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RGS High Wycombe: Gilbert & Sullivan Operas

Gilbert & Sullivan used to be an annual feature of RGS life, between 1947 and 1976

Please scroll to the bottom of this page to read some interesting notes.

and some reminiscences from Peter Colley, Roy Gravestock, Bill Barksfield, Steve Mardell and Roger File

Click on the links or covers below to see scans from the original programmes

As you can see, there are a lot of spaces. If you have any of the missing items, and feel so inclined, please email me and tell me about it.

1947 (December) The Pirates of Penzance
(includes review and interesting comment on Ben Rainbow)

1948 No performance, but see these notes on the date anomaly)

1949 (March/April) The Gondoliers

1949 (Dec) Iolanthe
(includes a review by RH)

1950 (Dec) The Mikado
(includes a review by Kit Howarth)

1951 (Dec) HMS Pinafore

1952 (Dec) Yeomen of the Guard

1953 (Dec) The Pirates of Penzance

1954 Ruddigore

1955 Iolanthe

1956 Patience

1957 No opera but read this

1958 HMS Pinafore

1959 The Mikado

1961 The Gondoliers

1962 The Yeomen of the Guard

1963 Ruddigore

1964 The Pirates of Penzance

1965 Iolanthe

1966 Patience

1967 HMS Pinafore

1968 The Mikado

(1969-1970 - No productions in these years, Read notes by Bill Barksfield

1970 Trial By Jury

1971 The Gondoliers

1973 Ruddigore

1976 Trial By Jury





1951 (includes the Overture)

Click for more pictures






No opera this year but read this to discover why

1958 (front cover missing. Anyone got it?)




David Boobier writes "There was no G&S production in 1960; we did Bach's Christmas Oriatorio (parts 1 to 3)."





1965. Iolanthe

1966 Patience

1967 HMS Pinafore




No production this year.

Read notes by Bill Barksfield


The Gondoliers 1971




I am indebted to Brian Veale who led me back to this particular track from my schooldays. I was mightily impressed by my first introduction to G & S which was held during my first term at the school and Pinafore has forever remained my favourite. I personally appeared in the chorus line of Yeomen of the Guard but somehow missed out being named in the cast list, though I do appear in the cast photograph.

Brian writes:

"I think that Yeomen was the first in which the MD was not Ben Rainbow (his place was taken by L W Piner when he left the school - LWP had previously been asstant MD). Certainly the school produced a G&S in its 4xcentenary year (1962) as I recall going back that year to see it - the first time | had seen the new Queen's Hall, but I can't remember which show that was. It was, I think, one of the popular ones, either Pirates or Mikado.
The school has since branched out to more ambitious musical shows - eg this last March I noticed in their programme that they produced South Pacific. Do they not liaise now with the WHS to provide the female parts? or is it still an all male thing?"

I am also indebted to John Saunders who has added to the list from 1956 onwards.
John writes "I remember being taken to see the 1958 performance of Pinafore when I was only 5. In fact it is one of my earliest memories, and I recall being bowled over by the hubbub of people, spectacle, live music and (to my young self) the grandeur of the school."

Peter Draper supplied me with programmes from 1949, 50, 51, and 54. Peter was a boarder at School House from 1949 to 1955.

Peter Colley sent me scans for 1965 and 1966 together with a fascinating account of his many appearances in the productions which took place during his years at RGS.

Roy Gravestock (click here to read his comments) appeared in several operettas, playing Little Buttercup in 1958, Noble in 1959, Leonard Merrill in 1962 and Dick Dauntless in 1963..

Let me know if anyone out there has any additions or corrections to this feature.

Better still - do you have copies of programmes for the missing years?


Dates Anomaly

My list shows no performance for 1948 but two performances in 1949.

