A show for every audience
The name ‘Julian Slade’ is synonymous with the British musical. Following a sparkling theatrical three years at Cambridge University, where he wrote the book, lyrics and music for his first two musicals, Julian joined the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as a student in 1951. From 1952-54 he was a member of the theatre company and its resident musical director and composer. During this time, as well as writing some delightful incidental music for a number of Shakespeare plays, a complete score for ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and a lively new score for Sheridan’s ‘The Duenna’, Julian, in collaboration with a fellow actor, Dorothy Reynolds, wrote two Christmas shows and one summer show. The summer show was ‘Salad Days’.
‘The Duenna’ opened in London to critical acclaim early in 1954. It was followed a month later by a transfer from Bristol of ‘Salad Days’ and a triumphant opening night and London run. Also in 1954 the Bristol production of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ was one of the very first musicals to be televised by the BBC.
After ‘Salad Days’ Dorothy and Julian turned their hand to a larger scale musical,‘Free As Air’, which again proved very popular with London audiences. It opened at the Savoy Theatre in 1957 and ran for over a year.
In those days television viewing was still in its infancy but to theatre-going audiences Julian and his music had become as well known and popular as Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Stephen Sondheim are today.
Although Julian wrote three further shows with Dorothy Reynolds, the 1960s proved to be a time for some key new work on his own and for two new collaborations. The first was with Robin Miller and Alan Pryce-Jones. The collaboration created ‘Vanity Fair’, an adaptation of Thackeray’s great novel, set to some of Julian’s most soaring and memorable music. Nearly forty years later a smaller scale adaptation of this original was created and particularly well received at the Theatre Museum production in Covent Garden.
The second, with Aubrey Woods and George Rowell, created ‘Trelawny’, another large scale musical with rousing choruses, strong tunes and powerful and amusing lyrics. Adapted from Pinero’s ‘Trelawny of the Wells’, the show was transferred from Bristol to London in 1972 by a management team that included a very young Cameron Mackintosh, a long–standing fan and friend of Julian. Starring Ian Richardson, Max Adrian and Gemma Craven, it ran at Sadler’s Wells and then transferred to The Prince of Wales.
A few years before, working on his own, Julian had written his own musical adaptation of the Jacobean romp, ‘The Knight of the Burning Pestle’. Entitled ‘Nutmeg and Ginger’, it was staged in Cheltenham to delighted audiences.
After returning to Bristol to write ‘60,000 Nights’ a show celebrating the bi-centenary of the Theatre Royal, Julian, in close consultation with Nancy Mitford, embarked on his own adaptation of her novel ’The Pursuit of Love’, for which he again wrote a very memorable score. The show proved immensely popular with 1967 Bristol audiences and met with the full approval of the Mitford family.
In 1970 the equally popular Reynolds/Slade Christmas show, ‘The Merry Gentleman’, was successfully revived at Bristol and in 1973 Julian wrote his last show for the Theatre Royal, ‘Out of Bounds’ a lively musical adaptation of Pinero’s ‘The Schoolmistress’.
Another ideal show for the Christmas audience, and one of Julian’s most successful small-scale London enterprises, is his adaptation of A.A. Milne’s ‘Winne the Pooh’. It was first staged at the Phoenix theatre in 1971. In 1986 Julian collaborated with Gyles Brandreth to write ‘Now We Are Sixty’ a small scale musical play about A.A. Milne himself. It starred the very young Aled Jones as Christopher Robin.
In his later years Julian was frequently to be seen and heard in cabaret, performing his work for charity with a small team of fellow actors He finally bowed out of the theatre in 2004 when, in his honour, Sir Cameron Mackintosh staged ‘The Time of My Life’, a spectacular show of his works at Bristol’s Theatre Royal. This show celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of his most successful musical, ‘Salad Days’.
Slade Caricatures Revealed
Julian Slade wrote his first two musicals, ‘Bang Goes The Meringue’ and ‘Lady May’, when he was at Cambridge. Both were performed at the ADC, where he also acted in a number of productions. Less well known is that in those days he was also a sharp caricaturist. Recently presented to the ADC by his family, three of his Cambridge caricature originals are now displayed for the first time in the new studio area. Dating from 1949, the two featured here show Julian himself in the unlikely but, for him, successful role as Lady Macbeth and John Barton as Macbeth. With his and Julian’s Cambridge contemporary Sir Peter Hall, John Barton was later co-director and founder (1960) of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Other caricatures by Julian are also on display at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
FAMILY UPDATE: Julian Slade was born in 1930 and died in 2006. His two brothers, Christopher and Adrian, became the trustees of his literary estate, which is represented by Alan Brodie Representation Sir Christopher (Slade) died in February 2022, leaving Adrian as the sole Trustee of the estate and sole editor of this website.