[He] went to Elstree Preparatory School, a Spartan institution from which he nevertheless won a scholarship to Harrow. “You’ll see some fellows doing things which will shock and disgust you,” warned his prep school headmaster. “They will ask you to join in, too, and this you will on no account do.” History does not relate whether young Sandy needed or heeded this advice.We bid a sad farewell today to Sandy Wilson, composer, playwright and author, and one of the last "greats" of British theatre.
Although his output was wide-ranging (including revues for the likes of Peter Cook and Hermione Gingold, and tributes to both Dorothy Parker - on stage - and Ivor Novello - in print), and various productions of his such as Valmouth do get an occasional airing (to largely critical, rather than popular, acclaim), it is inevitably for one worldwide "hit" that Mr Wilson will be remembered the most. From his obituary in The Telegraph:
In 1952 the Players Theatre commissioned Wilson, for a £50 fee, to write a “divertissement”. The result was The Boy Friend. After some lengthening of the original two-act show, and various efforts to get it to the West End, it opened to general acclaim at Wyndham’s Theatre in January 1954.
Though it remained a perennial favourite and earned Wilson so much money that he was advised he need never work again, his own relationship with the play was a difficult one. He hated the Broadway production and was banned from rehearsals. He hated Ken Russell’s film version, complaining that his offers of help had been rejected. In 1984 he fell out with Cameron Mackintosh over a West End revival which also, he felt, veered too far from the original.
The Boy Friend is a camp, cult classic, not merely because of the Art Deco extravaganza that was the movie version (we saw an excellent production at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in 2006). Despite Mr Wilson's reservations, it is not a bad legacy at all, methinks...
Facts about Sandy Wilson:
- Apparently the character of "Sandy" in the Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick camp comedy routine Julian and Sandy was based on Wilson (and Julian on Julian Slade).
- The Boy Friend ran for more than five years at Wyndham's theatre in London, spent more than a year on Broadway, and made an international star of the young Julie Andrews.
- He applied his artistic talents to home-made Christmas cards, usually featuring flappers, pierrots or harlequins in a mimimal setting of crescent moons and floating balloons.
- He lived for many years with his partner Chak Yui, not "in a little flat in Bloomsbury" but in Kensington, and eventually retired to Wiltshire.
- His autobiography I Could be Happy was published in 1975.