The date of this first production of The Gondoliers is given here as being in March 1949 and the evidence for this is given on the inside cover of the Programme and this was also the date given in the Fixture List of the 1948 Grey Book. Moreover, Peter Draper took part in this production and remembers it was held in 1949 - he had not even started at RGS in 1948.
David Jago confirms this with "Re the date of The Gondoliers, I think Peter Draper was right, and it must have been in March 1949. My parents' wedding anniversary was on March 28th, and, since it was my first year at the Grammar School, they felt obliged to go. My mother felt that this was no way to celebrate a wedding anniversary -- and then was surprised and delighted by what she found."

However John Saunders spotted the fact that later programmes (from 1950 onwards) claim Gondoliers as having been produced in 1948 and indeed if one reads the "Notes on Players" in the Gondoliers Programme it states "Following on from last year's Pirates.......". The first Pirates production was in 1947 so it seems the Gondoliers Notes were written in 1948 in anticipation of a December 1948 production.

One explanation might be that the Gondoliers was originally scheduled for December 1948 but was postponed for some reason until the following Spring, the original Notes being kept but with an up to date Cover.

If anyone cares to shed light on the missing 1948 production please get in touch.

Bernarr Rainbow

I remember "Ben " Rainbow as being hugely popular. Here is a cutting from the Music Society's contribution to the 1952 Wycombiensien

Read about Bernarr Rainbow on Wikipedia

Interesting links

Pirates first performed in Paignton

(I mention this because I moved to Paignton in 1965 when the Bijou theatre still existed but was unused. It has since been demolished but a plaque on the wall commemorates the event)

Gilbert and Sullivan

(Wikipedia article)

D'Oyly Carte Opera Company


Peter Colley on his Gilbert & Sullivan years

I was a boarder at School House for the duration, and saw The Gondoliers which I see is in 1961. Since (I think) I arrived at school in 1960 and The Gondoliers was the first one I saw, perhaps there was no G&S in 1960?

The Gondoliers had a profound effect on me as I have spent my adult life working in the theatre.
I loved the music, the intricate plot, and the exotic sets and costumes of Venice, but mainly I noticed that everyone who was in the show seemed to having so much fun. There was an excitement in the air that I wanted to be part of.

So the next year Yeoman of The Guard was up, and I told my G&S classmates (all trebles and altos) how much I wanted to be in the show, but I told them there was one small problem - I couldn't sing for beans. They told me not to worry, I'd be fine in the chorus. So they dragged me off to see "Jack" Dawes the musical director for an audition and he plunked away at the piano as I wailed and warbled the best I could, and then he looked at me and said "Aha, you're a tenor! We're desperately short of tenors."
So, despite my obvious lack of talent I as in, and even though all my classmates were trebles and altos I was in the "male" chorus - which was good as I'd suddenly shot up to be 6 feet tall by that time and would have looked bloody silly in a dress.

I was in all the other G&S's while I was at school. Doing G&S was the high-point of my year, equal to Sports Day (my other great love at the RGS). Yeoman in 1962 was my first, you can see me in the group photo on the far left, squatting down.

Then I did Ruddigore 1963; Pirates 1964; Iolanthe 1965; Patience 1966; and Pinafore 1967 was my swan song although I came back from University
to see Mikado in 1968. After that life (and distance) got in the way.

In Iolanthe I'm 9th from the right at the back row. In the Iolanthe male chorus photo I'm at the back upper left. In Patience I'm third from the left, standing.

I was in the chorus the whole time although I was offered the lead role in Pinafore. Had it been the comic patter-song type of role I would have done it, but it was the tenor lead. I bought the record of Pinafore and tried to sing along with it but I knew in my heart that I'd have trouble hitting every note, and being a perfectionist I knew it would be a second-rate performance so I very sadly said no.

Ironically, I've done quite a lot of musical roles in professional theatre, and in front of much bigger houses, but always character songs I could fake my way through.

Still, I have so many happy memories of G&S - the excitement of opening night, the camaraderie, the thrill of seeing the costumes arrive and the sets go up, the sound of the orchestra warming up as we get in place for the opening number behind the curtain, and of course, the awful letdown of the Sunday after closing when the sets are coming down, the costumes go back in their boxes and the grey December light has replaced the warm stage lighting of the streets of Venice or the beaches of Penzance.

