Neglected master of the British musical
Sandy Wilson was born in Sale, Cheshire on 19 May 1924, and
was educated at Elstree Preparatory School, Harrow and at Oriel
College, Oxford. His name first came to notice as the writer
of revue material. In 1948 he contributed to Slings and Arrows,
and the following year wrote for Oranges and Lemons. He was sole
author for See You Later (1951) and its sequel See You Again
(1952). He made his debut in musical plays as the lyricist of
Caprice (1950), with a book by Michael Pertwee and music by Geoffrey
Wright. Caprice didn't get to London.
the Players Theatre commissioned Wilson to write a divertissement,
he came up with a pastiche of 1920s musical comedy, The Boy Friend.
After some lengthening of the original show, and various efforts
to get the show to the West End, the production opened to great
acclaim at Wyndhams Theatre in January 1954, and ran for 2084
performances. The piece went on to world-wide success, various
London revivals and a film version (loathed by Wilson) directed
by Ken Russell.
The Buccaneer, an even smaller musical about a failing boys'
comic being taken over by modern influences, was seen at the
New Watergate in September 1953, but had to wait until 1955 before
it reached the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and, briefly, the Apollo
Theatre. Wilson's interest in the byways of English literature
was perhaps first noted when Valmouth, adapted from the novel
by Ronald Firbank, was seen in 1958. One of the most interesting,
idiosyncratic and delicate British musicals of the twentieth
century, Valmouth revealed Wilson as a superb craftsman, with
an exceptionally refined quality. Although Valmouth did not achieve
a long run, its reputation is legendary. Unfortunately, the Chichester
Festival Theatre revival seen in 1982 was not altogether successful
in conveying the strange atmosphere of the work. Valmouth represented
a high point of achievement that Wilson found difficult to follow.
He contributed material to the Peter Cook revue Pieces of
Eight in 1959, and in 1960 wrote some songs for a play by Robert
Tanitch, Call It Love, at Wyndhams Theatre (the show was a disaster).
In 1964 his sequel to The Boy Friend, Divorce Me, Darling!, in
which the characters of the 1920s original were revisited ten
years later, had a disappointing run. Its failure effectively
marked the end of Wilson's London career. Everything that followed
was unassuming but adventurous. Caviar to the general were two
musicals adapted from off-beat novels: His Monkey Wife (1971)
taken from John Collier's tale of the affection between a man
and a female chimpanzee, and The Clapham Wonder (1978), taken
from the eccentric novella The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns.
The shows were briefly seen, respectively, at Hampstead Theatre
Club and at Canterbury. An 'original' pantomime, Aladdin, showed
the composer well below par at the Lyric, Hammersmith in 1979.
In between came As Dorothy Parker Once Said and his one-man entertainment
Sandy Wilson Thanks The Ladies.
Along the way Wilson had to abandon several works that remain
unproduced, including Goodbye To Berlin (an adaptation of Christopher
Isherwood's novel), and musicals about Henry VIII and Amy Johnson.
Another collaboration with Geoffrey Wright, Lydia Languish (from
Sheridan's The Rivals) has not been seen. In January 1956 Wilson
was confidently announcing the production of his musical My Royal
Past, the big waltz number of which 'is to be sung by Jeanette
Macdonald' but My Royal Past - like so much else from Wilson's
hand - did not materialise.
There were forays into television (he was an ideal choice
to write incidental music to some adaptations of P. G. Wodehouse).
As an author, he has published the libretto of The Boy Friend
with his own line drawings, two amusing 'animal' biographies
(This Is Sylvia and The Poodle From Rome) and an excellent study
of Ivor Novello. There was also a fascinating autobiography,
I Could Be Happy.
The Boy Friend Original London cast (10" LP)
The Boy Friend Revival cast
The Boy Friend Revival cast
The Buccaneer Original London cast
Valmouth Original London cast
Valmouth Chichester Festival Theatre Revival cast (1982)
Call It Love Original London cast [4 songs only]
Divorce Me, Darling! Original London cast
Divorce Me, Darling! Sandy Wilson at piano with orchestra [EP]
Divorce Me, Darling! Chichester Festival Theatre Revival cast
Aladdin Original London cast
Sandy Wilson Thanks The Ladies
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