Doug Lawley and Peggy Jukes (founding members), phoned Beryl from the celebratory exhibition at the library. Last year MADS sent its founder a photograph of the 70th anniversary production with thanks and good wishes.

Beryl Smith-Durham, 1919-2018


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Committee Meeting

The next committee meeting will be on Monday 13th August in the Green Room, Mere Lecture Hall.