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A Tanner's Worth of Tune

A Tanner's Worth of Tune: Rediscovering the Post-War British Musical

Adrian Wright
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    A Tanner's Worth of Tune
    Book Description:

    A Tanner's Worth of Tune is the first book to be written on the post-war British musical, and the first major assessment of the British musical for a quarter of a century, reviving interest in a vast archive of musicals that have been dismissed to the footnotes of theatrical history. This timely reappraisal of the genre and its social background, before the "international" British musicals began appearing in the 1970s, argues for a radical understanding of the shows and their writers, and a rethinking of our attitude towards them. The musical plays of Ivor Novello and Noel Coward - both pre- and post-war - are discussed in detail, as are the two composers who came to dominate the 1950s, Sandy Wilson and Julian Slade, and the little school of plein air musicals that threaded through that decade. The book brings together 'adopted' British musicals, discusses the rise and fall of the British "verismo" and the biomusical, whether of Dr Crippen or the Rector of Stiffkey, finally charting the collapse of the British musical's nationalism in the 1960s as witnessed by John Osborne and Lionel Bart. The book draws on Adrian Wright's lifelong passion for British theatre music, its writers, composers, performers and craftsmen. Provocative, idiosyncratic and unfailingly entertaining, A Tanner's Worth of Tune makes a compelling plea for a rediscovery of an era of pleasures which have too long been forgotten. ADRIAN WRIGHT is the author of l>Foreign Country: The Life of L.P. Hartley/l> ((1996), l>John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure/l> (1998), The Innumerable Dance: The Life and Work of William Alwyn (2008) and the novel Maroon (2010). He lives in Norfolk, where he also runs Must Close Saturday Records, a company dedicated to British musical theatre.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-816-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xii)
    Adrian Wright
  5. 1 Before and After Identifying the British Musical
    (pp. 1-13)

    Any search for identity must begin with a birth. W.S. Gilbert’s epitome of official pomposity inThe Mikado, Pooh-Bah, could trace his ancestors ‘back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule’. Does the British musical go back as far? Cavemen, after all, must have whistled. The beginnings of British musical theatre may well go back to Greek theatre. (Was not the Chorus an essential component of its drama?) In its links with opera, the works of Charles Dibdin and Thomas Linley, of John Gay, the British musical may have found its apotheosis in the nineteenth century when Gilbert’s first collaboration with...

  6. 2 Delusions of Grandeur Ivor Novello
    (pp. 14-44)

    One of the most surprising facts about the Ivor Novello musicals between 1935 and 1951 is that they had so good a critical response. Even those who found much to criticise in Novello’s playwriting and compositions acknowledged the skill and theatrical cunning with which they were assembled. Gervase Hughes has crushingly suggested that ‘his gift of superficial melody, backed by rudimentary technique, furnished a repletion of sentimental effusions which could be pluggedadnauseum’ and ‘Any intrinsic merit his operettas may have possessed has been inflated beyond reason in the panegyrics of undiscriminating eulogists; it is high time the bubble was...

  7. 3 Mastering Operetta Noel Coward
    (pp. 45-69)

    Gervase Hughes’ judgement is harsh. There is no evidence that anybody else wrote Coward’s music for him, although he certainly had assistants such as Elsie April and Robb Stewart who worked on his music with him. Perhaps it is simply that Coward was for all of his life much toobusyto concentrate on his operettas, his musicals, his what-you-wills. It is perhaps too much to expect one man to write a catalogue of enduring plays, write and compose or ‘instigate’ popular songs and revues, write novels and short stories, and be a star of stage, screen, cabaret and...

  8. 4 Pastiche and Esoteric Sandy Wilson
    (pp. 70-94)

    Even in 1956 the shadow cast across British musical theatre by the death of Novello was long. Under the headline ‘Genius of Novello’Plays and Playerswarned that ‘Recently, it is true, there has been a movement afoot to elevate the musical show into a “significant modern art-form”, but this can have little hope of success. The Public would never accept long-faced Musicals, and rightly so’. Here, at least,Plays and Playershad it wrong. Twenty years later, musicals started trying to be as long-faced as possible. The journal continued:

    No one appreciated the need for colour and romance in...

