THE spotlight will be shown on the hundreds of people who have trod the boards of the Winchester Musicals and Opera Society.

The society has launched an archive section on its website, chronicling its history since ithe beginning of the 20th century.

The archive features photos, programmes and newspaper articles relating to its very first show in 1913, The Pirates of Penzance, all the way to the present day.

The group began as Winchester Amateur Operatic Society, which became the Winchester Operatic Society (WOS) and finally Winchester Musicals and Opera Society as it is now known.

Its origins are somewhat mysterious as there are several photographs dated 1902 showing children in costume, possibly performing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. An early newspaper cutting also suggests that the society was formed as early as 1901.

What is certain is that the first meeting of the group was called by Mr Whitwam and Mr Elsmere on November 22 1912, when it was given its first official name and a committee was appointed.

In May 1913 the group put on The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, overseen by musical director and producer George Sands.

The inaugural production featured Ernest Hinxman as Major General Stanley and Jack Atkins as The Pirate King, along with eight other main cast members and a chorus of pirates, police and General Stanley's daughters.

The performance set a trend for putting on productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, which the society have gradually departed from over the years.

There were no productions from 1915-19 or 1940-46 due to the wars, but otherwise members have put on a production every year since they were founded - even staging two in 1979.

Simon Meanwell-Ralph, who spent 18 months putting together the extensive archive, confirmed there are 119 show pages.

One of particular interest he added, is the 1958 production of Utopia Limited by Gilbert and Sullivan, which the society is due to revive later this year.

"Gilbert and Sullivan had around 14 different shows that people would put together, but Utopia Limited was seldomly performed," he said.

"In 1958, the directors of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (the professional company that staged Gilbert and Sullivan operas) came to see our amateur dramatic production, and had never seen it before. They took notes on staging from it."

He added that cast member Brian Hurst, seen to the left of the image from Utopia Limited, 1958, has been part of the society since then, and served a six year tenure as the society's president before retiring in November 2016.

The group are hoping to put on an exhibition at Winchester's Discovery Centre in order to display their history to the public.

The society's next production of Utopia Limited is due to be performed at the Theatre Royal Winchester from May 16-19 and as part of the 25th International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Harrogate on August 20.

An information evening about the show is being held on January 15 at 7.30pm at United Reform Church, Jewry Street, and auditions are on January 21 at 2pm, also at the church.