THE pictures on this page were taken almost exactly 80 years ago.

They show members of an amateur – but highly accomplished – theatre group who put on an ambitious show to rave reviews at the Empire, which stood at the town centre end of Groundwell Road.

A total of eight pictures, all of performers in costume, covered half of a broadsheet page on Tuesday, March 7, 1939.

Beneath them was a review which began: “Any doubts which may have been entertained about the revival of a former successful production were dispelled last night at the first of a week’s performances of Miss Hook of Holland by the Swindon Amateur Musical and Dramatic Society.

“It is a thoroughly enjoyable show. It has hardly dated at all and appears to have lost none of the freshness which Swindon audiences found so fascinating ten years ago.

“The amateurs have created this atmosphere all over again.”

Miss Hook of Holland, by British composer Paul Rubens, first appeared in 1907 and was a major hit among audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although now largely forgotten, the light-hearted comic operetta was a staple of amateur productions for the next four decades or so.

In 1939, with the clouds of war gathering and many Swindonians wondering whether the town and its Railway Works would be a target for Nazi bombers, the show at the Empire probably came as a welcome distraction.

Our reviewer added: “The operetta is one of those cheerful pieces of work which abound in tunes and tomfoolery, in colour and captious conversation.

“The author and composer, the late Paul Rubens, was the Noel Coward of his day. He knew all about the stage and delighted, as is evident in Miss Hook, in using every device which it offered.

“Settings are of old Holland, or rather of the Englishman’s idea of Old Holland, with its cheeses, its liqueurs, its wooden clogs and its patched, baggy trousers.

“The story is about an absent minded old wine merchant and the adventures of his daughter, Sally, his workpeople and those in the sleepy village of Arndyk, where he lives.”

According to the definitive history of the old theatre, All for the Empire by Roger Trayhurn and Mark Child, Swindon Amateur Musical and Dramatic Society had performed another popular musical piece, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard, a year earlier. Miss Hook seems to have been their last Empire show.