The Radleian Society Archives events for 2024 opened with a much-loved topic: the Marionette Society. On 6th February, 26 members of the community gathered online to hear about the history of this incredible Radley tradition. The talk was led by the College Archivist, Clare Sargent, with the assistance of retired don, Hamish Aird.

We heard about the beginnings of the Marionettes in the 1940s, with vertiginous performances of T H White’s The Sword in the Stone, with photos from the time showing boys operating marionettes from a great height over the side of an unidentified Radley balcony. Throughout the 1940s the popularity and complexity of the shows grew swiftly, and by the 1950s and 60s, the Marionette Society was the stand-out spectacle of the College.

Bringing together a whole host of disciplines: art, sculpture, set and costume design, lighting, music, acting, and script writing to name a few, Marionette productions at Radley also included a much wider circle of participants than other school activities and performances, often including matrons, dons’ wives and families, and members of housekeeping or catering staff.

At this event, we heard about performances in the heyday of the Marionettes including well-known titles such as 1956’s Black & White Blues by Peter Cook (1951, C), with music by Michael Bawtree (1951, G), 1959’s Monday at Mandolino’s, and 1971’s Potted Lobster.

Listen to a recording of Monday at Mandolino’s on the Radley Archives website: Side A and Side B.

We also touched on some of the key individuals who helped to drive the success of the Marionette Society, and who encouraged participation through their own passion for the art, for example, former don, Hugo Langrish.

This Archives event, more than any other so far, struck a chord with our community. We had more emails and messages from ORs sharing their memories of the Marionettes than any other topic, and we are very grateful for these. As ever, your memories help to supplement the Radley Archives, bringing to life the many treasures that are held on file. We encourage anyone with memories to share, on this or any other topic, to get in touch by emailing

We were lucky to be joined online at this event by many very passionate ORs who were able to reunite with each other virtually and share their recollections throughout the event. We are very grateful to everyone who joined on the evening, and those who took the time to send in memories and photos of the Marionettes from their time at Radley.

A recording of the event is available to watch below and via the Radley Then & Now playlist on YouTube. The event is also available to listen to as a podcast on Spotify where other Radley Then & Now events are available on a podcast playlist.

Slides from the presentation may be viewed here.

Play video

Radley Then & Now will return in the early summer with an event on Radley Olympians, and again later in the year when we will turn our attention to Radley in the 1960s … keep an eye on the RadSoc Hub for more details. We are also planning an event which will focus on Shop.

If you would like to share your memories on any of these topics, or have suggestions for future events, please email us:


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