Non-D'Oyly Carte Broadcasts

Reported by Chris Webster

5-May-39: Trial by Jury
BBC Studio Broadcast

This was “the first time a G&S opera was broadcast in its entirety from a studio” (G&S Journal, vol. 5, p. 171), but the description of the broadcast that followed would tells us that it was a complete broadcast — and more.

Before giving unstinted praise to this presentation, there are two things I must get off my chest. It is perhaps kindest to overlook the unsuitability of the leading lady (a delightful and clever enough artist in her own line). Then, the stentorian type of announcement that the BBC seems to find inseparable from a broadcast of the 'variety' type is scarcely a fitting prelude to the delicate structure of a G&S opera.

After a metaphorical beating of the big drum, it was a bit alarming to find that, apparently, the performance was to start, not with the opening chorus, but with the entrance of the Defendant. However, this actually turned out to be a most ingenious device whereby each character, as his or her name was announced, sang a snatch of music from the part, thus fixing it in the mind of the unseeing audience.

It appears the opera then started proper from the beginning and went well. The writer concluded his article with a hope that more radio presentations will follow but hoping that “the standard of Trial By Jury can be maintained and that more attention be paid to the female side of the productions.”

The personnel is not given as a list but is detailed in the text and may be listed as:

The Learned JudgeSydney Granville
The Plaintiff[not indicated]
The DefendantDerek Oldham
CounselPercy Heming
UsherAppleton Moore
Foreman of the JuryFrederick Lloyd
PlaintiffMarjorie Westbury
BBC Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor: Stanford Robinson
Producer: Gordon McConnel

Here's a good one from G&S Journal, vol. 5, p. 196: 22/9/40 — “Grahame Clifford ('by permission of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company') gave a quarter-hour recital of negro songs, and right capitally he did so.”

The same article continues, “The following Saturday, Stanford Robinson gave a programme entitled ‘Sullivan but not Gilbert,’ consisting of excerpts from Cox and Box, Ivanhoe, The Chieftain, Haddon Hall, The Beauty Stone, and The Rose of Persia.”

Date unknown: The Gondoliers

The time is given as '7.5' (although to my 'young' eyes this seems more like 7.50, I think this was how 7.05 used to be shown). All I have for this is a cutting showing a D'Oyly Carte photo from The Gondoliers of the boys and their wives with the Don which probably wasn't current — I can recognise Grannie and Lawson, but I would think that this broadcast would be well after Lawson's time with the company — with a caption stating “A scene from the D'Oyley [sic] Carte production of The Gondoliers. The opera is to be broadcast from Vienna on Sunday, at 7.5pm.” Your guess is as good as mine !!

Spring 1941, 6.55pm: H.M.S. Pinafore
BBC Studio Recording

This must be after 1937, as there is an accompanying photo showing Oldham in a D'Oyly Carte performance in New York 1937. (Sometimes a clue can be found from what is printed on the other side of the cutting. This is not the case here, but I am amused to notice part of a cast list for another programme which features an actor called Frank Cellier).

Sir Joseph PorterPercy Hemming
Captain CorcoranDenis Noble
Ralph RackstrawDerek Oldham
Dick DeadeyeRobert Easton
Bill BobstayFred Yule
Bob Becket[not indicated]
JosephineSylvia Cecil
Little ButtercupLinda Parker
HebeLinda Grey
BBC Theatre Chorus (trained by Charles Groves)
BBC Theatre Orchestra (leader, Tate Gilder)
Conductor: Stanford Robinson

Adapted for broadcasting by Geoffrey Dunn

The cutting I had originally worked from did not give the date of this broadcast or state to what extent it had been "adapted for broadcasting," and its length was also uncertain, but I have now found a reference to this in the Journal (vol. 5, p. 207), which has narrowed the date down, and it appears that this was a hour-long adaptation, with cuts that upset the devotees who thought that listeners who were not familiar with the opera would not understand what was happening because of the poor editing. The line "Ralph Rackstraw, three paces to the front — march!" was reduced to "Rackstraw, come here," so we can imagine how the adaptor's mind may have worked in getting the opera down to an hour. Two musical cuts that were noted are "A British Tar" and Josephine's Act Two number. This article will be worth reproducing in full at some point, as it also comments on individual performances.

It seems that this broadcast followed on from the previous writer's hopes that more BBC performances would follow Trial, and this was the first of what I think was an "occasional regular series" that it seems took in all of the operas, abridged to either 60 or 90 minutes.

Late 1941/Early 1942: The Pirates of Penzance
BBC Studio Broadcast

The Gilbert and Sullivan Journal, vol. 5, p. 222. (February 1942) states that Pirates had been "the latest" broadcast. The writer thought this was the best "so far," but perhaps because it had suffered the fewest cuts, so maybe Pinafore (the earliest of this new run) was the only one cut to 60 minutes. Percy Hemmings was Major-General Stanley, and George Baker was the Pirate King.

