Lives Remembered: Roger Frith
Thursday 08 January 2009
My father, Roger Frith, was one of the most talented theatre lighting designers of his generation. He was born in Streatham, south London on 1 June 1939, and grew up in Histon, Cambridge, where he attended St Johns School. When he showed early promise as a puppeteer, his parents formed the Rogoli Puppets, which became a successful puppet company. At 17, Roger toured the country with Hogarth Puppets. He regularly operated puppets on children's television, including Muffin the Mule, which he operated on live television from Alexandra Palace.
In 1957, Roger won a scholarship to study art at Goldsmiths College, but left after a year to take up a job as assistant electrician at Sadler's Wells Opera. In 1962, he married the ballet dancer Anne Harrison; I was born in 1965, and the marriage was dissolved in 1975.
During the 1960s, Roger enjoyed the London theatre scene, drinking at the Coach and Horses pub in Soho with Jeffrey and Bruce Bernard and others from that set. Dudley Moore once greeted him from the stage with "Hello Rog!" as he sat down in the front row to watch a performance of Beyond the Fringe.
In 1968, Roger moved with Sadler's Wells Opera to the Coliseum, becoming a lighting supervisor and designer for English National Opera, where he was responsible for over 50 productions. During 1979 he met and married the actress and singer Joyce Rae, who later became a theatrical agent.
In 1984, Roger toured America with ENO, a tour which culminated in him supervising the lighting of Rigoletto, Turn of the Screw and War and Peace at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. He left ENO a year later to turn freelance, which gave him the chance to extend his repertoire into the commercial theatre. He recently designed the premiere of Ronald Harwood's play An English Tragedy.
Roger's varied career included work with English Bach Festival in London and Europe, as well as 12 seasons with Opera Holland Park. Also in London, he produced operas and ballet galas at Queen Elizabeth Hall, as well as West End commercial plays. His work in Ireland with, among others, The Abbey Theatre, Druid Theatre Company and Cork Opera resulted in him being voted "Lighting Designer of the Year" by The Irish Times.
In his work, Roger demonstrated patience and humour, managing to pull lighting effects out of the bag in spite of low budgets and short timescales. He was very generous to students and worked extensively with young people at Rada, ArtsEd and, most recently, St Mary's University of Minnesota and the Drama Centre London at the Cochrane.
Last year he was diagnosed with cancer but continued to work right up until he went into hospital. Although his operation initially seemed successful, he suffered complications that proved ultimately fatal. His death on 29 November 2008 was a huge shock to the many people who knew and loved him. He leaves his wife, daughter and two grandsons.
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