Basil Hood

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Basil Hood

Basil Willett Charles Hood (5 April 1864 – 7 August 1917) was a British librettist and lyricist, perhaps best known for writing the libretti of half a dozen Savoy Operas and for his English adaptations of operettas, including The Merry Widow. He embarked on a career in the British Army, writing theatrical pieces in his spare time. After some modest successes, Hood and his collaborator, the composer Walter Slaughter, had a major hit with their long-running show, Gentleman Joe. Hood then resigned from the army to pursue his career as a librettist full-time, later working with such composers as Arthur Sullivan and Edward German.

After burlesque and comic opera went out of fashion, Hood turned to adaptations of continental operettas for the impresario George Edwardes, writing English versions of such works as The Merry Widow, The Dollar Princess and The Count of Luxembourg, sometimes drastically rewriting the book and lyrics. At the outbreak of World War I, he took up a demanding post in the British War Office, which is believed to have contributed to his early death.

Life and works[edit]

Early life and military career[edit]

Hood was born in Croydon, Surrey, the youngest of nine children of the psychiatrist Sir William Charles Hood (1824–1870), M.D., who was superintendent, physician and treasurer to Bethlem Royal Hospital and later a Commissioner in Lunacy.[1] His mother was Jane née Willett (1826–1866).[2] After both parents died in his early childhood, Hood was raised by his older siblings[2] and educated at Wellington and Sandhurst. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Green Howards in 1883.[3] In 1887, he married Frances Ada née English (1866–1922), but two months later she was institutionalised at Bethlem Royal Hospital, and she remained in asylums until her death.[2] He was promoted to Captain in 1893 and retired in 1895, but joined the 3rd (Militia) Battalion later the same year. He resigned his commission in 1898.[3]

Early stage works[edit]

Hood began writing for the theatre in his mid-twenties. His first one-act piece, The Gypsies, with music by Wilfred Bendall (1850–1920), was mounted as a curtain-raiser at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1890. The Times praised the piece and remarked on "a certain flavour of Gilbertian paradox".[4] Hood provided the lyrics to Lionel Monckton's song, "What Will You Have to Drink?", interpolated into the Gaiety Theatre burlesque Cinder Ellen up too Late.[5] Hood then wrote two short operettas with music by Walter Slaughter. The first was Donna Luiza,[6] which The Times again compared to W. S. Gilbert's work, this time less favourably.[7] The second piece by Hood and Slaughter was The Crossing Sweeper, presented at the Gaiety Theatre, with Kate Cutler and Florence Lloyd.[8]

Theatre poster from 1897

In 1895, Hood and Slaughter wrote a full-length musical comedy, Gentleman Joe, the Hansom Cabbie, a vehicle for the comedian Arthur Roberts. It ran for 391 performances in London, with a second company also presenting it in the provinces.[9] Its success prompted Hood to resign his army commission to concentrate on his writing.[10] With Slaughter and B. C. Stephenson, Hood then wrote Belinda, described by The Manchester Guardian as "childish beyond precedent".[11] The next Slaughter and Hood collaboration, The French Maid, won better reviews on its pre-London production,[12] and from the London critics when it opened at Terry's Theatre in April 1897.[13] During the run, Hood wrote a short curtain raiser, Apron Strings, a farcical comedy about marital misunderstandings, which was added to the bill in October.[14] The French Maid, which transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre with revised music and lyrics,[15] ran for 467 performances in all.[16] The collaborators followed it with six more shows in succession, including The Duchess of Dijon;[17] Her Royal Highness; Orlando Dando, the Volunteer (a vehicle for Dan Leno);[16] and another successful vehicle for Roberts, Dandy Dan, the Lifeguardsman (1897).[18] Also beginning in 1897, Hood and Slaughter wrote a series of short musicals for children, based on fairy tales, which received warm reviews.[19][20][21]

Librettist of Savoy Operas[edit]

