Richard Walker and his wife Helen Roberts devoted a lifetime to Gilbert and Sullivan. For twenty-four years Richard was a member of the company. In February 1924 he joined the "new" company as a baritone member of the chorus. Soon he was playing parts such as Captain Corcoran and Sir Richard Cholmondeley. He transferred to the principal company when the "new" company disbanded in 1927, playing Antonio in "The Gondoliers" (which he recorded for H.M.V. the same year). He soon added other parts to his repertoire, including a forceful Usher in "Trial by Jury", Samuel, Guron, and on occasion the Earl of Mountararat in "Iolanthe" and Major Murgatroyd in "Patience".
During the 1930s Mr. Walker played from time to time a number of other parts which may surprise D'Oyly Carte enthusiasts. These included some of Darrell Fancourt's roles, such as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, the Pirate King, and the title role in "The Mikado" as well as covering Sydney Granville in the Pooh-Bah range of roles. Richard Walker also played the Notary in The Sorcerer during the four performances given of that opera in 1938 and 1939, and gave a delightful Interpretation of that small and not easily rewarding part.
In 1942 Richard Walker was chosen to succeed Sydney Granville as principal heavy baritone. His Sergeant of Police was a fine piece of comedy acting, and for one so well experienced in Gilbert's methods it is hardly necessary to say that Richard Walker knew exactly the limit between comedy and buffoonery. There was a delicious comic touch, beautifully timed, at the line, "Is to slap our chests and sing". His Wilfred Shadbolt was sardonic, his Don Alhambra del Bolero urbane, his Pooh-Bah sanctimonious (no one has scored more effectively with the line "I am the Registrar." As Bill Bobstay, which Mr. Walker played prewar and again when "H.M.S. Pinafore" was revived in 1947, he gave a tour de force in singing "He is an Englishman". He also recorded this role in 1949 for Decca.
In 1948 Mr. Walker left the company, but he returned briefly for a few weeks in 1949. It was during this period that he played Archibald Grosvenor in "Patience"; he gave an interpretation which can only be described as magnificent. His first entrance, abstract and thoughts set on aesthetic matters, was beautifully acted, and then he sang the duet with Patience with all the richness of tone and subtlety of manner which his powerful voice was able to contribute, aided by all his skill as an artist.
Since 1948 Richard Walker and Helen Roberts travelled the world together. They have played in productions of the operas given by the Williamson management in Australia and New Zealand, and they have presented Gilbert and Sullivan in their own two-person entertainment throughout the United States and Canada. Miss Roberts designed the costumes for this entertainment. They have sung and lectured on the operas under the auspices of the British Council in places as remote as Fiji, with an occasional intermission in "My Fair Lady" and other productions in Australia. President Eisenhower asked the Walkers to give their concert programme at his pre-inauguration party at the White House following his re-election in 1956. This signal honour had to be declined as the Walkers were then in Australia.
Yes: Helen Roberts and Richard Walker were two indefatigable enthusiasts for the operas. Their record of dedication in number of years is enviable. Richard Walker's total of thirty-five Savoy roles while a member of the D'Oyly Carte Company is a record of which he may justly be proud. It comfortably beats Henry Lytton's claim to have played thirty parts. It is unlikely that this achievement will be equalled, and it perhaps difficult to find today two such active and experienced proponents of Gilbert and Sullivan Opera as Richard and Helen Walker.
G & S Recordings
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