13-May-42: The Gondoliers
BBC Studio Broadcast

The Gilbert and Sullivan Journal, vol. 5, p. 229, reviews this reasonably well, but with the usual reservations. Act One was cut to 70 minutes. Act Two was cut to 45 minutes. It seems most of the cuts were in the dialogue with just a few musical cuts — part of the male chorus's entry from Act One, the Duchess's solo, and "Here is a case unprecedented" from Act Two. The personnel as far as was given within the text was:

Duke of Plaza-ToroFrederick Ranalow
Don Alhambra del BoleroGeorge Baker
Marco PalmieriGeoffrey Dunn
Giuseppe PalmieriRoy Henderson
Duchess of Plaza-ToroGladys Parr
TessaElizabeth Paynter (Nickell-Lean)
BBC Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor: Stanford Robinson

The production was adapted by Geoffrey Dunn, who also stood in at short notice for the billed Marco, Jan van der Gucht, who was ill. He is said to have done an excellent job. Christopher Stone narrated, deputising for a sick Geoffrey Toye. Stone also gave a "capital little 5 minute talk" as an introduction, and his narration was "never intrusive." This broadcast was part of the BBC's Sullivan centenary week broadcasts.

The February '43 Journal tells us of several more recent broadcasts, dating them as “summer and autumn.” There was a Sorcerer (“less badly cut, but lacking the Gilbertian touch”), a Ruddigore (“of which the less said the better”), and revivals of Pinafore (with an “improved” cast) and Iolanthe (so there must have been a previous one). There is also mention of a revival of Trial, and on another page is a reference to a Cox with Derek Oldham, George Baker and Murray Davies (“a newcomer whom I should like to hear in some of the 'Lytton' parts”). Stanford Robinson is mentioned in connection with Cox, but no doubt he, along with the orchestra etc., was involved in all the broadcasts.

There are many more non-D'Oyly Carte G&S broadcasts that are important, but I think other contributors will be able to give better details of these than me, as I only have skimpy notes and these are jotted all over the place.

[Where there are no links, it means that details of the performance have not yet been added to the site. —ed.]

Scene from Tyrone Guthrie's Pinafore
A Scene from Tyrone Guthrie's Pinafore for the Stratford Festival,
with Eric House (Sir Joseph Porter) and Andrew Brownie (Ralph).

Related Broadcasts

27 & 29 March 1929 — Ivanhoe

"W. S. Gilbert: Barrister, Poet and Playwright — An Appreciation" by J. Francis Toye. Date unknown. Time 7.55

“'Everybody's Scrapbook' tonight at 9.30 brings you another album of things worth remembering. One of the pages will be devoted to that great Savoyard Sir Henry Lytton....” Date unknown

“2.00 — Speeches at the Luncheon in Honour of Sir Henry Lytton of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Relayed from the Savoy Hotel. The speakers are Rt. Hon. David Lloyd George MP, Lord Sankey (Lord Chancellor) and Sir Henry Lytton.” Date not given, but certainly traceable I'm sure.

From the Journal, March '32, p. 74 — “Saturday the 23rd January was a red letter day for Sullivan in British broadcasting. Not only was there an hour of his theatre music — including choral and solo numbers from The Emerald Isle and The Rose of Persia — in the London Regional programme, but a fine rendering of the In Memoriam overture (by the RAF Central Band) was given on the National wavelength. Later the BBC Theatre Orchestra used favourite items for linking up a vaudeville programme, and the mixture was by no means incongruous.”

25-May-41: “Sullivan: the Man and His Music.” BBC studio broadcast. The same article that deals with the '41 Pinafore also documents this broadcast. Oldham and Gladys Ripley took part with the BBC Theatre Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Stanford Robinson, with a narrative written by Wilfred Rooke Ley being read by Ivan Sampson. The content included music from The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, Cox and Box, Iolanthe, The Golden Legend, The Gondoliers, The Yeomen of the Guard, “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” and “The Lost Chord.”

The BBC broadcasts during Sullivan's centenary week included a broadcast of The Golden Legend from the Albert Hall given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with the Alexandra Choir. It was conducted by Sir Henry Wood, and the soloists were Muriel Brunskill, Astra Desmond, Joan Hammond, Dennis Noble, Henry Wendon and Leyland White.

The centenary celebrations concluded with a programme called “Sullivan: Musician-Laureate” on Friday 15th May, of which I have no further information, and there had been a talk given on the previous Sunday morning (10th) by Thomas F. Dunhill entitled “The Gondoliers and its Creator.” The title speaks for itself, but a transcript of the broadcast was printed (with the BBCs permission) in the same Journal (vol. 5, pp. 232/3).

24-Aug-43: “My Dear Gilbert — My Dear Sullivan.” A sort of docu-play which to me sounds banal. I'd rather send a scan than type out the comments about this silly programme. It was written by Wilfred Rooke Ley (writer of the narrative to "Sullivan: the Man and his Music" above), and featured Norman Shelley as Gilbert and Austin Trevor as Sullivan, with others playing other roles that drift in and out.

There were about 4 different serialisations between the '40s and the '50s of Leslie Bailey's G&S radio play. The first two (both from the '40s) are most interesting on paper (I haven't heard any of them), because they include such names as Sheffield, Fancourt and Green. It would take me a while to fully detail these so I am being very brief here.

BBC Concert (60s):
“Ho, Jolly Jenkin” — Michael Langdon
“The Heights of Glentown” — Jean Allister, Dennis Noble, Kenneth Bowen
“Red is the Rosebud” — April Cantello
“O, Life Has Put Into My Hands” — Jean Allister
The Rose of Persia — Selected Exc. — Cantello, Allister, Bowen, Noble
“Come, Mighty Must” — Monica Sinclair

Derek Oldham BBC Interview — 50 min. (Just before his death)
Martyn Green Interview — WQRS, NYC 13 Jul. 1969 - 60 min.
Martyn Green Interview — NBC "Person to Person" 1960