Courtice Pounds

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Courtice Pounds

Charles Courtice Pounds (30 May 1861[1] – 21 December 1927), better known by the stage name Courtice Pounds, was an English singer and actor known for his performances in the tenor roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and his later roles in Shakespeare plays and Edwardian musical comedies.

As a young member of D'Oyly Carte, Pounds played tenor leads in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas in New York and on tour in Britain and continental Europe from 1881 to 1887. After being promoted to principal tenor at the Savoy Theatre, he created the principal tenor roles in The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), The Gondoliers (1889), The Nautch Girl (1891) and Haddon Hall (1892), and played other principal roles. After leaving D'Oyly Carte in 1895, Pounds became a prominent performer during the transition of light musical theatre from comic opera to musical comedy, creating roles in the West End in both genres from the late 1890s to the 1920s. The operettas and musical comedies in which he starred included La poupée, The Duchess of Dantzic, The Belle of Mayfair, Princess Caprice, and the long-running hits Chu Chin Chow and Lilac Time. He also played comedy roles in Shakespeare plays during the same period.

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

As Richard in Ruddygore (New York, 1887)

Pounds was born in Pimlico, London,[2] the son of Charles Pounds, a builder,[3] and his wife Mary Curtice, a well-known singer.[4] He was educated at St. Mark's College, Chelsea.[3] Pounds was a choirboy at St. Saviour's Church, Pimlico, and also sang at St. Stephen's Church, Kensington, and the Italian Church, Hatton Garden.[3] When his voice broke, he went to work for his father, but continued to study music.[4] He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and returned to St. Stephen's as tenor soloist. He also sang in variety at the Royal Aquarium theatre.[2]

D'Oyly Carte years[edit]

Pounds joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1881 in the chorus of the original production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, understudying the company's principal tenor, Durward Lely, for whom he went on in November 1881 at the new Savoy Theatre. The theatrical newspaper The Era, and The Morning Post both singled him out as "a young tenor of high promise."[5] He soon played the role of Mr. Wranglebury in the curtain raiser Mock Turtles.[6] Arthur Sullivan recognised Pounds's talent and persuaded him to remain with D'Oyly Carte rather than join Christy's Minstrels, from whom he had received an offer.[4] At the end of 1882, Pounds began touring in Iolanthe in the leading tenor role of Earl Tolloller.[7] In 1884, he toured as Prince Hilarion in the first provincial production of Princess Ida,[8] and in 1885 he toured as the Defendant in Trial by Jury,[9] a role he later played in numerous benefit performances in London and elsewhere.[10] He also toured in the role of Ralph in H.M.S. Pinafore.

In 1885, Pounds travelled to New York to play Nanki-Poo, in D'Oyly Carte's first American production of The Mikado, in a cast that included George Thorne (Ko-Ko), Geraldine Ulmar (Yum-Yum) and Fred Billington (Pooh-Bah).[11] After that, he toured in Germany and Austria as Nanki-Poo.[12] In 1886, he returned to the Savoy to fill in for Lely for two weeks as Nanki-Poo, then rejoined the European touring company in Vienna.[13][14]

As Marco in The Gondoliers

Pounds then joined the company of John Stetson, the American manager, playing Hilarion and Nanki-Poo in authorised productions in New York. The Era wrote, "Mr Courtice Pounds sang the part of Hilarion in a very nice voice, acted it in a very nice way, looked nice enough to capture all the girls' hearts and was a very nice young man altogether."[15] In 1887 he played Grosvenor in Patience in Boston.[14] He then returned to England to rehearse Gilbert and Sullivan's new opera, Ruddygore, performing in two matinee performances as Richard Dauntless, before sailing for New York again to play Richard there.[16] Pounds stayed in New York to appear in Paul Lacome's The Marquis[17] and Charles Lecocq's Madelon.[18]

In May 1888, Pounds returned to England to create the part of Colonel Fairfax in The Yeomen of the Guard. His notices were excellent. The Times called him "a better actor and a better tenor than any of his predecessors."[19] and The Era judged him "the most efficient tenor the Savoy has had … a pure tenor voice, artistic and pleasing … clever acting and a good stage appearance."[20] The Observer called him "that rara avis, a tenor able to act."[21] He created several more lead roles at the Savoy: Marco in The Gondoliers in 1889;[22] Indru in The Nautch Girl in 1891;[23] the Rev. Henry Sandford in The Vicar of Bray in 1892;[24] and John Manners in Haddon Hall later that year.[25]