  9. 5 Resounding Tinkles The plein air Musicals of Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds, Geoffrey Wright and Donald Swann
    (pp. 95-122)

    Vinegar, along with soap, bacon, clothes, meat, candles, petrol, and a wearying list of other necessaries, was in short supply from the outbreak of war in 1939. Only in 1948 did the British government begin to lift the restrictions. The clothing ration was stopped in March 1949. Petrol rationing ended in 1950, not in time to prevent Novello being sent to prison for breaking its rules. Food rationing, which had then lasted for an astonishing fourteen years, came to an end on 4 July 1954, the very month thatSalad Dayscame to life. A general sense of celebration was...

  10. 6 Away from Home Adopted British Musicals
    (pp. 123-138)

    Works that emanated from other countries but premiered in Britain earn their own corner in the British musical’s history. Some are more obviously British than others, less obviously ‘adopted’. In some cases, their uncertain provenance has meant they have almost slipped out of the few books on the genre. These are not American musicals that were reproduced in Britain; those are obviously American, and beyond the scope of this book. The adopted British musical sometimes had American blood in it, or South African or Australian or Italian, but it won its theatrical nationalisation when it premiered not in the countries...

  11. 7 Community Singing Realism and the British Verismo Musical
    (pp. 139-168)

    A separate volume should be written on ‘Realism in the British Musical Play’. Part of that volume would indeed be about the genre’s attempt to offer an accurate reflection of real life; a substantial part of the volume would be about the inability of the British musical play to do it. In opera we may recognise verismo as a heightened portrayal of a ‘realistic’ event, as in Giordano’sAndrea Chénieror Cilea’sAdriana Lecouvreuror Leoncavallo’sPagliacci. Verismo holds up the glass to life, the unflattering light of day, sordidity, pans across the drawing room with its chintzy cheeriness to...

  12. 8 Specifically British David Heneker, Monty Norman, Julian More and Wolf Mankowitz
    (pp. 169-194)

    Following the 1965 opening ofPassion Flower Hotelits book writer Wolf Mankowitz stated that

    Those of us who have been working for the musical theatre for some years would like to make it categorically clear we are not concerned to create pastiche American musicals. We are driving towards a specifically British musical theatre.¹

    Expresso Bongowas compiled by four writers who would go on to have substantial careers in the genre, to whom Mankowitz was referring with ‘those of us who have been working for the musical theatre for some years’ . The book forExpresso Bongowas based...

  13. 9 To Whom It May Concern The British Biomusical
    (pp. 195-221)

    The very thought that the British musical should be responsible for representing the lives of real people may induce uneasiness. Paradoxically, one of the most tremendous successes of the genre is a biomusical about Jesus Christ, which may have made its subject’s life more real to its audiences. In essence, reality and the musical are not happy bedfellows, and the post-war British musical has come a fair share of croppers in offering up versions of lives that have been lived. The accent has always been on the historical, and the historical of rather long ago; the British musical has rarely...

  14. 10 Fin de Partie John Osborne, Lionel Bart and After
    (pp. 222-248)

    When the leading lady of The World of Paul Slickey (Palace Theatre, 5 May 1959; 47) gave a two-finger salute to the first night audience as the curtain fell, nobody should have been surprised. She was only doing what its author, John Osborne, had been doing all evening. For so seminal a work, this must be one of the most undiscussed, unremembered, unheard, unmourned British musicals of all time. Its relevance may have been almost completely overlooked, but we should not ignore one blazing fact: it is almost certainly one of the very worst musicals of all time. Or is...

  15. Appendix 1 Original Productions of British Musicals
    (pp. 249-277)
  16. Appendix 2 Adaptations from Other Works, 1946–78
    (pp. 278-282)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 283-288)
  18. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 289-292)
  19. Index of Musical Works
    (pp. 293-297)
  20. General Index
    (pp. 298-308)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-309)