Kenneth Sandford

Long-serving baritone with the D'Oyly Carte

Kenneth Sandford, singer: born Godalming, Surrey 28 June 1924; married 1952 Pauline Eggs (one son, one daughter); died Market Drayton, Shropshire 19 September 2004.

The baritone Kenneth Sandford was a member of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for 25 years, giving innumerable performances of Gilbert & Sullivan roles such as Pooh-Bah in The Mikado, Archibald Grosvenor in Patience, Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers, Private Willis in Iolanthe and Sir Despard Murgatroyd in Ruddigore.

Kenneth Sandford, singer: born Godalming, Surrey 28 June 1924; married 1952 Pauline Eggs (one son, one daughter); died Market Drayton, Shropshire 19 September 2004.

The baritone Kenneth Sandford was a member of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for 25 years, giving innumerable performances of Gilbert & Sullivan roles such as Pooh-Bah in The Mikado, Archibald Grosvenor in Patience, Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers, Private Willis in Iolanthe and Sir Despard Murgatroyd in Ruddigore.

The company toured the country, giving eight performances a week, with a different opera every night and two performances on Saturday. Sandford had a fine baritone voice, originally a tenor, with excellent diction, but without the exaggerated pronunciation that some D'Oyly Carte singers favoured. He was also an excellent actor and comedian. Before joining the company he had appeared for several years in various long-running musicals, both in London and on tour.

Kenneth Sandford was born in Godalming in 1924, but his family moved to Sheffield, where he was brought up. His original intention was to be an artist, and he studied at the Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts, gaining a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, which he took up after the end of the Second World War. By then he was having second thoughts about his future career, and began to take singing lessons. Despite becoming an Associate of the RCA he decided that he preferred the musical theatre to art.

During his last year in college he joined the chorus of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel in June 1950 at Drury Lane. He understudied the role of Billy Bigelow and went on on several occasions. When in London he sang in the church choir at St Peter's, Hammersmith, where he met his future wife, Pauline.

After touring for a year in Ivor Novello's King's Rhapsody, as Count Igor Staniev, Sandford appeared as Sandy Twist in the Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon at Her Majesty's, from February 1953 to April 1954. From December that year until June 1956 he was lead vocalist in the Crazy Gang revue Jokers Wild at the Victoria Palace. Next he understudied Alfred Drake in Kismet, with music borrowed from Borodin, at the Stoll Theatre. At the same time he attended the Opera School for six months, and in 1957 auditioned for the D'Oyly Carte Company. He was accepted and became a principal baritone in July 1957.

Thrown directly into leading roles, Sandford did not sink but swam vigorously. He learnt eight roles in eight weeks and then appeared at the King's Theatre, Southsea. On Monday he sang Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else (apart from Executioner), in The Mikado; on Tuesday, Don Alhambra del Bolero, the Grand Inquisitor, in The Gondoliers; on Wednesday, Private Willis of the Dragoon Guards in Iolanthe; on Thursday, Sir Despard Murgatroyd, a Wicked Baronet, in Ruddigore; on Friday, Archibald Grosvenor, an Idyllic Poet, in Patience; and so on. Another of Sandford's early roles was the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance, but it was uncomfortably low for him, and he soon gave it up. He also sang King Hildebrand in Princess Ida, not one of the most popular, but among the musically most interesting of the operas.

In July 1962 Sandford sang Wilfred Shadbolt, Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor, in The Yeomen of the Guard in the precincts of the Tower of London (where the work is set) during the first Festival of the City of London. The copyright of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas had expired on 1 January that year, so productions like this Yeomen, directed by Anthony Besch, could be less hidebound by tradition. Shadbolt in particular, was made a more human character and, according to Arthur Jacobs, he "almost stole the show".

Sandford greatly enjoyed working with a first-class director such as Besch, and in 1971 he was given a similar opportunity. The Sorcerer was revived for the first time since 1939, directed by Michael Heyland and Sandford obtained a most congenial new role in the Rev Dr Daly, the elderly Vicar of Ploverleigh.

The first work in the Gilbert & Sullivan canon was Trial by Jury, first performed in March 1875. To celebrate the centenary, the D'Oyly Carte company presented a season at the Savoy Theatre in London, opening with a double bill of Trial by Jury and The Sorcerer. The two short operas were preceded by a playlet, Dramatic Licence, by William Douglas-Home, in which Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte planned the birth of Trial by Jury and thus of the whole great enterprise of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas. Sandford played Gilbert, and sang his customary role of Dr Daly in The Sorcerer. Later in the season he sang King Paramount in Utopia Limited, given its first production since the original run in 1883-84. There was also a concert performance of The Grand Duke, in which he sang Ludwig, the Principal Comedian of a theatrical company.

Sandford continued singing with the D'Oyly Carte until 1982. At Sadler's Wells Theatre the previous year his performance of Sir Despard in Ruddigore had been as delightfully villainous and almost as well sung as ever. But the Arts Council were threatening to cut off the company's subsidy. The threat was carried out in 1982 and the company closed for several years.

He did not desert Gilbert & Sullivan. As his biography by Roberta Morrell, Kenneth Sandford: "merely corroborative detail" (1999), describes, he continued to sing and to direct performances of the Savoy operas; he toured the United States with other singers from the company giving concerts of "The Best of Gilbert & Sullivan"; and he held master-classes in the UK and North America.

Sandford made complete recordings of all his roles except Dr Daly, as well as several that he never sang on stage, including the Counsel for the Plaintiff and the Usher in Trial by Jury. He also appeared on television in Patience (1965) and in a 1967 film of The Mikado.

The recordings give a good idea of his singing voice and style, but most of them are without the spoken dialogue that is so much a part of the Gilbert & Sullivan tradition, so the full scope of Kenneth Sandford's artistry and genial personality is not captured.

Elizabeth Forbes

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