In the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "Ruddigore," when Mad Margaret flies into manic fits, her husband, Sir Despard, shouts, "Basingstoke! Basingstoke!"

"Basingstoke it is!" she replies. And she calms down.

That, however, is not the only thing that Basingstoke is famous for. The smallish English town, south of London, is also the home of the Basingstoke Male Voice Choir, a 94-voice ensemble touted as one of Great Britain's finest male choirs.

It was founded in 1964, when the town's population was only 17,000, by "two or three police officers -- one of them a Welshman," says choir Vice President Jim Bratton. "They thought it would be nice to start a musical group -- getting people together in the name of music and bringing a lot of pleasure."

As the town has grown (to 150,000) so has the choir (from its original 10 members). The singers range "from 25 to 84," says Bratton, "and vary from doctors to pharmacists to bricklayers to teachers."

Until recently, they rehearsed in a factory recreation hall. Now, their home is the performing arts center at Queen Mary's College. The repertoire ranges from "lighthearted things like 'My Lord What a Morning' to 'The Impossible Dream' and 'Softly as I Leave You,' to some Lloyd-Webber things," says Bratton, and they perform in all sorts of places, from churches in Wales to the Royal Albert Hall in London.

The Basingstoke Male Voice Choir is performing at the World Bank auditorium Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Admission is free.