The Making of
The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan

By Martyn Green

From Here's a How-de-do:
Travelling with Gilbert and Sullivan

(Max Reinhartdt: London, 1952)
Movie Scene
Martyn Green as George Grossmith.

Shortly after I left the D'Oyly Carte I was approached by London Films. A film depicting the lives of Gilbert and Sullivan was planned, and someone was needed to play the part of George Grossmith, the first in the line of D'Oyly Carte baritones. Grossmith was a little nervous man with no voice to speak of, but wonderful as a comic artist; the actor who played him would have to play also the parts he had played: Ko-Ko, the Lord Chancellor, Point, and the rest, for the film was to contain a good many excerpts from the operas. How fortunate I was to be free and so soon after leaving all my old parts behind to find myself playing them again! Playing them, it is true, with a difference, for this time I had to be not just Ko-Ko, but Grossmith playing Ko-Ko. I was lucky in having very few words to learn, as of course I knew all Grossmith's parts, which had been my parts as well, backwards, but I had a lot of work to do on the film none the less, for my knowledge of how the operas were produced proved very useful, and I spent a good deal of time showing the producers how song and dance routines were usually done.

"One of my most exciting moments in the film was the scene of the first night of Iolanthe, when the new Savoy Theatre was opened with its daring innovation of electric lighting. (Actually, the Savoy was opened with Patience, but this was thought less suitable for the purposes of the film, and it was taken to have been Iolanthe.) Grossmith is intensely nervous and has to go through, for the first time before an audience, that exacting ordeal, the Lord Chancellor's Dream Song. The management is also intensely nervous, about the success of their new opera, the success of their new theatre, and — whether the electricity will work. Shots of Grossmith singing the Dream Song alternate with shots of sweating anxious men working the electrical generators on a vacant lot outside the theatre. A breathless audience is intent on the intricate patter of the song, and there is a sigh of relief as Grossmith gets through, without fluffing, to the climax of the last words:

The night has been long;
Ditto, ditto my song;
And thank goodness they're both of them over!

As he mopped his forehead I had to express Grossmith's relief as well as the Lord Chancellor's exhaustion, and perhaps my own real relief as well, for filming is always a taxing business, and parts of that sequence were shot again and again.

"I enjoy filming, despite the hard work, and this film in particular was welcome to me, for it showed that though I have left the D'Oyly Carte I have not severed my connection with Gilbert and Sullivan.

Movie Scene
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's Annual Picnic. George Grossmith (Martyn Green) dispenses champagne.