The Gilbert and Sullivan Newsletter Archive


No 9 — March 1978     Edited by Michael Walters


Sutton Coldfield, 26/11/1977. Dear Michael, I enjoyed the article on David Fisher (the actual last date he appeared with the Coy. was 15th May at Liverpool). According to notes I have, he toured in a musical comedy Lurette by Offenbach, between August & October 1883 with E.W. St. John's Company. Why not tackle a similar article on Richard Mansfield? One minor error in your article on Green Taylor (p.4) wherein you state that we gave 2 performances only of "Gondoliers" at Ashton, whereas I'm sure you will find that we gave 3! [Grovelling apologies. Ed.] Yours sincerely, CYRIL ROLLINS.

Horsham, 6 Dec. 1977. Dear Michael, ... I picked up an interesting 1907 programme last week, of a special 1 wk production of Utopia in Bournemouth, produced by Richard Temple (aged 50), who also played Paramount, and using the original costumes which were supplied by Symons. It is interesting to note that we had 4 of these costumes for the Horsham production, which you saw in 1971 - the men from Fox's had already told us this, and they did in fact have Symons name in them - 1st act Zara, twins, and Sophy (I think). My wife's Zara costume had a satin lining which was itself lined with pure silk! Although we have since seen Utopia dressed by Fox's several times, these have not re-appeared. With best wishes, JOHN CANNON.

Los Angeles, 6 January 1978. Dear Michael, I hope you spent a pleasant Christmas holiday. I meant to look you up when I was in London but when I got there I found I'd left your address here. I enjoyed London tremendously, particularly since I was able to see the D'Oyly Carte in the Sadler's Wells. It was a great joy to see Princess Ida. I've never seen it before. I like Patricia Leonard in the contralto roles even though she is a mezzo. She is such a tremendous actress. Her Lady Blanche is absolutely wonderful. I was there on opening night, the first time she sang "Come Mighty Must". I'd never heard it other than on that old recording by Bertha Lewis. I rather like the new production of Iolanthe, with the possible exception of the silver lace left in the corners during Act 2, I'm afraid that only reminded me of cobwebs. I also think I could have done with less grey and silver. Sincerely, JANIS TURNER

Cheshire 6 January 1978

Dear Michael, … No doubt you will be sorry to see that D'Oyly Carte have ignored The Sorcerer centenary completely. Their "excuse" is that they do not have the money. However, considering that they already have the sets and costumes from the revival, and that £20,000 was spent on the set of Iolanthe alone, I cannot see how more expensive Sorcerer would be than any of the other operas in the present repertoire. Perhaps the money spent on the Silver Jubilee production of Iolanthe would have been better spent on the centenary of The Sorcerer. Do you feel it would be a tragedy if D'Oyly Carte were forced to close? Personally, I think that if the Arts Council do not help to finance the Company, they will show themselves to be phillistine in the extreme. I cannot see the point of state aid going to experimental fringe theatre groups when a much more important part of our culture and heritage is forced to go to the wall. When I saw the press reports in November I had hoped that there would be at least some sort of public debate on the issue. The lack of debate possibly reflects the amount of apathy towards G & S & D'Oyly Carte. I am sure that if the RSC were forced to close there would be a massive public outcry. In my view G & S is as much a part of our heritage as Shakespeare. … Best wishes, DAVID SKELLY.

Ontario, Canada 7th January 1978

Dear Michael, … During the year, 1 managed to do two other fairly interesting things (1) write theatrical reviews for the Calgary Albertan (the morning paper), for which I was paid 15 dollars a shot (2) direct a local amateur production of Pinafore which went up in February. … I did Pinafore in quite a traditional way, except for the entrance of the ladies' chorus, which I had enter through the auditorium, bobbing and rocking as if they were in a boat and singing lustily. This proved very successful. The audience loved being the sea. ... There have been a number of G & S activities in Canada lately - an Edmonton opera Mikado, for example, and the National Arts Centre is doing a show in May called Sir William Schwenck and Sir Arthur Who? - mostly biographical. We ourselves may be in England in May - if so hope to see you then. Best wishes and happy New Year, CHARLES HAYTER.

Washington D.C. 26 Jan. 1978

Dear Michael, … There has been a great dearth of G & S here. Only one show in the last 4 months, and that was a mediocre Mikado done by the Prince George County Opera Society. Philadelphia however, has been hopping with G & S. The G & S Players just completed a very respectable performance run of Ruddigore, which included to my delight both the second verse of “I once was as meek” and the complete second act finale including patter song. Nice touches. The Rose Valley Chorus put on a rather poor Ida about the same time, complete with sour orchestra, total lack of choreography, and women who looked more military than the men despite the fact that the average female's age on stage must have exceeded 50 (even in the dusk with a light behind them.) Warm regards, ROLAND FRYE.