Go to Peter Colley's website

Roy Gravestock writes:-

I joined RGS in 1956 and left in December 1963. To be honest, I didn't really enjoy my time there particularly, generally keeping a low profile, doing a minimum amount of work. The only real interest was in music, in a skiffle group (The YZs) when I was in 3Y in Uplyme, then G & S, choir & sporadically orchestra. My real inspiration was a wonderful music teacher called Adrian Gaster, who taught me O-level Music in a huge group of 4! He was a music critic for a magazine called John o' Londons and received sheaves of complimentary tickets for London concerts, which he passed on to us. So for quite a few years I was a regular concert goer, sometimes several times a week, at Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall, Albert Hall etc., always of course in the best seats. The passion for music still persists, though my working life was mainly as a teacher of Physics and more recently I.T.

As for the operas, my memories are not very detailed. I certainly remember the sandwiches and squash in the canteen during rehearsals, the "smell of the grease-paint", the nerves bordering on terror before the first curtain of the first performance and the huge relief and satisfaction, then slight let-down after the last performance.

My brother Ian also appeared in the operas in the early 50's - he left in 1955

Bill Barksfield writes:-

I was in the Chorus of Nobles in “The Mikado” in 1968. If memory serves, that was the last one that “Jack” Dawes did. He was replaced as head of music by Geoffrey Holmes who, I seem to recall, thought that G&S was a bit infra dig. Hence no performance in 1969.

Under pressure to bring back G&S he at first agreed to do “Trial by Jury”, as the second half of a concert. I was in the jury and I think that must be the missing 1970 performance. Under his direction that went very well and I think it was then a less difficult decision to mount “The Gondoliers” in the December of 1971 in which I was a Gondolier and a cardinal in the second half.

David Lowe who I remember very well as the Duke of Plaza-Toro in the Gondoliers, the judge in Trial by jury and Ko-Ko in the Gondoliers is, I notice, one of the missing Old Wycombiensians on the OW site. 

Steve Mardell writes:

Here is a memory of a G&S - I don't recall which one - the like of which I suspect you won't have come across.

You will, of course, remember that in our first year (1951) we were invited by L.Piner to audition for the Choir. I attended, full of hope, having, as I was led to believe by my family, a good voice; an opinion later confirmed by the organist at Hazlemere Church, who pressed me to join his choir, (which I never did.)
To my eternal chagrin Piner turned me down;  I never "sang for the School", and I have never sung since.

But I did better...
There was a requirement one year for a stage-prop "Bass Viol", for which the manufacturing contract was awarded to John Benson, Classics Master.
Now Mr. Benson was an excellent teacher and a man of parts; he had served during the war in the Royal Navy in corvettes on Atlantic convoy duty, and apart from Greek he taught us how to use rolled bread to remove stains from wallpaper. What other qualifications were conferred upon him by Christ's College, Cambridge were never revealed to us, but building musical instruments was certainly not one of them.

He had the grace to consult me, and we built the Bass. (At that time the School Workshop was still available, before it was abolished and re-fitted as a gymnasium.)
The Bass attracted much admiration, not least from Mr.Hills, Head of English and producer. I scored high marks for this effort and thus encouraged I have maintained a lifelong love of woodwork.

What else would you expect from a High Wycombe apprenticeship ? .

Roger File writes:-

I was in my first year very quickly rejected as a prospective member of the School Choir by Bernarr Rainbow on first hearing my unbroken voice and only became associated with the Gilbert and Sullivan Productions when I was press-ganged in the Lower Sixth by the then head boy, John Carrick as there was apparently an acute shortage of tenors required for HMS Pinafore.  
I came to enjoy the joint endeavours of the cast and seemed to manage to stay in tune.

In my last year there was an even more desperate need to find some of the principal roles and I was remarkably chosen for the role of The Fool.

I certainly have fond memories of the RGS  G&S productions. I was also responsible for the design of the Mikado programme and the lettering of HMS Pinafore.  Such fame!;

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