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The Singing Pirates of Reading

Posted in This months highlight on 04 Jun 2024

Amongst the recently catalogued records for June are those of Betty Wyatt (née Tribe), a member of Sainsbury Singers (cat ref: D/EX2975). The Sainsbury Singers is a musical theatre society named after their founder Frank Sainsbury (1891-1963) in 1938. 

Betty May Tribe was born on 24th March 1921 and joined the Sainsbury Singers aged 17 in 1938. The collection contains memorabilia collected by Betty on the Sainsbury Singer’s performances from 1938 to 2006 including programmes (some signed), press cuttings and photographs. 

We can see from the earliest programme that Betty performed in the society’s first ever concert at Palmer Hall, West Street, Reading in January 1939 where they performed the opera H.M.S Pinaforte by Gilbert and Sullivan. Betty sang as part of the chorus as one of the lord’s sisters, cousins, and aunts.  

From a press cutting in the scrapbook, we can see that the Sainsbury Singers had begun production on their second concert, The Yeoman of the Guard, at the start of the Second World War but sadly due to the loss of key members they could not continue with the show.

 Despite this setback, the society made a triumphant return in 1940, again at Palmer Hall, Reading and with another creation by the Victorian duo Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance Or, The Slave of DutyOnce again Betty can be seen as part of the chorus as one of General Stanley’s daughters.

 The production was described as 

a real triumph for the Sainsbury Singers 

Those who attended must have welcomed the pleasant distraction from the realities of the world. The reviews were positive, for example, commenting: 

‘General standard of singing, both solo and chorus, make it a very satisfying amateur performance 


The comic opera The Pirates of Penzance is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s greatest-known productions along with H.M.S Pinafore, The Mikado and IolantheThe Pirates of Penzance was first performed at Fifth Avenue Theatre, Manhattan, New York City on 31 December 1879. Three months later, it made its way to London for the first time and was performed at the Opera Comique Theatre, Westminster, London on 3 April 1879 and continues to be a popular production to this day. In fact, the Sainsbury Singers performed contemporary retellings of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S Pinafore and The Mikado as recently as 2013 and 2017 respectively at the Hexagon, Reading.  

For more information on the Sainsbury Singers see, their website:  

For more information on Gilbert and Sullivan see, the English National Opera website: