Portrait of Betty Payne and Bill Hopper, 1979

28th May 2020 / Collections, Museum

This painting features Betty Payne and Bill Hopper founders of the Chippenham Starlettes.

The group was formed in 1953 as a dancing school for children. Within a year there were thirty members, and their first production “Dick Whittington” was seen at the Neeld Hall, Chippenham at Christmas 1954. Over the years membership grew and the group had its own orchestra, scenic workshop and wardrobe, each department with an organising committee.

With Betty in charge of production and choreography and Bill pianist, accompanist and Musical Director, the Starlettes staged pantomimes and variety shows in the Neeld Hall for 25 years, raising money for many charities. The highlight came in 1964 when they were invited to stage their “Minstrel Show” at the Theatre Royal in Bath. This was such a success that the company returned each year until 1971.

In 1979 Betty and Bill decided to retire when the company was still at its best. After the Starlettes final show this painting by Ian and Penny Erril, was presented to Betty and Bill by the stage crew who had signed the back.

In the publication ‘Starlettes Remembered’, Betty recalls the emotion of the evening and the presentation of the gift. She admits that her first thought was “where on earth can I hang that” but a home was found over the couple’s bed, where it hung for many years. Betty remarked:

“We would joke that possibly our demise would be when the picture fell on us while we slept, and we would be crushed by our own portrait!”.