Pounds as John Manners, with Lucille Hill in Haddon Hall (1892)

Pounds left the D'Oyly Carte company in 1892. He appeared in another West End management, as Vincent in Ma mie Rosette, by Paul Lacome and Ivan Caryll, also starring Jessie Bond (1892).[26] In mid-1893, Pounds produced his own company touring an "operatic triple bill" in which he played roles in each piece: Harry Croyland in The Lass that Loved a Sailor, by Bond Andrews to an operetta libretto by Neville Doone; Harry Hamper in The Burglar and the Bishop, by Wellesley Batson to a Vaudeville libretto by J. Jocelyn Coghill; and Charley Dacre in Helen of Troy Up to Date; or, The Statue Shop, by John Crook to a farcical, pantomimic libretto by Wilton Jones. He brought with him on this tour several D'Oyly Carte colleagues, including W. H. Denny and Pounds's romantic partner, Millicent Pyne.[27][1] Pounds returned to the West End as Ange Pitout in La fille de Madame Angot with Decima Moore (1893);[28] Connor Kennedy in Haydn Parry's Miami with Bond and Richard Temple (1893);[29] and Mark Mainstay in Howard Talbot's Wapping Old Stairs (1894).[30]

Returning to D'Oyly Carte in 1894, Pounds played Picorin in Mirette[31] and created the role of Count Vasquez de Gonzago in The Chieftain late in 1894. The Morning Post described him in this role as "the jeune premier par excellence of the operatic stage."[32] In 1895 he went on tour briefly with D'Oyly Carte as Picorin, Vasquez,[33] and the Rev. Henry Sandford[34] before leaving D'Oyly Carte again. He then travelled to Australia, appearing in the first half of 1896 with J. C. Williamson's opera company in Yeomen, The Gondoliers,[35] Miss Decima,[36] The Vicar of Bray, and Ma Mie Rosette.[37]

West End leads[edit]

In June 1896, Pounds returned to Britain. He toured as Mr. Shepherd in the musical comedy Belinda during the latter part of that year,[38] and briefly played in music hall in January 1897, appearing at the Palace Theatre of Varieties, topping the bill on a cast that included Gus Elen.[39] He also sang in concert at St. James's Hall with Marie Tempest and Ben Davies.[40] In February, Pounds returned to the West End, playing Lancelot in Edmond Audran's La Poupée, which ran until September 1898.[41] Lancelot, a comic role, marked the beginning of Pounds's transition from juvenile leads to character and comedy parts in both straight and musical theatre.[42] This was succeeded by two more comic operas, both by Justin Clérice: The Royal Star, in which Pounds played Jack Horton,[43] and The Coquette, in which he played Michele.[44]

Pounds in The Blue Moon (1905)

Pounds continued to perform in comic opera and musicals. In 1900 he starred in a revival of Dorothy.[45] In 1903 he took the title role in Hervé's opéra bouffe Chilpéric,[46] and in 1905 he starred in The Blue Moon. In 1912, he played the title role in Herbert Beerbohm Tree's production of Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underground.[47] In 1916 he appeared as Harry Benn in the premiere of Ethel Smyth's comic opera The Boatswain's Mate, described by The Manchester Guardian as "something of a triumph for Miss Rosina Buckman and Mr. Courtice Pounds as well as for Dr. Ethel Smyth."[48]

Shakespeare clowns and musical comedy leads[edit]

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Pounds appeared regularly in London in a variety of roles ranging from Shakespeare to variety. He established himself as a popular Shakespearean character actor with Tree's company, as the clown Feste in Twelfth Night (1901),[49] the preposterous Sir Hugh Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor,[4] and Touchstone in As You Like It (1907), of which The Times said he "acts even better than he sings, which is, of course, saying a good deal."[50] The Manchester Guardian wrote of him, "Courtice Pounds had all that Shakespeare asked of his clowns – the gift of song and a robustness of comedy that could change at will to a tender and poignant moment."[51]

