The crisis was precipitated when the Arts Council refused a grant to the Company in December 1980. A report by the Music Panel and Touring Committee of the Arts Council had recommended that £50,000 to £100,000 a year for three years should be granted to help with specific projects and improvements.
The refusal focused attention on the fact that the Company could no longer afford independently to tour with the operas. Costs had risen so steeply that there were now many venues where costs could not be covered even if every seat was sold.
The Trustees announced that, unless substantial support was forthcoming, the Company would be compelled to close on July 18th 1981 at the end of its provincial tour.
The "Save D'Oyly Carte" appeal was quickly launched. At the same time, a new organisation The Friends of D'Oyly Carte was founded to give the many supporters of the operas the opportunity to play a more positive part in keeping the Company on stage.
The appeal got off the ground speedily. In the first week, members of the Company appeared in the BBC TV programme Pebble Mill at One - the Company was playing in Birmingham at the time. Advertisements were placed in the national newspapers. Special Save D'Oyly Carte leaflets were distributed at theatres where the operas were presented. There was an immediate generous response from the public. This was matched by an equally generous reaction by the cast. Even though their future was very uncertain indeed, they agreed not to audition for parts with other companies until there was time to see whether the D'Oyly Carte Company could continue. Saved - for now!
The Trustees met on April 30th 1981 and it was announced that the Company could continue at least until February 1982. This was the first positive piece of good news.
Money started to come in from D'Oyly Carte supporters by many different way and means. 5-year-old Tracey Mitchell of Ashton-under-Lyne emptied her money box and sent £1. Two very generous individual donations came in - £2000 from London and £1000 from Manchester.
Support was literally worldwide Lieutenant Mary M. Kell of the US Navy had been sending money regularly The John Rurah Public School in Maryland collected during their performance of "HM Pinafore" music teacher George Gonderman sent in 228 dollars on their behalf. Cairo and Nairobi joined the ever growing list. In Britain, help was received from places as far apart as the Scilly Isles and Shetland.
Some money was raised in surprising ways. One enterprising group held a "sponsored silence", raising about £20 by not singing Gilbert & Sullivan. Miss Vokins collected £87 in the course of a coffee morning. Brian Hillerby of Mexborough mounted the most tremendous one-man fund raising campaign with raffle after raffle, and posters in his shop window.
Nor had the cast merely sat back and waited for others to collect money on their behalf. Alistair Donkin and Christine George sent a letter to local opera societies and groups asking them to perform in aid of the appeal - this idea proving highly successful. Deeside Gilbert & Sullivan A.O.S. raised £1,200 with a concert. Peter Lyon sang with Cotswold Savoyards, and over £2,000 was raised. John Ayldon took part in a concert at Bexley Civic Centre, organised by Norman Le Fort. This raised £600, and another concert was planned.
The appeal was launched with two specific targets. To clear the deficit on the year's running costs, £200,000 was needed by February 1982. Longer term, it was hoped to raise £1 million to be invested so that it can produce an income that could be used to provide continuing financial support in future years. By the end of July over £50,000 has been raised. This response was generous, and encouraging. But the company was not yet out of danger and continued to seek support from commercial sponsorship. They tried to convince the Arts Council that D'Oyly Carte merits support because of its unique position in Britain's artistic heritage, and because of the fact that it tours longer and more widely than any other company in Britain.
But to a large extent, D'Oyly Carte's survival depended on the continuing individual efforts of people who like the operas and the performers and the tradition. The next few months would be decisive in the fight to save D'Oyly Carte.
THE ACT I FINALE
On December 7th 1981 the D'Oyly Carte Opera Trustees met. Shortly afterwards they announced that the London season from November 18th to February 27th would be the last for the Company They added that soon after the London season, there would open, in co-operation with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Trust, the immensely successful Broadway production of "The Pirates of Penzance" at Drury Lane Theatre, giving Gilbert and Sullivan devotees the opportunity to see one of the operas produced in a different way.
The Trustees undertook that, during the run of Pirates at Drury Lane, they would examine whether there would be any possibility of reviving the D'Oyly Carte Company, either in its present form, or in any other acceptable way in the future.
Thus, after almost 107 years of virtually continuous production, the curtain came down on the Company in February 1982. It was a sad day, not only for lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan and for admirers of the D'Oyly Carte Company, but indeed for everyone who values the British tradition, the world of musical theatre, and the English language. The operas have added to the lustre of all three.
Money of course was the problem. The Trustees were faced with the fact that the all-the-year-round schedule of productions was resulting in a shortfall of about £250,000 a year-and that, without subsidy, the Trust could not possibly continue to accumulate losses of this size.
Thus, with no productions scheduled for the immediate future, D'Oyly Carte was in suspended animation. The Trust continued in operation. In contrast with the situation at London's Old Vic Theatre, for example, where the company closed and the costumes were auctioned off, D'Oyly Carte remained in existence. Costumes, sets, archives, band parts and all the other assets were retained, making it possible to return to stage productions in the future.
The curtain has fallen, but it is the end of Act One - not the end of D'Oyly Carte:
FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS
The announcement came in the middle of the London season at the Adelphi. This continued without pause, with generous financial help from Barclays Bank, the Greater London Council, the Ellerman Trust, the Save D'Oyly Carte Fund, the Friends of D'Oyly Carte Fund and many others.
In total, about £70,000 was raised by the Save D'Oyly Carte Fund - a tremendous and spontaneous show of support by the opera-loving public. Very little money was available to appeal through paid advertising; distribution of appeal leaflets was handled largely by local groups, societies and individuals. Much came in as donations through the post.