Cheshire 29 Jan 1978

Dear Michael, If my [Christmas] card had an Aberdeen postmark, it means the Post Office really are up the creek! .... I am delighted to tell you that I managed to get a ticket for the D'Oyly Carte last night on February 18th. I also plan to go to Mikado in the afternoon. Looking forward to seeing Pat Leonard. Do you know that Caroline Baker is with the Welsh National Opera now? I saw her recently in a production of Britten's ''Let's make an Opera''. I enjoyed it tremendously. While you were enjoying yourself at Princess Ida on New Years Eve, I was busy recovering from an operation when I had my four wisdom teeth extracted. (Now I have an excuse for failing my exams in the summer). I had bled so much that I was not allowed out of hospital until Jan 2nd. I've been having a lot of trouble with my wisdom teeth, especially the bottom right, in fact, a fortnight after I saw you an abscess developed. Best wishes, DAVID SKELLY.

Kew, 6 Feb. 1978. Dear Michael, … Do you think you could ever so kindly lend me the tape of the Glebe Thespis performance which I've stupidly lost? It's the Thespis I value most of all as it was the best one I've seen. … Sincerely, C.R.BOYD [Mr. Boyd has probably seen more productions of Thespis than anybody else in this country. As I was in the chorus of the Glebe production (1969) it's nice to know he thought it was the best one. Ed.].

Brooklyn, NY. 9 Jan. 1978. Dear Michael, … In one of your recent newsletters there were some interesting remarks about the Kalmus editions of the G & S orchestrations. I'm not sure which orchestrations your friends had used, but something should be cleared up regarding them. Kalmus has a reputation for mistakes in their orchestra parts, but when I did The Gondoliers back in 1971 I contacted them regarding an inexpensive orchestration listed in their catalogue. Mr. Lawrence Fallison informed me that this was a source of embarassment to them as it was very inaccurate and that some of the numbers were actually missing! He also informed me that they had just acquired the D'Oyly Carte orchestrations and they were going to print at that time - The Mikado to be done first. As I was in rather serious need of rehearsal materials for Gondoliers at that time he managed to rearrange their production schedule and had Gondoliers printed first. When the books arrived I found them neatly and securely bound, clearly printed, and, so far as I could tell error free. I recommend them without reservation to any American groups planning G & S. I also got a copy of their full score to The Mikado which I found very interesting. I was not aware of the full score of Pinafore, but if it measures up to their other work, I would be very interested in seeing it. … Yours, STANLEY GERMAN

16 Dec. 1977 Frankston, Victoria, AUSTRALIA. Dear Michael, Last month I directed a centenary production of The Sorcerer. I have a feeling that you might not have approved had you seen it as I recall some of the comments you made about the Heyland production. My intent was to make it something "special" for the centenary and to smash the popular belief in the Society that Sorcerer is a dull boring show. This has been engendered because the productions over the past 10 years or so have been stultifyingly traditional and rather dull visually as far as sets and costumes were concerned. We had extreme difficulty getting a tenor (they have all been snapped up by a professional show) and when we finally cast Alexis the chap unfortunately proved to be a not very good actor, and to have a beard. I couldn't agree to a Guards officer being bearded, so we thought about making him a civilian and finally decided that uniforms would add to the visual appeal and he became a Lieutenant R.N. - a brother officer was in the chorus. I also took the liberty of exchanging the order of two scenes in the second act. After Aline's line "What a delightful prospect for him" Dr. Daly came on with “It is singular, very singular” and continued the scene to the end of the quintet. Then we reverted to the dialogue earlier omitted, "But one thing remains that my happiness may be complete" leading into the quarrel and Alexis's solo. I felt it made the act run smoother and more coherently. Before, it has always seemed a puzzle why Aline should suddenly capitulate and take the potion - with the lovers now parting in anger (Alexis stormed into the house at the conclusion of his song and Aline followed to the door, turned and ran off crying) her motification is now definite. J. W. Wells was even less of a respectable tradesman than in Heyland's production. We cast a young, very good-looking chap and he played the part as a brash confident young spiv, almost a teddy-boy. One could imagine him gathering a crowd in Petticoat Lane. He carried a Gladstone bag and during his speech produced from it a number of magic tricks at what I thought were appropriate moments. In the incantation scene we introduced a number of special effects - lightning flashes etc. A "sprite" for each of the commands "appear" ran on to assist Mr. Wells and used a chemical phosphorus substance which scattered over the stage like little drops of fire. The second act disappearance was through a trap in a porch - similar to D'Oyly Carte, but whereas Reed appears to run down steps our Wells jumped facing front, amid red fire. …