As Touchstone in As You Like It

From the 1900s onwards, Pounds was also known for his performances in musical comedies. The first of these was Ivan Caryll's The Cherry Girl (1903), presented by Seymour Hicks, in which Pounds played Starlight.[52] Prominent among his musical comedy roles were Papillon in The Duchess of Dantzic (1903), which he created in both London and New York;[3] Hugh Meredith in The Belle of Mayfair (1906) by Basil Hood and Leslie Stuart, with his sister Louie in the cast;[53] the lead in Leo Fall's The Merry Farmer (Der fidele Bauer; 1907) and Jasomir in Fall's Princess Caprice (1912);[42] Ali Baba in the long-running Chu Chin Chow (beginning in 1916, he starred in the role for over 2,000 performances);[2] and Franz Schubert in Lilac Time (1922–1924). Of the last, The Times commented, "Pounds is delightful as the moping composer".[54] The musical theatre authority Kurt Gänzl writes that Pounds's performance in these roles proved him "the most complete and versatile singing actor of his age."[42]

Pounds returned occasionally to variety, including a 1905 appearance at the London Coliseum on a bill that also starred Rutland Barrington.[55] In 1910 Pounds returned briefly to production, mounting a musical comedy, A Modern Othello, in Birmingham.[56] He also appeared in a film, The Broken Melody (1916).[57]

Family, personal life and death[edit]

In 1927, Pounds's health gave way, and he was unable to perform. A fund was set up to provide for him, and fellow-artists giving their services in fund-raising included Seymour Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terriss, Evelyn Laye, Huntley Wright, Walter Passmore, Derek Oldham, Gertrude Lawrence, and Geoffrey Toye.[58] More than £3,000 was raised.[59]

Four of Pounds' sisters (Lily, Louie – a successful actress in her own right – Nancy, and Rosy) also appeared with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. Pounds was married to D'Oyly Carte performer Jessie Louise Murray Wilson (1861–1953) in 1883,[60] and, later, had a long relationship with another former D'Oyly Carter, Millicent Pyne (born Millicent Pye, 1873–1965). He never divorced his wife.[1][14] The W. S. Gilbert scholar Brian Jones states that Pounds "seems to have had a roving eye".[61] In an 1895 divorce case, evidence was introduced that the respondent Mary Hardie Lewis had had an affair with Pounds.[62]

Pounds died in Kingston upon Thames, aged 66.[4] His funeral at St. Marks Church, Surbiton, was attended by his widow and four children, and representatives of the theatrical profession.[63]


Pounds recorded several discs for HMV during World War I. With Rosina Buckman and Frederick Ranalow, he sang the trio "The first thing to do is to get rid of the body", from The Boatswain's Mate, accompanied by the composer, Dame Ethel Smyth (all three singers had appeared in the world premiere performance of the opera).[64] From the same opera, he recorded the ballad "When rocked on the billows".[65] His other recordings of this period were Balfe's setting of Tennyson's "Come into the garden, Maud",[66] "When a Pullet is Plump", from Chu Chin Chow,[67] "Song of the Bowl", from My Lady Frayle,[68] and, with Violet Essex, "Any time's kissing time", from Chu Chin Chow.[69] In 1923 he recorded four numbers from Lilac Time for Vocalion ("Dream Enthralling"; "I want to carve your name"; "The Golden Song"; and "Underneath the lilac bough") with Clara Butterworth and Percy Heming.[70] His only Gilbert and Sullivan recording ("Is Life a Boon?", 1916) was never issued.[14]


