An Early History

One of the best know organisers in the earlier days was Florence Greaves, otherwise known as Mrs Primmer.  The PMF was founded during World War I in an attempt to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Portsmouth in 1917. It was affiliated to the newly formed British Federation of Festivals in 1922 and grew in popularity in the ensuing years. After World War II, four people who had previously been working within the Festival, including Florence, met to discuss its future.  They had only £15.00 in the bank but were blessed with enormous enthusiasm. The revived festival has continued to go from strength to strength.

Today, the PMF annually hosts performances from people in Hampshire and wider the community, who enjoy making music, dancing singing or acting.  These contributors are almost all amateurs who wish to give pleasure by their performance and to learn from the adjudicators and from other performers.  There is no pressure ‘to pass the exam’, the preparation teaches discipline and team work and increases skills in communication, all of which are positive attributes to have in life today.

Since 1992, the PMF has been very fortunate in the support given to it by its sponsors, advertisers and by the Festival Friends’ scheme.  It has also developed many partnerships with local organisations that offer special opportunities, awards or prizes to performers.  The main awards are the PORTS FEST Recital Prize, the Solent Symphony Orchestra Concerto Award and the sponsorship by the Milton Glee Club of a young player to the European Youth Music Summer School.  These opportunities for our young performers are an important link between the Festival and its colleagues.

While costs have risen enormously, so has the standard of performance and the expectations of both the participants and audiences.  We continue in the hope that the founders of this Festival would be proud of how their work as grown and been developed within the community of Portsmouth, Hampshire and surrounding areas.

A permanent “little theatre” in Portsmouth for music, drama and the arts was the secret ambition of Florence, Secretary of Portsmouth Musical Festival.  Florence; who has been the driving force behind fine festival since she resurrected it after the war, wanted everyone in Portsmouth who was interested in art for art’s sake, to get together.  “We have proved that there are plenty of music lovers left in Portsmouth, now we need a centre of our own,” she said when interviewed at the festival headquarters.

She wanted volunteers to help convert, or build if necessary, an intimate little theatre where amateurs could gather all the year round for rehearsals and productions.  “To say that there is no interest is music and culture left in Portsmouth is absolute rubbish” she said in one interview.  “I hate to hear Portsmouth maligned like this.”

Florence, a concert soprano, wanted to pioneer the idea of a little theatre although she feared many people would accuse her of ‘hitching her wagon to a star.’  “If only we could get enough people interested for long enough.  I am sure we could find permanent headquarters, that could be used by choirs, orchestras, drama groups and so on.  A converted barn, or large old fashioned house where a small stage and curtains could be installed would be ideal” she said.  Among the friends who have backed and helped her change Portsmouth Musical festival from a three-day event to a two-week affair with 1,800 entreats,  Florence felt she could get support for this second ambition of hers.

“The cost of overheads, hiring halls, in Portsmouth, are tremendous, she said. “But if we could find an odd place, or a suitable plot of ground I am sure that there would be enough builders, electricians, carpenters and needlewomen among our ram to undertake the job ourselves.”  Another project which Florence would like to have accomplished is a finale to the festival, with all performing in a grand work under one conductor, so that the audience could grasp all that the festival had achieved.

Turning to the organisation of the festival, at which she is known as the ‘Skipper;’ Florence said she almost had to develop a Jekyll and Hyde personality to deal with all the problems that arise.  She was already planning the next year’s festival before the last one was over.  Her husband, Mr. H. Primmer, has acted as entries clerk since the festival was revived in 1949.  In those days there were only 16 cups, whereas today there is in excess of 320!

Florence had a group of ten volunteers who, by their efforts, tried to keep down the cost of the festival, which is not subsidised.  Her first connection with the festival was before World War 2 when, as a small child, she was allowed to sell programmes.  Afterwards Florence resurrected it, as an annual event, giving singers, instrumentalists and amateur actors the opportunity to bear opinions on their performances from eminent adjudicators at a fraction of the usual fee.

Her own singing career included an appearance at the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth, in a concert conducted by Sir Dan Godfrey.  Her accompanist at her first recital was Mrs Grace Bullin, who was well-known in flourishing Portsmouth music circles.

Florence died on 26th May 1975, age 73.

Information taken from Mick Cooper’s website.