Your latest GG mentions the fact that the professional production of Pinafore currently on in Melbourne is using American orchestra parts. I wonder if that accounts for the extraordinary finale they use. Rule Brittania is added to the final chorus (not unusual in Australia) but this is annotated by "Britons never - what never? - well, hardly ever - will be slaves"! While the production is fast moving and enjoyable it is emphatically not a first-class professional show. For a start the costumes and sets (hired from the South Australian Opera Co.) bear no resemblance to anything ever seen in the Royal Navy and are definitely "cheap". The chorus are partly professional (very few) some semi-pro and the rest amateur. This would be OK if there had been enough rehearsal - but there wasn't. Dennis Olsen as Sir Joseph is superb, the tenor is good, June Bronhill does as well as any 48 year old heavyweight could be as Josephine. The rest of the principals are pathetic. Corcoran does not have the voice for the part and does nothing with the acting beyond standing and declaiming. Deadeye has no voice at all and plays a smiling ingratiating cripple. Buttercup is a light mezzo and does nothing with the part ... Regards, DIANA BURLEIGH

Colwyn Bay 8 Feb. 1978. Dear Mr. Walters, Thank you very much for sending a copy of Gilbertian Gossip which I read with considerable interest. I am enclosing some comments on one or two items and also my impressions of some of the Company Members of 50-60 years ago. One of the troubles of living here is that I am completely cut off from D'Oyly Carte … and so I have no chance of assessing the merits of the present cast … In assessing the qualities of the voices in these old recordings & the different ideas of the singers concerned I suppose I have the edge over your correspondent in that I was able to hear them in person and therefore have a different approach to their methods. Yours sincerely, J. LESLIE HACKETT


