A DRAMA group formed in the last years of the Second World War is marking its 75th anniversary.

The Greenock Players was the brainchild of elocution teacher Ray Linn Craig and membership was by invitation only.

Now it is still going strong as it celebrates a magical milestone.

Karen Henry, 48, is one of the longest serving members, having been with the group for 35 years.

She said: "I was asked to join when I was 13 and my first pantomime was Sleeping Beauty.

"Ray Linn was a professional and a perfectionist and that was instilled in the members at that time.

"Back then it was the likes of Maureen Terry , Lindsay Wood, Isobel Williamson, Maureen Goodlet, George Bryden to name a few of the greats.

"We could be rehearsing up to 11.30pm at night and if she wasn't happy with it, she would say, 'let's do it again'."

Karen, of Robertson Street, said that the Players has survived because it is very family-orientated.

Her sister Julie also took to the stage, her dad Dougie became the stage manager and set builder and her mum worked in the Arts Guild café and front of house.

It's still as family oriented now, with the their current production of Aladdin.

The Greenock Players perform all year round, taking part in the competitive One-Act Play Festival run by the Scottish Community Drama Association (SCDA).

The group has been crowned as British champions and had a performance televised on the BBC.

The group have performed loads of classics, including Calendar Girls, All My Sons and adaptations from popular television comedies such as Are You Being Served? and Allo Allo.

But panto is the primary attraction for audiences.

During its time at Greenock Arts Guild, the two-week runs made it the longest running amateur pantomime in Britain, with a staggering 17 performances and two on each Saturday.

For the cast it was fortnight of fun, relentless singing and dance routines and the buzz of applause, playing to packed houses of up to 500 people.

Dougie, who has been member for almost 30 years, said: "When the curtain on the final show came down people used to be weeping and wailing and throwing themselves around each other because they knew they weren't going to see these members of 'the family' for another year."

Karen, who works as a classroom assistant at St Michael's in Port Glasgow, said: "Times change obviously and once Ray stopping doing it, a committee was set up which widened out the club a bit."

The club has retained its popularity and currently has 60 adult members and 50 kids in the youth section.

Karen, whose six-year-old daughter Jillian has already appeared in two pantomimes, said: "I grew up with the Players.

"I loved playing the principal boy alongside Pauline Chandler (now Keast) and last year I was the wicked stepmother.

"It is carried on by the next generation.

"It's a good grounding for young people - everything I've learned has been through the Players and many people have gone on to do different things or joined other drama groups."

Dougie, 73, added: "I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Players.

"The producer would have a wee chat with me and explain the scene and I'd have a wee think about it and design and build it and take it from there.

Karen recalls one prop that caused a bit of consternation - a plywood beanstalk.

She quipped: "It was back in the day before health and safety and it started to sway when I started climbing up it - I knew I would be safe because dad built it.

"The folk in the audience thought it was amazing and the producer asked me to hold on with one hand and raise my sword in another.

"It's memories like that which will last a lifetime."

On the special anniversary, The Players would like to remember stalwarts who sadly passed away this year.

This includes Agnes MacQuarrie, a long serving member, actor, director and mentor, and Sandy Kennedy, set designer, builder and backstage hand.

The trophies presented at the One Act Play Festival also honour those members who helped to make the Players a success over the years.

This includes Ray Linn Craig, Mabel Irvine, a local teacher and mentor, Bob Richardson in charge of the technical department and Geoff Horton.

They are hosting an anniversary party at Lady Alice Bowling Club on December 14 and would love to see past members to come along to help them celebrate.

Anyone interested should email the secretary at greenockplayersecretary@yahoo.com

This year's show is Aladdin and runs from November 29-December 1.

To book tickets call the box office on 723723.