The first Tin Hat Club began in Wellington in 1933, and was a social club of ex-servicemen from World War I who held social gatherings called Tattoos and put on concert parties in the Wellington Town Hall.
Napier RSA's Tin Hat Club was formed in 1959 with Nolan Raffery as president. Membership of the Tin Hat Club was restricted to ex-servicemen who were members of the Napier RSA or an association affiliated with the RSA. Occasionally the committee would make an exception and approve someone else as a member.
Their first revue, Off the Beam was presented on April 25 and 26, 1960. The "Tin Hatters", as they were known, secured the services of May McDonald as director; she was well-known in theatre circles.
Musician Ernie Rouse and his orchestra also gave a polish to the music. As a publicity stunt, the Top Hatters paraded down Emerson St on the night of Friday April 22.
In addition to massed bands, trick cyclists, marching girls and the fire brigade, there were the Tin Hat "marching girls" who were ex-servicemen dressed up in skirts, and two very flamboyant ones were brothers Bill and Jack Dallimore, both well-known rugby personalities. The band dressed as Egyptians.
May McDonald was very excited about the production, and said she "has never found such enthusiasm in a cast".
"The atmosphere of the show will bring a nostalgic sigh to many of the ex-servicemen of both World Wars, and especially those whose memories carry them to lighter side of war days and of nights on leave in a dear old English pub."
Forty-five cast members would take part, including 10 girls to sing in choruses in the bar room scenes. Some of the ex-servicemen, such as Bill Dallimore, had performed with the Napier Frivolity Minstrels before the war, and had also taken part in camp concerts during the war.
Both performances at the Napier Municipal Theatre sold out. As probably was expected, Bill Dallimore was the stand-out performer.
He was present on stage for most of the show, and although his lines comprised fewer than 50 words his facial expressions and deadpan humour made him a favourite with the audience.
Many well-known songs from both wars were sung. The role of a cantankerous Sergeant Major didn't escape some ridicule, and grown men performing as ballerinas in The Tinhatvansky Ballet was greeted with gasps and much laughter by the audience.
The programme said it was the first and possibly the last time they would perform. It wasn't a perfect performance, wrote the Daily Telegraph theatre critic, but the cast "maintained a cheerfulness which more than compensated for any lack of mature or more professional presentation and poise".
Proceeds from the show would go to the welfare of ex-servicemen.
The Tin Hat Club's revue travelled to perform shows in Rotorua (1966) and Taupo (1967).
The Top Hat Club put on eight major revues, with the last show staged being Cop the Lot in 1967, which was generally thought to be the best of them all.
The reason given for ending the productions was the ageing of the returned servicemen in the cast, and the changing views of Anzac Day. During the late 1960s the Vietnam War had created a strong anti-war feeling, and Anzac Day in New Zealand had turned into a vehicle for protest rather than commemoration.
Many servicemen in the Top Hat Club would have found it inappropriate to produce on a light-hearted revue of war against a "backdrop" of anti-war sentiment and protest.
Over Art Deco Weekend 2021 Michael Fowler will giving an illustrated talk called Aero During Deco in Havelock North. Book at iticket.
• Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is a contract researcher, commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history.