It all began in 1938 when Bernard Basevi, a local boy who often put on
magic shows in Malmesbury Town Hall, approached Kathleen Besley, who
organised entertainment in the town, with the idea of setting up a
dramatic society. Mrs Besley agreed to the idea and the Athelstan Players
were born. In 1939 war broke out and many members were called to
active service. Bernard Basevi was sadly killed in action, but the society
Many specialist workers, evacuated from Southend to work for E K Cole
Electronics in Malmesbury, joined the group; it was a way of keeping up
morale during the war years. The society has continued without a break,
with at least one production every year, until the intervention of Covid
resulted in an 18-month hiatus.
Profits from most of the earlier productions were used for the benefit of
those suffering at the time, and to help the war effort locally.
During the 1960’s the society branched out into revue and pantomime, and in 1966 established a Malmesbury one-act play festival. In 1973 they stepped back from organising the festival in order to compete independently. The society continues to enter local one-act play festivals each year and has been very successful.
Although originally an adults society, children became very much involved and, since the 1960’s, there has been a strong junior section.
In all this time there had never been a permanent home and it was decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary in 1988 by an all-out effort to raise enough money to build a rehearsal studio. The ‘Golden Key’ appeal was launched and, after 15 months, including fourteen different productions, numerous fund-raising events, a grant from the Malmesbury Carnival Committee and the unstinting support of the people of Malmesbury, together with Mayor Ken Silveston, the money was raised and building work began. The Drama Workshop was opened by radio and television actor James Grout on Saturday 8 September 1990 and is now the society’s permanent home.
Since 1938, the society has put on at least one production every year, until the intervention of Covid.
A typical annual program of activities includes a pantomime, one-act play entry, three-act play and carnival revue. Fifty percent of the profit from the revue is donated to the Carnival Committee for the benefit of the town.