11-year-old Jason Bretherton of Sale having seen "HMS Pinafore" at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, was inspired to undertake a sponsored swim. He raised a splendid £40. Kevin Jeckalls of Norfolk contributed £52.30 as the result of a coffee evening - he must have brewed quite a lot of coffee. New Scotland Yard proved that a policeman's lot could be quite a silent one. holding a sponsored silence for the fund.
Members of the Company put in tremendous amounts of work to help with the fund-raising. Appeals were made from the stage during curtain calls on tour. After one by James Conroy-Ward in his native Manchester; £800 was collected.
Alistair Donkin joined the Centenary Savoyards in concert near his home at Market Drayton, Shropshire, helping to raise a sum of £320. The Derby Gilbert & Sullivan Company of Spondon contributed £430 after a concert attended by Peter Riley. Sevenoaks Players did an evening of Instant Pirates for the fund.
The Friends of D'Oyly Carte raffle raised over £6,500. The ten very attractive prizes were drawn on stage at the Adelphi by Sir Harold Wilson on Monday December 14th. The first prize of a £700 Ellerman Sunflight holiday for two was won by Mr D. Dalton of Wolverhampton. The full list of winners was given in the Friends of D'Oyly Carte newsletter circulated last December.
Certainly the Save D'Oyly Carte appeal played a vital part in keeping the Company on stage through the autumn visits to Manchester and Nottingham, and for the London season. No-one who sent a donation, attended a concert, sold a raffle ticket or licked a stamp felt that the effort was wasted. The enthusiastic response to the appeal was directly responsible for prolonging the life of the Company beyond July 1981. Even more important, it demonstrated to press, public and Government that there was still a very keen and widespread interest in the Gilbert & Sullivan operas.
THE LONDON SEASON
The last London season was rich in innovation and special occasions. A number of distinguished ex-D'Oyly Carte and other opera singers made guest appearances. John Reed returned to play the Lord Chancellor and Sir Joseph Porter to delighted audiences.
Valerie Masterson sang Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance on 21st and 22nd December. Traditionally, the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas are by no means the easiest times to fill seats. On this occasion, the theatre was absolutely booked to capacity and the audiences were rewarded with truly memorable performances. Trustee Sir Charles Mackerras guested as Musical Director on the following evening.
The new production of "The Mikado" by Wilfred Judd attracted very widespread interest, and was well received by the London critics. It offered a genuinely new look at this best known, most popular and most produced of the operas. The style of dialogue was more colloquial. The dancing was original, lively and highly effective. It was indeed sad that those Arts Council committee members who accused the Company of tired and wooden performances could not have attended this production en bloc. Kenneth Sandford, now well into his 25th year as Pooh-Bah, gave yet another interpretation of this many-sided character; typifying the way that the Company was better able than newcomers to make worthwhile innovations, precisely because it knows the operas so well. A Gilbertian paradox, but nonetheless true for that.
When an institution as long-established as the Company closes, there is inevitably much sadness. However the G & S tradition has always been to mingle comedy with tragedy There were some good-humoured end of term moments.
During the last performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" Major-General Stanley's daughters entered "Climbing over Rocky Mountain". As the song continued, individual girls tripped on and off stage, as if collecting sea shells. Helene Witcombe as Kate sang the lines: "Here we live and reign alone/In a world that's all our own." She suddenly realised that she was indeed alone, as all her sisters had tripped off. Of course, they returned in time to tread the measure at the end of her verse.
Yet inexorably, notices were distributed to members of the Company midway through January; and the farewells had to be said.
ACT II ???
The Trustees of the company instigated a stage of investigation and planning.
The first problem remained finance. There was a fresh appeal to the public for funds. Lord Forte offered to help and to lead a campaign to raise money for the continuance of the Company. He provided £10,000 to pay for this campaign. In addition, he undertook to provide £50,000 towards the cost of producing the operas on stage. These offers were welcomed by the Trustees in their statement last December.
The Friends of D'Oyly Carte also played a key part in the fund-raising and active efforts were made to attract substantial commercial sponsorship. D'Oyly Carte was a uniquely attractive sponsorship package; offering the prestige of a major aspect of Britain's artistic and cultural heritage - and it is also enjoyable to go to. The Company would also continue to request support from national government sources, and from local authorities when touring in their regions.
Inevitably, much of the money would have to come from the public. "We make no apology for appealing a second time to musical theatre lovers' generosity. We know that these are hard times; but we are convinced that there are many, many people throughout the world who really do want to help - we have only reached a very small proportion of them so far. In the medium term, it is possible to raise sufficient capital to put D'Oyly Carte on an impregnable financial foundation. The effort is worth making."
All hopes were directed towards a new future. It seemed likely that any UK touring activity would have to be concentrated into shorter season, visiting major provincial centres and London, but, it was hoped, still within feasible reach for supporters throughout the country.
"Another element in the new D'Oyly Carte operation may well be the inclusion of star singers with substantial reputations and pulling power. An indication of how successfully this can work was to be seen in the guest appearances by Valerie Masterson during the Adelphi season - her name not only helped to fill the theatre, but also attracted many people who were not D'Oyly Carte regulars, and we have sufficient confidence in our product to believe that when people have enjoyed one Gilbert & Sullivan opera, they will come back for more."
"The show so far has lasted for 107 years. The Act One Finale was played with style, with moments of both sadness and laughter, and with some of the most melodious music ever heard on the British stage. We are convinced the curtain will rise again."
Sadly the curtain never rose on Act II and Britain lost a valuable part of it's musical heritage and tradition.
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