After Arthur Sullivan finished collaborating with W. S. Gilbert (The Grand Duke, in 1896, was their last joint work), Richard D'Oyly Carte, the proprietor of the Savoy Theatre, looked for other librettists to provide librettos for Sullivan to set. Hood was introduced to Sullivan by the composer Wilfred Bendall, with whom Hood had collaborated on The Gypsies in 1890.[22] Sullivan's several operas written in the 1890s without Gilbert had not been successful,[23] but his new opera with Hood, The Rose of Persia (1899), ran for 213 performances.[24] Hood also wrote the libretti for two short companion pieces at the Savoy. The first was Pretty Polly, which ran with The Rose of Persia in 1900 and with Patience in 1900–01,[25] and the second was Ib and Little Christina (1900), which played in several theatres including the Savoy (in 1901, as a companion piece to Hood's The Willow Pattern).[26] Hood also wrote such plays, during this period, as The Great Silence, with Louie Pounds (Coronet Theatre, London; 1900),[27] which was presented together with Cox and Box (starring Courtice Pounds as Box) and Ib and Little Christina, with Louie Pounds as adult Christina (otherwise, the original cast reprised their roles).[28]

Illustration of scene from The Rose of Persia, 1899

After the success for Hood and Sullivan of The Rose of Persia, the pair were soon writing a second opera, The Emerald Isle (1901). Sullivan died while writing this new work, however, and the task of completing it fell to Edward German. The production was another reasonable success, with 205 performances.[26] Hood and German went on to collaborate on the successful Merrie England (1902), which played at the Savoy for 120 performances, toured the provinces for 14 weeks, and then returned for another run at the Savoy.[29] Of Merrie England, The Observer wrote, "It is not too much to say that Capt. Basil Hood and Mr. Edward German have, by means of the latest Savoy success, increased their reputations to an extent that will lead the musical public to look to them in future for work as epoch-making in its peculiar genre as that of Gilbert and Sullivan. Capt. Hood is the only writer of "words for music" whose lyrics can compare with those of Mr. Gilbert for finish, rhythmic piquancy, and verbal quaintness."[30] When Merrie England finished its second London run, German and Hood immediately followed it with A Princess of Kensington (1903) which ran for 115 performances and then went on tour. After that, their producer, William Greet, turned away from light opera, which effectively ended their work together.[5]

Adapter of operettas[edit]

Gertie Millar and Robert Evett in Hood's version of A Waltz Dream

Between 1903 and 1906, Hood worked on several musical comedies, including one based on Romeo and Juliet, but when producer Charles Frohman started altering his work to suit casting considerations, he withdrew his name from the libretto of what was produced as The Belle of Mayfair (1906). He also adapted Victorien Sardou's play Les Merveilleuses as the libretto for George Edwardes's musical at Daly's Theatre, The Merveilleuses (1906). Next, he supplied the Gaiety Theatre with lyrics for the successful The Girls of Gottenberg (1907).[5]

With the resurgence of interest in Continental European operettas, Edwardes engaged Hood to prepare the English versions of what became a series of extremely successful productions. Critical opinion has differed about this period of Hood's career. The Times, in its obituary notice, wrote, "He spent more ability in adapting librettos for the late George Edwardes than the quality of the work demanded … under these conditions he scarcely fulfilled his promise as a wit and poet.[31] By contrast, in the view of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, "adapting German and Viennese operettas … is where he found his métier. Often discarding the original premise, he helped create lively and very popular operettas."[10] Shows that Hood adapted included The Merry Widow (1907), The Dollar Princess (1908), A Waltz Dream (1908), The Count of Luxembourg (1911), and Gypsy Love (1912). Hood's original works were few in these years. In 1909, his Little Hans Andersen was produced under the management of William Greet. In 1913 he wrote a superior but unsuccessful musical comedy, The Pearl Girl.[5]

Last years[edit]

In 1912, the actor-manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree proposed another collaboration between Hood and German to provide a musical production based on the life of Sir Francis Drake, but German declined the commission. German had been stung by an unpleasant experience with his 1909 opera, Fallen Fairies, and after this he wrote no more for the stage. In any case, he felt that the Elizabethan setting of the Drake idea would merely result in re-covering old ground already explored in Merrie England.[32]

