The names Radley Flynn and Ella Halman, known to many a proud possessor of the Ace of Clubs or original Decca 1949-51 recordings, recall yet another well-known and much-loved partnership.
Rad joined the D'Oyly Carte Company in 1928, in which year he took the small bass part of Giorgio in "The Gondoliers". By the early thirties he was playing the run of senior bass roles - Bob Becket, Scynthius, Go-To, Giorgio, and Old Adam - and later substituted as Private Willis in "lolanthe". During the 1939-40 season he substituted as the Mikado, and during the war-time re-arrangement of parts he played the Usher in "Trial by Jury" as well as Private Willis in "lolanthe".
One of the many fine D'Oyly Carte contraltos, Ella Halman became a member of the Company in May 1937 as a chorister. By August of that year she was already playing Inez and understudying Evelyn Gardiner in the principal contralto roles. This she continued to do up to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when for a few months all entertainment stopped. When it resumed just before Christmas, her principal had left; and from this time onwards she was the undisputed queen of Gilbert's 'old ladies".
In these early years as principal contralto she had to cope, as did the rest of the Company, with war-time conditions, which were often somewhat unreal as well as dangerous. With raids on English towns often lasting for long periods, the "alert" quite frequently remained on all day, and in these circumstances the Sunday "break" was sometimes extended over the next day. Another change forced on the management was more frequent matinee performances and the curtailment of evening shows.
In 1942 Rad and Ella got married; and it is interesting to note that on the eve of her wedding Ella played the Queen of the Fairies opposite Rad's Private Willis.
By 1943 the Government decided to encourage "Holidays at Home", and touring companies gave musical shows such as "The Desert Song" and "Lilac Time" in some of the London Parks. One of these was Brockwell Park, Herne Hill, where the Ballet Rambert, the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and the D'Oyly Carte Company all appeared. The last-named gave a week's performance of "The Gondoliers", in which Ella appeared as the Duchess, with Leslie Rands, Marjorie Eyre, John Dean, Helen Roberts, Richard Walker, Grahame Clifford, and other well-known performers in the cast. And, despite a strong breeze which tended to waft the sound away, Ella still dominated with her magnificent and majestic personality.
Besides a powerful voice she had real quality of tone, and an imperiousness which few have improved on. She was a splendid Katisha, and one of the best in the part of Dame Carruthers, while her Queen of the Fairies and Little Buttercup were also memorable, for she had a fine sense of humour and was a versatile actress.
Although a bass, Rad had to venture into the lighter registers when, following the war, he substituted more and more for Darrell Fancourt. With the departure of Richard Walker in 1948 he again took over the part of the Usher; Martyn Green and Leonard Osborn had returned to the Company, as had Richard Watson, and the Company was enjoying what many believe to be a halcyon period.
Besides his vocal qualities, Rad was a very talented actor, and never suffered from "vocal vanity". So often actors forget their character in the role they are playing as soon as they open their mouths in song, but not so Rad; an example of this can be heard in his portrayal of the Usher in the 1949 recording of "Trial by Jury".
Very few artists have recorded better than Ella Halman, and in these post-war years, having by that time established herself as a great favourite, playing opposite Martyn Green, she recorded Little Buttercup, Ruth (Pirates), Katisha, the Duchess of Plaza-Toro, Dame Hannah, Dame Carruthers, the Queen of the Fairies, and Lady Jane - in fact, every contralto role except Lady Blanche and Lady Sangazure, in which she would doubtless have reached a high standard.
In 1951 Rad and Ella left the Company and went to America, as did Martyn Green, to play Gilbert and Sullivan there. The couple subsequently settled there for a time, but later returned, to live in retirement in Cumberland.
G & S Recordings (Radley Flynn)
G & S Recordings (Ella Halman)
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