Born in London, Cole was educated at Winchester and King's College, Cambridge, where he read natural sciences. He entered the Royal College of Music in 1944 to study the cello, and composition with Herbert Howells. He also studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. In 1950 his first children's opera, Asses' Ears, was performed by Rokeby School, Wimbledon. Cole provided his own libretto, as he did for his next two operas, A Statue for the Mayor (1955) and Persephone (1955), both given by the pupils of Wimbledon High School. Cole's undemanding, tuneful style was perfectly suited to performance by children - or indeed by amateurs.
The John Lewis Partnership Music Society organised an opera competition for the inauguration of the auditorium in their newly built Oxford Street store. Cole won the competition with The Tunnel, for which, as usual, he wrote his own libretto. First performed on 24 October 1960, The Tunnel dealt with a disaster during the railway- construction boom of the 1840s. The piece was carefully tailored for the Partnership Music Society, with 18 solo singing roles, and a great deal of work for the chorus. The excellent production was staged by Anthony Besch and conducted by James Robertson.
In 1964 Cole became one of the music critics on the Guardian, and consequently composed rather less than in previous years. Another children's opera, Flax into Gold, which had been written in 1957, was performed at Oxford in 1966. Two years later The Falcon, a one-act chamber piece with text by Norman Platt, based on a story by Boccaccio, was given at Shawford Mill, Bath. Cole's final dramatic work The Fair Trader was an opera for boys, produced at Wokingham Town Hall in 1971.
Cole's orchestral and chamber works, for ensembles of various instruments, and his choral pieces, which included A Company of Fools, with text by James Kirkup; Of the Nativitie of Christ, a setting of William Dunbar, the 15th-century Scottish poet and priest; and Jonah were mostly composed during the 1950s and 1960s.
Hugo Cole himself was thoroughly professional in everything he did, whether as instrumentalist, composer or writer of music criticism.
Hugo Cole, composer, music critic: born 6 July 1917; married (two daughters); died 2 March 1995.