Julian Slade

Co-author of 'Salad Days', for 10 years the longest-running show in British musical history


Julian Penkivil Slade, lyricist and composer: born London 28 May 1930; died London 17 June 2006.

In 1954, musical theatre in the West End of London was dominated by the Americans. Oklahoma! had opened at Drury Lane in the mid-Forties, starting the theatre's long run of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, Annie Get Your Gun's mammoth run had heralded the takeover of the Coliseum by such musicals as Kiss Me, Kate and Guys and Dolls, and His Majesty's had played host to Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon. There were British hits - Love from Judy, Zip Goes a Million, Bet Your Life, and several intimate revues, but they were small-scale and had comparatively modest runs.

Then came two home-grown shows that truly took theatreland by storm, winning rave reviews, audience cheers and long queues at the box office - Sandy Wilson's magnificent Twenties pastiche The Boy Friend, and Julian Slade's decidedly English story of college graduates and their adventures with a magic piano, Salad Days.

Both shows were to run for years, and they are the ones with which their composers will forever be most identified. Slade's musical was the more controversial, for its book and lyrics (on which Slade collaborated with Dorothy Reynolds) were derided by some as too archly fey, but there was no denying the score's tunefulness, or the youthful gaiety of the whimsical plot.

Born in London in 1930, Julian Penkivil Slade was one of three sons of a barrister, and was educated at a prep school in Oxford, won a scholarship to Eton and finally read Classics and English at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he wrote two musical plays, Lady May (written for May Week) and Bang Goes the Meringue. At the age of 16, he had his first book published, a children's story, Nibble the Squirrel (1946).

In 1951 he joined the Bristol Old Vic training school after he told the school's director, Denis Carey, of his ambition to be an actor - at Cambridge he had played Lady Macbeth in an all-male production of the Shakespeare tragedy. Though he played a few small roles at the Bristol Old Vic, it soon became apparent that his real talent was that of composition. He wrote incidental music for the theatre's production of Two Gentlemen of Verona (1952), which transferred to the Old Vic in London, then he became musical director of the theatre, also writing two Christmas musicals, Christmas in King Street (in collaboration with the actress Dorothy Reynolds and James Cairncross) and The Merry Gentleman (with Reynolds).

He also wrote songs for a new version of the 1775 comic operetta with a libretto by Sheridan, The Duenna, incidental music for The Merchant of Venice at Stratford, and music for a version of The Comedy of Errors that was subsequently shown on television in 1954 and at London's Arts Theatre in 1956.

Salad Days (the title was taken from Cleopatra's speech in Antony and Cleopatra in which she refers to her "salad days when I was green in judgement") was commissioned by Carey in February 1954, and written by Slade and Reynolds in six weeks as a summer show for the resident company at the Bristol Old Vic, but its enormous popularity prompted a transfer to the West End. It almost was not produced in London at all, for managements initially insisted that some familiar names be cast, but Slade was adamant that the original cast members should, if they wanted to, recreate their roles. He won his argument when two managements, Linnit and Dunfee, and Jack Hylton, agreed to combine to share the risk.

In August 1954, Salad Days opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, where it ran for 2,288 performances, beating by 50 performances the record set by Chu Chin Chow. It remained the longest-running show in British musical history until overtaken by Oliver! 10 years later. Reynolds was in the original cast, and Slade himself played the piano in the pit for the first 18 months. It was later produced all over the world (though a New York production in 1958 was a failure), enjoyed major revivals in 1976 and 1996, and has been performed both on radio and television.

The story of a magic piano which causes the most unlikely people to break into song-and-dance, it includes among its catchy songs the syncopated "Look at Me, I'm Dancing", a lazily reflective "I Sit in the Sun" and, probably the most performed of the numbers, the duet for the leading couple as they try not to become nostalgic for their just concluded college days, "We Said We Wouldn't Look Back". That wistful, charming ballad was the theme tune for the show Hey, Mr Producer (1998), a salute to the career of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who saw Salad Days as an eight-year-old and decided at that moment to produce musicals - Mackintosh himself sang the song as the finale of the tribute.

Though four more Slade-Reynolds shows were produced in London later, none of them caught the imagination as Salad Days had, though they featured attractive melodies. Free as Air (1957) was considered more slick and professional by some critics, but the whiff of amateurism about Salad Days had been part of its charm. Follow That Girl! (1960) had the beguiling Susan Hampshire as star, but its run was brief, and Hooray for Daisy (1961), about a cow, had a title that alone would deter any whimsy-haters.

Wildest Dreams (1961) was the final collaboration with Reynolds, after which Slade had a modest hit with Vanity Fair (1962), written with Alan Pryce-Jones and Robin Millar, and there were other shows that did not get into London, including Nutmeg and Ginger (Cheltenham, 1963) and The Pursuit of Love (Bristol, 1967), an adaptation of Nancy Mitford's comic novel. He returned to the West End with a moderate success, Trelawney (1972), an adaptation of Thackeray's theatrical tale, starring Gemma Craven and Ian Richardson.

Slade composed music for the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, including productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Much Ado About Nothing, and he adapted another Mitford novel, Love in a Cold Climate (1997).

Julian Slade used to express regret that so much of his music remained unperformed and unknown, but he himself made a recording, Looking for a Piano (1980), on which he played and sang his material, including songs from Salad Days naturally, but also including some charming numbers from the "lost" musicals, such as "Let the Grass Grow" from Free As Air, the title songs from the Mitford musicals and numbers from Lady May, Bang Goes the Meringue, The Merry Gentleman and others.

The original "magic piano" that played Slade's captivating rhythms for five and a half years on the Vaudeville stage is now on display at the Theatre Museum in London.

Tom Vallance

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own