Early in 1981 the following article was issued by The D'Oyly Carte Opera Trust Limited.

1980 went out with a bang. On New Year's Eve,a news item appeared in "The Times", stating that the Arts Council had refused a grant to the D'Oyly Carte Company. There was mention that a report by an Arts Council Committee had criticised certain aspects of the Company's work. There followed a great deal of discussion and comment in newspapers, magazines and on radio - and many highly indignant letters from the public.


D'Oyly Carte first applied for an Arts Council grant over 12 years ago. 18 months ago, as production and touring costs increased steeply, D'Oyly Carte re-applied. There was a suggestion that other works in addition to Gilbert & Sullivan should be included in the repertoire. D'Oyly Carte had certainly understood at this point that financial support would be forthcoming.

The Arts Council then suggested that an Enquiry should be setup by its Music Panel and Touring Committee. The Committee met 7 times - from July 1979 to September 1980. The brief was to examine the demand for Light Opera in the UK and to propose methods for meeting any demand so identified, with particular reference to touring possibilities. The Committee was asked to pay particular attention to the D'Oyly Carte Company.

In the report, the Committee lists some "shortcomings" in the Company's productions. Some criticisms are identical to those made by members of the Company management when they gave evidence at the meetings. For example, the report says the small size of the orchestra results in a rather thin sound,and that not enough rehearsal time has been given to a newly revived production. D'Oyly Carte asked 12 years ago for support from the Arts Council to maintain the size of orchestra and chorus, and to allow adequate rehearsal time.

However the key point about the report is that is was set up by the Arts Council as a "test" - Is the Company worth supporting, or not?

The report recognises that the Company is uniquely successful in attracting revenue at box offices, and in maintaining financial control. It points out that 80% of the Company's income is from box office receipts,whereas the subsidised national opera companies get 25% of their income through the box office,and rely on grants and sponsorship for the other 75%.

The Committee concludes: "The greatest fear, however, and in our view overriding all others is that D'Oyly Carte could disappear, and the loss would be felt in almost every major provincial city in the country as well as in London"

The report recommended that financial assistance of 50,000 to 100,000 per year be given for a period of, say, 3 years. This money should be used for specific expenditure - such as additional musicians,a new production,or a publicity and marketing operation, etc.


The Arts Council met to discuss the report of its Committee in November. The Committee had specifically recommended that the Council should "receive sympathetically an application from the D'Oyly Carte Company for financial assistance"

The Council decided not to grant any assistance to D'Oyly Carte. It did not say why.


From New Year's Eve on, the decision was the subject of some lively discussion. Ko-Ko in "The Mikado" that evening drew tremendous laughter and applause when he added "the Arts Council-ist" to his little list of society offenders who never would be missed.

"The Times" in a leader 3 days later said of D'Oyly Carte "it is irreplaceable,and deserves a fair chance of survival." "The Daily Telegraph" also ran a report and a leading article. On January 4th, the "Sunday Times", "Observer" and "Sunday Telegraph" all carried pictures of the Company in "H.M.S. Pinafore" - with some uninhibited quotes. In particular, they replied to an Arts Council criticism that members of the Company are too old.

"I could tell you what I think about this" said 30-year-old Barbara Lilley, "but it wouldn't be printable. Old? The average age of this company is 30."

Deputy General Manager, Peter Riley, was interviewed in the BBC Radio "Kaleidoscope" programme. Letters from the public poured in. Reaction was shown spectacularly and warmly at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Record receipts were taken,the applause was louder and longer even than usual, and a fair number of D'Oyly Carte ties and other insignia were to be seen among the audiences.


Once, it was possible for touring musical productions to make money. D'Oyly Carte certainly did. But costs of production and transportation have risen so rapidly that any touring company with a large cast and orchestra needs help.

As the report said, the Company handles its financial control tightly, responsibly and with the benefit of experience. In total, the Company each year needs about 200,000 in extra income. The report accepted that it would cost the Arts Council at least 1 million to set up the same programme with a different company.

The Scottish Arts Council, in contrast to the Arts Council of Great Britain, supported the visits to Aberdeen and Glasgow with a guarantee of 15,000 for each venue. 15,000 was required for Aberdeen, where seating capacity is comparatively limited. In Glasgow, income covered all but 7,000 of expenditure - thus 8,000 of the guarantee was not claimed. We believe this shows the Company would not spend Arts Council money wastefully.

We must, of course, recognise that the Arts Council was itself facing severe financial problems last November. Early in December, the Council had to announce that it was ending grants to "organisations that it had previously supported. The feeling that they could not take on a "new" commitment at the time must have been strong. And yet, we believe, the case for the Council to give financial help to D'Oyly Carte is overwhelming.


Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte are unique in English-speaking music, words and theatre. The Company has maintained its link with Gilbert's productions. It is part of our heritage. It is also fun.

It enables visitors to Britain from all over the world to see what sort of people we are. In Sullivan's music, they hear echoes of Britain's melodies from ages ago. In Gilbert's writing, they find an exact use of the English language, a wealth of phrases that have become quotations, and our sense of humour. So also do the people who live in Britain.

With every year, the importance of the link with history becomes more apparent. To allow D'Oyly Carte to fade away through lack of a grant is as irresponsible as to drive a bulldozer through a historic building.

The Company tours more weeks and more miles than anyone else. The Arts Council has a specific responsibility to "make the arts accessible throughout the country" Many of today's young singers and musicians look to the Company as the only chance to learn the art of musical theatre.

Artist IndexMain Index