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British Musical Theatre   Howard Talbot

Howard Talbot was born Richard Lansdale Munkittrick in New York City on 9 March 1865. He died at Reigate, England, 12 September 1928. He was the composer of two of the new century's greatest hits.

Born in New York of an Irish family and brought up and educated from the age of four in London, Talbot originally studied medicine at King's College before switching to the Royal College of Music to pursue a musical education and career. He had a slow and difficult start to his life as a composer and musician, succeeding in the first years only in placing the occasional song, and, although it was reported as early as 1890 that the young man was 'collaborating with Fred Broughton on a piece for New York', his first staged work was a musical setting of a complex little piece, diligently based on a game of chess by its authoress, the Hon Albinia Brodrick, which was produced by amateurs at King's Lynn. King's Lynn, however, ultimately provided the venue for his first professional production, the comic opera Wapping Old Stairs, which was well enough received locally to earn it a London season in 1894 with a cast including D'Oyly Carte stars Jessie Bond, Courtice Pounds and Richard Temple. The show had, however, only 35 performances in London, and Talbot had further ill fortune when his contribution as composer and musical director to the quick-flop burlesque All My Eye-van-hoe led him to court, suing the producers for non-payment of his earned dues of £42 1s 10d.

Talbot did his principal work in these early days of his career as a musical-theatre conductor, notably of the long-touring The Lady Slavey, but his next produced show, Monte Carlo (1896), did considerably better than the first, both in Britain and in America. It did not, however, lift him into the top category of London writers, and he continued to be just a supplier of additional material here and there whilst conducting a series of London shows: the play The Sorrows of Satan at the Shaftesbury (1897), both Dandy Dan the Lifeguardsman (1897, into which he interpolated the successful 'Someone Ought to Speak to Millie Simpson') and Milord Sir Smith (1898) for Arthur Roberts, Great Caesar (1899), and George Edwardes's Kitty Grey (1900–1), a show which included another charming Talbot song, 'Mademoiselle Pirouette', in its score. But, during this time, a little provincial touring show for which he had composed the hulk of the music came to town, and Talbot at last found very genuine success.

A Chinese Honeymoon, equipped with a list of songs including Talbot's popular 'Martha Spanks the Grand Pianner' and 'The à la Girl', became the first musical in theatre history to run up 1,000 consecutive metropolitan performances and, as it went round the world, its composer's name and fortune were made. He continued to work as a conductor, spending a short time at the Gaiety with The Toreador, and then helming Three Little Maids for which, although Paul Rubens took sole music credit, he also composed the whole of the concerted music, and as a composer he turned out the scores for six further musicals over the next eight years, most of which he also conducted. He scored comfortable West End successes with The Blue Moon, The White Chrysanthemum, The Girl Behind the Counter and The Belle of Brittany, each of which went on to be played throughout the English-speaking theatre world, and had unmitigated flops with Miss Wingrove and The Three Kisses. He also contributed regular individual numbers to other composers' scores including the coon song 'Smiling Sambo' sung by Ella Snyder and 'Bob and Me' in The Girl from Kays and numbers for pieces ranging from Leslie Stuart's The School Girl ('One of the Boys') and Ada Reeve's Winnie Brooke Widow to the Gaiety Theatre's The Sunshine Girl ('You and I Together') and the London piece that passed for Kálmán's Tatárjárßs (Autumn Manoeuvres).

In 1909 he had the second major success of his career when he combined with Lionel Monckton on the score of The Arcadians. Ten years after his first major triumph, he again hit the international heights with his contribution ('I've Got a Motter', 'I Like London', 'Half Past Two', the beautiful ensemble 'The Joy of Life' and the quintet 'Truth is So Beautiful') to the most successful musical of the Edwardian era. Although its successor, The Mousmé, proved an over-produced failure, its music, notably Talbot's pretty high soprano 'by Samisen', moulded to the talents of the show's star Florence Smithson, was not at fault. There was also much of quality in The Pearl Girl and in the interesting but unlucky My Lady Frayle, but both of these pieces were written and composed in an idiom which was on its way out, and it was noticeable that the song success of Talbot's sprightly modern musical comedy Mr. Manhattan was not one of his numbers, but a lively second-hand American number interpolated for the show's American star.

