Frank Wyatt

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Wyatt as the Duke of Plaza-Toro
in The Gondoliers, 1889

Frank Wyatt (7 November 1852 – 5 October 1926) was an English actor, singer, theatre manager and playwright.

In a two-decade career on stage, Wyatt is best remembered for his roles with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from 1889 to 1891, and in particular for creating the role of the Duke of Plaza-Toro in Gilbert and Sullivan's hit comic opera The Gondoliers. Later, Wyatt and his wife owned and managed the Trafalgar Square Theatre (known after 1895 as the Duke of York's Theatre).


Wyatt was born Francis Nevill Gunning in Greenwich in London, England. He studied art at the Royal Academy and became an illustrator on the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and successfully exhibited and sold paintings.[1]

In 1877, Wyatt began a stage career in a one-line part in the farce On Bail by W. S. Gilbert at the Criterion Theatre, where he continued to play in farces for three years under Charles Wyndham. Over the next two decades, Wyatt appeared regularly before London audiences in burlesques at the Gaiety Theatre, London and character roles in plays and operettas in various West End theatres. In 1880, he played Punch in the pantomime Mother Goose and the Enchanted Beauty at Drury Lane Theatre with Arthur Roberts and Kate Santley.[2] In 1884, he was praised for "by far the best piece of comic character-drawing" in creating his role of Captaine Coqueluche in H. B. Farnie's adaptation of Edmond Audran's operetta The Grand Mogul, starring Florence St. John, Fred Leslie and Roberts.[3] Also in 1884, he had a success in a Shakespeare role with Henry Irving, Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night at the Lyceum Theatre, London.[1] In 1885, he created the role of Ravennes in Erminie.[4] He appeared in the 1888 burlesque of Atalanta at the Strand Theatre with Willie Warde and Tom Squire.[5]

D'Oyly Carte and later theatre career[edit]

On 8 June 1889, W. S. Gilbert visited Arthur Sullivan at his home in London to read through the draft of his new opera, The Gondoliers. In the evening they both went to see Wyatt performing the role of Don Trocadero in the operetta Paul Jones, in which he had received good notices,[1] as they were looking for a replacement for George Grossmith, who was leaving the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in August.[6][7] Satisfied by what they had seen, Wyatt was subsequently invited to join the D'Oyly Carte organisation on a two-year contract to create the role of the Duke of Plaza-Toro at the Savoy Theatre in the original production of The Gondoliers. Wyatt appeared in the role from December 1889 to June 1891.[4] Punch said of his performance: "Mr. Frank Wyatt, as 'the new boy' at the Savoy School, doesn't, as yet, seem quite happy; but it cannot be expected that he should feel 'quite at home', when he has only recently arrived at a new school."[8] H. M. Walbrook recalled, however, that Wyatt was "a tall, handsome, nimble and very polished comedian, who immediately acted, sang and danced the part of the Duke of Plaza Toro as it has never been rendered since."[9]

Gilbert and Sullivan reviewer Michael Walters claimed that Wyatt was cast by Gilbert because he was a good actor, but that he could not sing, so in performances he spoke the words in time with the tune.[10] However, none of Wyatt's reviews mentions this, and on the contrary, they describe his effectiveness in songs allotted to him.[11] Wyatt next created the role of Baboo Currie in The Nautch Girl by Dance and Solomon, playing the part from June to December 1891, when his contract with D'Oyly Carte ended.

From January to July 1892 he appeared at the Lyric Theatre as Arrostino Annegato in The Mountebanks by Gilbert and Alfred Cellier. He then played Woodpecker Tapping in Haste to the Wedding, a short-lived comic opera by Gilbert and George Grossmith at the Criterion Theatre.[4] Also in 1892, he appeared in London in Ma Mie Rosette by Ivan Caryll and George Dance, together with Jessie Bond and Courtice Pounds[12] On tour, Wyatt appeared in Ma'm'zelle Nitouche in 1893.[13] Later that year, he returned to London in a farce called A Screw Loose at the Vaudeville Theatre.[14] In 1896, Wyatt was seen in The Star of India at Princess's Theatre, London.[15] He appeared in The Mermaids and other pieces in 1897 at the Avenue Theatre.[16] His appearances became fewer after this, although he performed in new works as late as 1900 in The Gay Pretenders by George Grossmith, Jr. at the Globe Theatre.[17]

Writing and theatre management[edit]

Wyatt also wrote a number of plays, the best known being The Two Recruits (1890)[18] and Our Regiment,[19] both of which were produced at Toole's Theatre under the management of his wife, Violet Melnotte (1855–1935), a former actress who had appeared in 1877 in Richard D'Oyly Carte's own comic opera Happy Hampstead.[20] He also wrote a grand opera called Galatea that was produced by the Carl Rosa Opera Company.[1] In 1892, the Trafalgar Square Theatre (renamed the Duke of York's Theatre in 1895) was built for Melnotte and Wyatt[1] and was managed by them intermittently thereafter until her death in 1935.[4] Violet and Frank Wyatt had one son, Nevil Francis Gunning Wyatt.[21] Wyatt's half sister was Ivy Bonheur, a principal soprano with D'Oyly Carte touring companies in 1887–88, whose birth name was Eveline Medora Gunning.[22][23]

Wyatt died in a nursing home in London in 1926 at the age of 73.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Times obituary, 6 October 1926, p. 14, col. E
  2. ^ The Times, 28 December 1880, p. 4, col. B
  3. ^ The Times, 19 November 1884, p. 6, col. D
  4. ^ a b c d Stone, David. Frank Wyatt at 'Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (2006)
  5. ^ Pall Mall Gazette 26 December 1888, p. 12
  6. ^ Ainger, p. 294
  7. ^ Short, p. 84
  8. ^ "The Savoyards", Punch, or the London Charivari Volume 98, 4 January 1890
  9. ^ Walbrook, H. M. Gilbert & Sullivan Opera, A History and a Comment, Chapter 13, London: F. V. White & Co. Ltd. 1922
  10. ^ Walters, Michael. The Gilbert and Sullivan Newsletter Archive, Gilbertian Gossip, No. 9, March 1978
  11. ^ Review of The Mountebanks in The Illustrated London News, 9 January 1892
  12. ^ Moss, Simon. "Ma Mie Rosette" at Gilbert & Sullivan, a selling exhibition of memorabilia, Archive: Other items, website
  13. ^ Stone, David. Powis Pinder biography at Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (2003)
  14. ^ The Times, 6 November 1893, p. 12, col. D
  15. ^ The Times, 6 April 1896, p. 8, col, F
  16. ^ The Times, 4 October 1897, p. 8, col. A; The Times, 18 October 1897, p. 7, col. D
  17. ^ The Times, 12 November 1900, p. 13, col. G
  18. ^ The Times, 10 November 1890, p. 8, col. D
  19. ^ Walters, Michael. "The Little-Known Writings of the Duke of Plaza Toro (the plays of Frank Wyatt)", W. S. Gilbert Society Journal, vol. 1, no. 9, Summer 1997, pp. 279–80
  20. ^ Stone, David. Violet Melnotte biography at Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (2006)
  21. ^ The Times, 16 September 1920, p. 1, col. A
  22. ^ Moss, Simon. "The Mikado on tour", Memorabilia related to Richard D'Oyly Carte at the website
  23. ^ Stone, David. Profile of Ivy Bonheur at Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company (2007)


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