ERIC CAMPBELL. The first suggestion that he and Leicester Tunks were one and the same person was made by a member of the G & S Society. This to me was so impossible that I replied to it, especially as the member in question had stated that he had played The Mikado. The idea was reaffirmed in a reply in the next issue. However, I carried out own some investigations on my own account and was able to contact the member in question one and for all. Eric Campbell was a northman by birth. He may have been a member of the Company but as Cyril Rollins states he was playing with Chaplin at the same time as Leicester Tunks was with D'Oyly Carte. When Leicester left the Company I believe he went into the army & after the war he went into agriculture & I believe opened a chicken farm in the SE of the country. The Mikado. In respect to Mr. Tillett's article I believe I am correct in stating that the conductor was indeed Harry Norris on this recording. [This has subsequently been confirmed. Ed.] Of course in those early days Norris had the advantage of an Orchestra of well over 30 members and was able to extract a lively full tone from it especially in the Overtures. On stage I had never heard Elsie Griffin sing flat, and her "Poor wandering one" was accomplished with fluent ease. With regard to Ann Drummond Grant, she changed from a very fine soprano to a contralto but I never thought she had the real depth of voice that Bertha Lewis had and the latter had better stage presence. FREDERIC HOBBS. My earliest recollections of him was about 1915 although I best remembered him as Sir Marmaduke in The Sorcerer in 1917 with Bertha Lewis as Lady S. He was a polished actor but I never really cared for his voice which I always thought to be slightly on the "rough" side. Curiously in concerted items his voice always seemed to blend well with the others. As you will agree you can have polished singers in say a quintette and yet the voices never seem to balance quite correctly one with the other. Yet Hobbs' voice blended really well and helped to achieve that effect in which all the voices appear to merge into a single unit. [Frederic Hobbs' voice is preserved only in the 1923 acoustic Pinafore in which he sings Deadeye's two lines in "Carefully on tiptoe", which is not really enough on which to judge any man's voice. Mr. Hackett's notes are therefore of particular interest. Ed.] NELLIE BRIERCLIFFE. There have been many fine mezzos in the Company over the years (the first I heard was Beatrice Boarer) including Catherine Ferguson, Eileen Sharp, Joyce Wright, Marjorie Eyre (graduated from a soprano) Beryl Dixon, Peggy Ann Jones and it would be difficult to pick out one from another. But for the older members like myself who saw them all in person there was nobody to come up to Nellie Briercliffe. In my opinion she had everything. Her stage presence was superb; dainty, petite and with a kind of fairy grace which you could never forget. Certainly there never has or will be another Iolanthe like her. Going back over the years I can still see her in the supplication song, standing in the dim light and that glorious voice full of the pathos which tended to bring tears to your eyes. It was indeed a splendid voice, lovely and mellow and you sometimes wondered where all the power came from her slight frame. And yet she also had an impish sense of humour when needed; as Tessa, as Melissa in Ida (the best I have ever seen). What humour she extracted from this part and also from Phoebe when needed. To those of us who can look back ever 60 years she was someone who will always live in our memory. As I have said this sense of humour was something which to me made her stand cut above the others, splendid as they were, and it was this that brought me up to the present-when I mentioned Peggy Ann Jones. PEGGY ANN JONES. The first time I heard her I was struck by the quality of her voice but also suddenly my mind flew back to Nellie Briercliffe & I saw in Peggy that impish sense of humour which I had missed over the years. It was no wonder that she became such a favourite with audiences and I well remember on their visit to Llandudno, the ovation she received with Kenneth Sandford at the end of Ruddigore. It was regretted that through health reasons she had to leave the Company. They lost a splendid singer and someone who become a commedienne in her own right. [She appeared in a small part in Liza of Lambeth at the Shaftsbury. Ed.] DEWEY GIBSON. The tenor with the ringing voice as I heard him described. There have been many splendid ones in the company over the years and I tend to separate them in respect to quality of voice. Dewey had that ringing tone with great power which made itself heard even above the full chorus. In this respect I can well remember him as the Duke in the finale of Act 1 of Patience and as Cyril in Ida. These gave his voice full scope and also the chance to imprint his own characteristics on the parts. The only tenor who approached his style of voice was John Dean. Gibson left the Company and after he returned a year or so later the lovely voice had disappeared and the slim figure had thickened cut. I heard him again in Patience and his top notes were flat. It was a great pity that such a lovely voice should have so deteriorated. I have mentioned what I call the lyrical tenors of which there have been many splendid ones. I wonder if any of your older members can remember one who was only with the Company a short time but whose beautiful tenor voice has always remained in my memory. I refer to Walter Glynne who was I believe well-known on the concert platform. It was with delight that I heard him again on a gramophone record on one of the ''100 best tunes'' sometime ago. [Walter Glynne was a quite prolific maker of Gramophone records for HMV, and I have many exquisite records made by him. Ed.]. HELEN GILLILAND. It was in the January issue of The Savoyard that an admirable article by Mr. R.F. Bourne dealt with Helen and I agree that she had a voice of distinction. I first heard her in 1917 when she played Aline in The Sorcerer, and her "Oh happy young heart" still remains in my memory. Curiously enough some years later I saw her, together with Sir Henry Lytton in a pantomime at the old Prince of Wales Theatre in Birmingham. They both looked ''out of place" and Helen's lovely voice had disappeared. Her tragic loss at sea was very regrettable. JOE RUFF. Joe Ruff's portly figure was unmistakable as he led the Dragoon Guards on stage in Patience and he also played Guron in Ida and 2nd Yeoman in the 1916-7 season. He also understudied Billington as King Hildebrand in 1915 although I never saw him in this part. In Henry Lytton's Secrets of a Savoyard he relates that on a visit to the Opera by the then Prince Edward he asked to be introduced to Joe, a charming gesture to one who worked so hard in minor parts. GEORGE SINCLAIR was another very popular one of the understudies & he was certainly a very outstanding Usher in Trial By Jury from which part he always extracted a tremendous amount of humour. I saw him as Scynthius in Ida in 1914 and I may have seen him early in the 1913-4 when he played Private Willis. This was a period when we looked on the Company in some way as related to us and this applied not only to the Principals but also to the chorus many of whom we looked forward to seeing every season.

Preston, Lancs 18 Feb. 1978. Dear Michael, If I may be permitted to enter the "Heigh-ho" controversy, surely Gilbert's required pronunciation is beyond doubt. "Princess Ida" Act 1:- 0h, dainty triolet, oh fragrant violet, Oh gentle heigh-ho-let (Or little sigh). Surely "exigence of rhyme compels" it to be "hi-ho". Unless, of course, cultivated persons said "vayolet" when referring to the flower in Gilbert's day! As regards the cool reception accorded to the new production of "Iolanthe", one is compelled to wonder whether some of D'Oyly Carte's current financial trouble is not caused precisely because they have yielded to the temptation of straying from well proven paths in much of their latest work. That ghastly, gimmicky & wrongly-costumed Gondoliers production which they see fit to inflict upon the long-suffering public is a case in point. Yours sincerely, PETER J. MILLAR

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