On Saturday 23rd September 1972, in the the B.B.C. radio programme "Desert Island Discs", the castaway was John Reed.
He explained that he would not enjoy the loneliness, as he loved the noise and hustle of a city, but the records he would be choosing would be those reminding him of the past. He started with the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto, played by Vladimir Ashkenazy with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, chosen for no reason except that he loved it; and he continued with "The Last Rose of Summer", sung by Ada Alsop, who came from his home town, Darlington, and whom he loved very dearly.
He then went on to talk about his childhood - his mother was a singer and his middle sister a brilliant musician. He was born near Bishop Auckland and moved to Darlington when he was about eleven years old. His ambition as a child was to be a commercial artist, but that was not possible, so he made his living in various ways - in a builder's office, an insurance office, and during the war as a tool fitter and instrument maker. He continued:
"The theatre didn't come into my life until after the war, or the tail end of the war actually, and that happened because, when I got home, a girl friend I knew was going to a play reading and I went along as a sort of spectator. They asked me to read in for this part, and from that I got the lead in this sort of semi-professional company, and from then on it went, and the next thing after that was that suddenly someone knocked on my door and said would I play the juvenile leads in this repertory company, which was Keith James Enterprises. I think it was Saltburn I played first, and I said, "Well, how do you know what I can do?", and he said, "Well, I've seen you walk on the stage and make an exit, and it's good enough for me". After that my father was ill, and I came to look after the business, and I was met in the street by somebody who'd been in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and she said, "How do you feel about going back on the stage?", and I said, "Of course I'm always interested". She said to me, "Well, I'll arrange an audition for you; they're looking for an understudy for Peter Pratt" - he was playing the principal roles in those days. So I learned the Nightmare Song and went up to Glasgow for my first audition, and they said, "Thank you very much; we'll let you know", so I thought Well, that's that - it was only an experiment anyway. A week later they asked me to go again, and when I'd done the whole lot, dialogue and everything else, there was a deathly hush in the theatre and they said, "Thank you very much, Mr. Reed - we'll let you know". I thought, We'll, I've gone too far this time; and then, when I got into the wings, Mr. Frederic Lloyd, the General Manager, said: "We want you, Mr. Reed; how soon can you come?"
He had mentioned to Mr. Lloyd at the end of his audition that he knew nothing of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the reply was : "Well, we prefer that. We can sort of start you off in the way we mean you to go". He was understudy to Peter Pratt for about seven years, and then became fifth* in the succession of a long line of principal comedians: George Grossmith, Sir Henry Lytton, Martyn Green, and Peter Pratt. He had now been in the Company for twenty-one years, and, although he hoped he had been able to bring a touch of originality into his performances, he was still wedded to the accepted tradition and felt he still had a lot to learn.
The next record, chosen because it was "my mood music. This is just what I would sit a long time and think about and remember by", was Samuel Barber's Adagio for strings played by the strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy
In response to questioning, John Reed explained that the D'Oyly Carte Company played only Gilbert and Sullivan (with the exception of Cox and Box) and had no permanent home, the Savoy often being occupied by a successful play. He preferred playing in London because he could then live at home; hotels were always very expensive, and digs now non-existent. He looked back with nostalgia to the days of the old landladies, who were such wonderful characters. In common with about twelve of the Company he had a caravan, which was an easier way of touring and meant taking a little bit of your home with you.
The Company went quite frequently to the United States and Canada, and played one week in Copenhagen two years ago. He described the reception there as follows: - "They were delightful. I was so glad that I was warned that on the first night they give you a slow hand clap, and of course in England you'd think you were getting the bird or something, but you've got to expect this. Flowers were handed up to me as well as everybody else, and of course this would never happen in England - you'd get all the chorus boys sniggering! The third night comes, and if you don't get that slow hand clap and you don't get that bouquet of flowers you think, "What's happened here?"
His fourth record was the opening of the Pineapple Poll Ballet Suite, with Charles Mackerras conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which he chose because he thought it had "that touch of everything" and reminded him of "people that have come and gone that I'd loved very dearly".
After mentioning the film of "The Mikado" and the backing the Company did for the "Ruddigore" cartoon - he enjoyed making the film but didn't like it when he saw it - John Reed went on to discuss the running-out of the Gilbert and Sullivan copyrights in 1961. He thought that the competitive productions which had been set up had seemed to make no difference; the D'Oyly Carte performances seemed as popular as ever. He hoped to stay with the Company, as he was very happy there and the Company was just like a family-differences and all!
For his fifth record he chose "Little Cloud", from Offenbach's "La Vie Parisienne", sung by Cynthia Morey and Eric Shilling with the Sadler's Wells Opera Company. Besides the similarity of Offenbach with Gilbert and Sullivan, this choice was made because Cynthia was his very first friend in the D'Oyly Carte Company, and was still his dearest friend; he actually lived in the same street now. He was a great fan of Eric Shilling, even though the latter played his parts in the Sadler's Wells Opera Company.
For his sixth record, he chose "The Stripper", played by David Rose and his orchestra. This was to remind him of America and the Company's American tours; it had the rush, the bustle, the burlesques - everything that would bring everything back to him.
He was asked about his hobbies, and he said that his principal one was oil painting, though he was a handy man in many ways - he could make a basket, or a lampshade, or a pair of trousers, anything he wanted to make. He was also confident that he could run up a waterproof shelter on his desert island and could catch fish and cook it; he reckoned he was a very good cook. He would not try to escape from the island, because he would be afraid of the expanse of ocean, especially at night; he was sure someone would come to pick him up.
His last two records were a complete contrast to one another. For the seventh, he chose Richard Kiley and Irving Jacobson in the New York production of "Man of La Mancha". For the final one, he chose "Come Dance the Syrtaki", played by Stelios Zafirou, because he had loved his holidays in Greece so much and Greek music was such lovely holiday music.
Lastly, he was told he must decide which of his eight records, if he could take only one, he would choose; what luxury he would take; and what book, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare. His answers were the Rachmaninov; lots of canvases, oil paints, and brushes; and, because he rarely read books twice, a large book on 'Do It Yourself'.
G & S Recordings
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