The People's Entertainment Society

Scope and Content

This collection consists of annual reports and balance sheets; material published by the Society; theatre and production programmes; draft reviews and articles about the society and its productions; a number of newspaper clippings about the Society and its productions; material on The National Theatre Club, a similar project set up by Alfred Barnes, founder of the People's Entertainment Society; and material relating to the theatres owned by the Society.

Administrative / Biographical History

The society was founded in 1941 by Alfred John Barnes (1887-1974). Barnes was a Labour Co-operative politician, and became the Co-operative Party founder and Chairman, director of the Co-operative Publishing Company and Chairman of the London Co-operative Society as well as holding other ministerial positions in government.

He established the People’s Entertainment Society in 1941 and it continued to run through the Second World War up until the mid-1950s; by 1961 it had discontinued its activities as it is not mentioned in the 1961 Co-operative directory. The Society was based in London, at Pioneer House, 352 Gray’s Inn Road. Shares could be attained from £1 up to £200. In its first annual report, December 5th 1942, it reported a capital of £10,907, and £233,693 in the 1954 Annual Report. In the first Annual Report of 1942, 76 individual members are recorded. Towards the end of its run, it is registered in the 1951 Co-Operative directory as having 762 members at the time.

Its ethos was “To provide for the People the best entertainment in all its most infinite variety”, providing affordable, quality entertainment to all members of society throughout difficult war times. The entertainment in question was mainly theatrical performances of plays, most notably those of J.B. Priestly, a prominent English writer and dramatisations of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery stories. The Society also partnered up with other companies such as the Metropolitan Ballet, the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (C.E.M.A., now the Arts Council of Great Britain) and even dancers from Yugoslavia.

As well as producing plays, the Society also bought a number of theatres from Huddersfield to London. The Society branched out into different genres of entertainment, most notably with their Concert Department catering particularly to other events undertaken by other Co-Operative Societies.

The People’s Play’s Limited, a not-for-profit department, first making an appearance in the 1944 Annual Report, which supported a number of plays, such as “Rochdale Pioneers”, a James R. Gregson in 1944-1945; his department associated with Ballet Joos , an international ballet company; they produced symphonies at the Royal Albert Hall; they facilitated coaches to take members to see plays and other productions put on by the Society around the country. They also offered play and concert tickets at a discounted price for other Co-operative societies.

Mention is made to the future struggles of the company in the Annual Report of 1947 where the economic uncertainty is mentioned in regards to the arts. In 1953 the Society requests of the board of directors that member’s rights to withdraw their shares and loans be suspended, which is granted and not lifted. The “voluntary liquidation” of the Society is mentioned in what appears to be a draft of an article on the Society in 1955.

Source: This information was compiled from the collection.


Arrangement is by provenance.

Access Information

All open materials, can be viewed by previous arrangement, Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm. Contact the Archivist at:

National Co-operative Archive, Co-operative College, Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, M60 0AS

0161 246 2945

Acquisition Information

The collection was transferred in 2001 with the Co-operative Press collections.

Other Finding Aids

No other finding aids.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Heather Roberts, Trainee Archives Assistant at the National Co-operative Archive, Oct 2011.

Appraisal Information

Duplicate items were not retained.


None expected.

Geographical Names