The 1966 BBC Ruddigore

Robin OakapplePeter Pratt
Richard DauntlessJohn Fryatt (music)
Barrie Ingham (dialogue)
Sir Despard MurgatroydAlan Dudley
Old AdamNorman Lumsden (music)
Earl Gray (dialogue)
Rose MaybudEllen Dales (music)
Meg Wyn Owen (dialogue)
Mad MargaretPatricia Routledge
Dame HannahMonica Sinclair (music)
Shirley Cooklin (dialogue)
ZorahJoanne Brown (music)
Sheila Hammond (dialogue)
RuthWendy Lovelock
Sir Roderic MurgatroydForbes Robinson (music)
Julian Summers (dialogue)

The John McCarthy Singers
BBC Concert Orchestra
Producer: Michael Moores
Conductor: Stanford Robinson

Originally Broadcast on BBC Music Programme on 15 May 1966

Review by Jeff Trim

This is a compelling performance, giving this lesser known work all the advocacy it needs. Tempi are well judged, erring on the cautious side perhaps, but always enabling the words to be clear to a listener for whom this work might be unfamiliar. The chorus and cast have good diction and there are abundant examples of purposeful use of dynamics. Sound effects are used (seagulls, wind, echos) and there is plenty of chorus 'rhubarb' and reaction. In total, this is performance with a sense of the theatre rather than of the recording studio.

The score is given very nearly complete. The one odd omission is the chorus response: "This sport he much enjoyed, did Rupert Murgatroyd…," which did feature in the 1989 BBC recording. Other pieces included here are:

  • Original Overture
  • Duet: "The battle's roar is over"
  • Chorus: "If well his suit is sped" including all repeats and the solo voice at the end
  • Act 1 Finale — The repeated three bars of the dance melody after the madrigal which is interrupted by the arrival of Sir Despard
  • Duet: "Happily coupled are we," both verses
  • Solo: "Away remorse" … leading to … "Henceforth all the crimes that I find in the Times"
  • Melodrame
  • Act 2 Finale — Basingstoke version

At certain points there is a narration setting the scene for the Radio audience. The following example is spoken by a male voice after the overture and before the first chorus of Act 1.

Today we have invited you to join us in Cornwall at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. We're in the tiny fishing village of Rederring and as we stand here, looking down the steep slope towards the little harbour, with its fishing boats lying motionless in the sun, the only movement to be seen is that of the occasional swan, gliding across the placid water.

It is difficult to imagine that this place could be the scene of any supernatural occurrence for just now the village sleeps peacefully, as it were exhausted by the heat.

But wait a moment! I think the peace is about to be disturbed, for over there I can see a group of young girls who seem to be dressed bridesmaids. They're making for that little whitewashed cottage with the thatched roof and well-kept garden. Old Dame Hannah lives there with the lovely orphan Rose Maybud. Let's go a little closer.

A similarly whimsical piece introduces Mad Margaret's solo.

Rose and Robin leave arm-in-arm while Richard is left to wander off alone feeling very sorry for himself. But now comes the strange figure of a young girl dressed in picturesque tatters. Her feet are bare and her long hair falls wildly about her shoulders. Her name is Margaret; 'Mad Margaret' the villagers call her.

These are the only two narrations in Act 1. My tape of the start of Act 2 is incomplete, beginning just before the voice in the first Duet, so there may well have been an introduction there. The other definite occasion is immediately before Despard and Margaret arrive in Sober Black.

In order to clarify one or two moments in the music a word or name has been added on an appropriate pitch. For example, in the first Finale, as Rose speaks in turn to each of the eligible male soloists: "Robin, Farewell. Thou hadst my heart" and "Sir Despard, Take me. I am thy bride."

The separation of solo roles between singer and speaker is not particularly noticeable, except concerning Richard Dauntless. Here, the familiar cultured voice of John Fryatt singing with accepted D'Oyly Carte pronunciation ("Withold your wrawth!") contrasts with the spoken part of Barrie Ingham, who attempts a suitable accent (albeit not Cornish to my ears) and sounds more like a baritone against Fryatt's high tenor.

Another interesting observation is that the two most convincing roles are Robin Oakapple and Mad Margaret, the only parts to be spoken and sung by the same performer! Peter Pratt is highly efective as the diffident Robin, transforming later into a melodramatic villain, delivering with relish lines such as: "I may be a bad Barrrt, but I'm not as bad a Barrrrt as all tharrrt!". In this respect he is far more in tune with the role than Derek Hammond-Stroud on the later BBC version, who still sounds like the timid farmer at this point. Hammond-Stroud also misses the point of the "without the elision" joke, failing in the next line to sing "Sir Ruth-ven Murgatroyd"; Pratt is consistent throughout about this runing gag.

It is interesting to note that Pratt sings the whole of his verse of the Matter Trio in one breath, although the other two do not equal this feat. There has been some debate about how this was achieved in the 1962 DC recording (close positioning to the microphone, in my opinion). I should add that in the 1989 BBC version, both men sing their verses in one breath, with Margaret breathing once between lines, although the trio is there taken at the fastest tempo I've ever heard!

Patricia Routledge is an amazing artist whose Mad Margaret is fully realised and well sung. However, the best parts of her delivery for me are the two dialogue scenes. The first, with Rose Maybud is a tour de fource. The scene ends with her injunction to Rose to leave "Softly! Quite, quite softlyyyyyyyyyyYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!" rising up the scale and ending forte and with loud hysterical laughter. I love it.

The other principal parts are all delivered well. Rose Maybud, both in speech and song, is so assertive and 'correct' as to be daunting to any suitor. Dame Hannah sounds suitably matronly and Old Adam's dialogue ideally evokes the ancient family retainer. Fryatt's singing of Richard is of high quality but he seems placed far back in the acoustic for the ensemble numbers. I really warm to the fruity Sir Roderic of Forbes Robinson and particulary enjoy the ghosts' long dialogue scene, with suitable additional interjections from four other ghosts (as noted to be DC practice by Martyn Green).

In conclusion, this is my favourite recording with dialogue because of the theatrical nature of the performance, the characterisation of the parts and the completeness of the score. The work benefits greatly from the inclusion of dialogue and it ranks better on many points than the 1989 BBC recording. It is just a shame that a copy in good quality sound is not commercially available.