With the outbreak of World War I, German-language operetta lost its popularity. After that, Hood supplied lyrics for individual numbers for some musicals and wrote some non-musical plays. In the early days of the war, he took up a post at the War Office.[33] Despite the heavy demands of his wartime work, he wrote a patriotic light opera, Young England, with music by G. H. Clutsam and Hubert Bath, starring Walter Passmore, which ran at Daly's Theatre and then the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1916–17 before going on tour.[34]

Hood died suddenly in his flat in St. James's Street, London, at the age of 53, from the effects of overwork and neglecting to eat.[35]


  1. ^ The Daily News, 13 July 1868, p. 5; and "The Dundee Courier", 18 July 1868, p. 3
  2. ^ a b c Smith, J. Donald. "Who Was Basil Hood?", Sir Arthur Sullivan Society Magazine, No. 84, Spring 2014, pp. 26–35
  3. ^ a b "Obituary, Captain Basil Hood", The Manchester Guardian, 8 August 1917, p. 3
  4. ^ "Prince of Wales's Theatre," The Times, 27 October 1890, p. 8
  5. ^ a b c d Basil Hood biography at the British Musical Theatre website of the Gilbert and Sullivan archive, 31 August 2004, adapted from The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre by Kurt Gänzl, accessed 11 June 2010
  6. ^ The Observer, 27 March 1892, p. 6
  7. ^ "Prince of Wales's Theatre", The Times, 24 March 1892, p. 9
  8. ^ The Observer, 16 April 1893, p. 6
  9. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 25 August 1895, p. 5
  10. ^ a b Larkin, Colin (ed). " Hood, Basil", Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Muze Inc and Oxford University Press, Inc. 2009, accessed 13 June 2010 (requires subscription)
  11. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 6 October 1896, p. 5
  12. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 24 November 1896, p. 5
  13. ^ "Terry's Theatre," The Observer, 25 April 1897, p. 6.
  14. ^ The Observer, 10 October 1897, p. 6.
  15. ^ The Observer, 13 February 1898, p. 6
  16. ^ a b The Observer, 7 August 1898, p. 6
  17. ^ Adams, p. 431
  18. ^ Adams, p. 374
  19. ^ "Terry's Theatre", The Times, 24 December 1897, p. 6
  20. ^ "'The Happy Life, by Louis N. Parker, to be Produced at the Duke of York's Theatre", The New York Times, 5 December 1897
  21. ^ "The Tinder Box and Little Claus and Big Claus", The Observer, 21 November 1897, p. 6
  22. ^ Wilson, Fredric Woodbridge. "Hood, Basil", Grove Music Online, accessed 13 June 2010 (requires subscription)
  23. ^ The Chieftain, with F. C. Burnand ran for 97 performances in 1894–95, and The Beauty Stone with Arthur Wing Pinero and J. Comyns Carr ran for 50 performances in 1898: see Rollins and Witts, pp. 15–18
  24. ^ Rollins and Witts, p. 18
  25. ^ Pretty Polly: Reviews reproduced from The Pall Mall Gazette etc. at The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 8 May 2008, accessed 11 June 2010
  26. ^ a b Rollins and Witts, p. 19
  27. ^ Adams, p. 606
  28. ^ "The Coronet Theatre", The Morning Post, 25 July 1900, p. 3
  29. ^ Rollins and Witts, p. 20
  30. ^ The Observer, 6 April 1902, p. 6
  31. ^ Obituary, The Times, 8 August 1917, p. 9
  32. ^ Morrison, Robert. "The Controversy Surrounding Gilbert's Last Opera". Fallen Fairies, The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive (2006)
  33. ^ Kenrick, John. "Who's Who in Musicals: Additional Bios XII",, 2004, accessed 11 June 2010
  34. ^ "Young England: Music and Laughter at Daly's", The Times, 26 December 1916, p. 9; The Times 4 January 1917, p. 8; and 26 March 1917, p. 11
  35. ^ "Captain Basil Hood's Death: Excessive Concentration on Cryptograms", The Times, 11 August 1917; p. 3


  • Rollins, Cyril; R. John Witts (1962). The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in Gilbert and Sullivan Operas: A Record of Productions, 1875–1961. London: Michael Joseph. OCLC 504581419. 

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