Talbot supplied music for several of the newly popular musical playlets produced in the variety theatres but, at a time when it might have been thought that he would gently fade away along with the other composers of his era who were unable or unwilling to adapt to the new rhythms and styles invading the musical theatre, Talbot put his name on his third long-running hit. In 1916 the composer contributed some additional material to the London wartime production of the American musical High Jinks which Alfred Butt was pretending wasn't by Rudolf Friml as he revamped it as a vehicle for comedian Bill Berry at the Adelphi, and he and Monckton were subsequently hired to write the full score for the comedian's next musical. The Boy, an adaptation of Pinero's The Magistrate, was a major hit, and even if the bulk of the favourite numbers were Monckton's, Talbot once again fulfilled more than a supporting role. The pair repeated with the score for another Pinero musical, Who's Hooper?, which proved almost as big a success at the first, but when Talbot went it alone on a third, My .Nieces – not only without Monckton but, perhaps more importantly, without Berry as its very box-officeable star – it proved less happy.

My Nieces was his last West End show. Talbot retired to the south of England and, although he continued to compose, his last works were for amateur companies, for whom he had previously written Athene (King's Lynn 6 February 1911): Her Ladyship (w Percy Greenbank, Dorothy Langton, Scala Theatre, 24 April 1928) and The Daughter of the Gods (1929).

1892 A Musical Chess Tournament (Albinia Brodrick) New Theatre, Oxford 28 October

1894 Wapping Old Stairs (Stuart Robertson) Theatre Royal, King's Lynn 4 January; Vaudeville Theatre 17 February

1896 Monte Carlo (Harry Greenbank) Avenue Theatre 27 August

1899 A Chinese Honeymoon (George Dance) Theatre Royal, Hanley 16 October; Strand Theatre, London 5 October 1901

1900 Kitty Grey (w Augustus Barran, Lionel Monckton et al/Adrian Ross/J Smyth Piggott) Bristol 27 August; Apollo Theatre, London 7 September 1901

1902 Three Little Maids (w Paul Rubens/Percy Greenbank/Rubens) Apollo Theatre 20 May

1904 The Blue Moon (w Rubens/P Greenbank, Rubens/ Harold Ellis) Theatre Royal, Northhampton 29 February; Lyric Theatre, London 28 August 1905

1905 Miss Wingrove (W H Risque) Strand Theatre 4 May

1905 The White Chrysanthemum (Arthur Anderson/Leedham Bantock, Anderson) Criterion Theatre 31 August

1906 The Girl Behind the Counter (Anderson/Bantock, Anderson) Wyndham's Theatre 21 April

1907 The Three Kisses (P Greenbank/Bantock) Apollo Theatre 21 August

1908 The Belle of Brittany (P Greenbank/Bantock, Percy J Barrow) Queen's Theatre 24 October

1909 The Arcadians (w Lionel Monckton/Arthur Wimperis/Mark Ambient, Alexander M Thompson, Robert Courtneidge) Shaftesbury Theatre 28 April

1911 The Mousmé (w Monckton/Wimperis, Greenbank/ A Thompson, Courtneidge) Shaftesbury Theatre 9 September

1913 The Pearl Girl (w Hugo Felix/Basil Hood) Shaftesbury Theatre 25 September

1913 A Narrow Squeak (F J Whitmarsh) 1 scene Hippodrome, Manchester, London Coliseum 16 June

1913 Simple 'Earted Bill (Barrow, Huntley Wright) 1 act London Coliseum 1 December

1914 Lucky Miss (Risque) 1 act London Pavilion 13 July

1915 Vivien (w Herman Finck/Wimperis/Max Pemberton, Wimperis) Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham 27 December

1916 My Lady Frayle (ex-Vivien) Shaftesbury Theatre 1 March

1916 Mr Manhattan (w Philip Braham, Frank E Tours)/C H Bovill, Fred Thompson) Prince of Wales Theatre 30 March

1915 The Light Blues (w Finck/Adrian Ross/Ambient, Jack Hulbert) Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham 13 September; Shaftesbury Theatre 14 September 1916

1917 The Boy (w Monckton/Ross, Greenbank/F Thompson) Adelphi Theatre 14 September

1919 Who's Hooper? (w Ivor Novello/Clifford Grey/F Thompson) Adelphi Theatre 13 September

1921 My Nieces (Greenbank) Queen's Theatre 19 August

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