  1. ^ a b c Gänzl, Kurt. "Pounds of Pyes, or mea culpa No. 2", Kurt Gänzl's blog, 4 May 2018. Note that his birth registration is in central London in the third quarter of 1861
  2. ^ a b c Obituary, The Times, 22 December 1927, p. 17
  3. ^ a b c d "Pounds, Charles Courtice". Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edition, Oxford University Press, December 2007, accessed 2 August 2010(subscription required)
  4. ^ a b c d e Obituary, The Manchester Guardian, 22 December 1927, p. 5
  5. ^ "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 12 November 1881, p. 8; and "Theatrical Intelligence", The Morning Post, 14 November 1881, p. 6. This substitution is not recorded in Rollins and Witts
  6. ^ Walters, Michael and George Low. "Mock Turtles". The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 1 August 2010
  7. ^ Rollins and Witts, p. 48
  8. ^ Rollins and Witts, p. 53
  9. ^ Rollins and Witts, p. 57
  10. ^ For example, Rutland Barrington's benefit performance at the Savoy Theatre in 1889. See "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 11 May 1889, p. 10
  11. ^ "The Drama in America", The Era, 13 February 1886, p. 18
  12. ^ "The Mikado on the Continent", The Era, 5 June 1886, p. 8
  13. ^ "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 21 August 1886, p. 7
  14. ^ a b c d Stone, David. "Courtice Pounds". Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 27 March 2003, accessed 1 August 2010
  15. ^ "The Drama in America", The Era, 11 December 1886, p. 14
  16. ^ "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 12 February 1887, p. 8
  17. ^ "The Drama in America", The Era, 13 August 1887, p. 8. This was an adaptation of Lacome's 1876 hit Jeanne, Jeannette et Jeanneton
  18. ^ Bordman, Gerald Martin. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, p. 104, Oxford University Press US, 2001 ISBN 0-19-513074-X, accessed 1 August 2010
  19. ^ The Times, 4 October 1888, p. 11
  20. ^ "The New Savoy Opera", The Era, 6 October 1888, p. 9
  21. ^ "At the Play", The Observer, 7 October 1888, p. 2
  22. ^ Rollins and Witts, p. 12
  23. ^ "The New Savoy Opera", The Era, 4 July 1891, p. 9
  24. ^ "The Vicar of Bray", The Era, 30 January 1892, p. 11
  25. ^ "Haddon Hall," The Era, 1 October 1892, p. 6
  26. ^ "Ma Mie Rosette", The Era, 19 November 1892, p. 6
  27. ^ "An Operatic Triple Bill", The Era, 27 May 1893, p. 11
  28. ^ "Theatrical and Musical Intelligence", The Morning Post, 10 July 1893, p. 2
  29. ^ "The London Theatres", The Era, 21 October 1893, p. 8
  30. ^ "The London Theatres", The Era, 24 February 1894, p. 9
  31. ^ "Savoy Theatre", The Morning Post, 4 July 1894, p. 3
  32. ^ "Savoy Theatre", The Morning Post, 13 December 1894, p. 3.
  33. ^ "Liverpool Theatres", Liverpool Mercury, 28 May 1895, p. 6
  34. ^ "Amusements in Manchester", The Era, 18 May 1895, p. 18
  35. ^ "Amusements in Australia", The Era, 4 April 1896, p. 18
  36. ^ "Amusements in Australia", The Era, 18 April 1896, p. 12
  37. ^ "Amusements in Adelaide", The Era, 20 June 1896, p. 22
  38. ^ "Amusements in Edinburgh", The Era, 7 November 1896, p. 20
  39. ^ "To-Night's Entertainments", The Pall Mall Gazette, 8 February 1897, p. 1
  40. ^ "Yesterday's Concerts", The Standard, 11 February 1897, p. 2
  41. ^ "To-Night's Entertainments", The Pall Mall Gazette, 3 September 1898, p. 1
  42. ^ a b c Gänzl, Kurt. "Pounds, Courtice". Grove Music Online, accessed 2 August 2010 (subscription required)
  43. ^ "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 10 September 1898, p. 8
  44. ^ "The Coquette", The Era, 18 February 1899, p. 15
  45. ^ The Times, 14 February 1900, p. 4
  46. ^ The Times, 10 March 1903, p. 10
  47. ^ The Times, 11 January 1912, p. 9
  48. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 29 January 1916, p. 8
  49. ^ The Times, 8 October 1901, p. 3
  50. ^ The Times, 8 October 1907, p. 6
  51. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 22 December 1927, p. 8
  52. ^ The Times, 22 December 1903, p. 5
  53. ^ The Times, 12 April 1906, p. 6
  54. ^ The Times, 23 December 1922, p. 6
  55. ^ The Times, 5 July 1905, p. 9
  56. ^ The Times, 16 December 1910, p. 13
  57. ^ The Broken Melody,, accessed 23 January 2012
  58. ^ "Courtice Pounds Fund", The Times, 13 December 1927, p. 18
  59. ^ This was the equivalent of more than £500,000 in 2009 terms: see
  60. ^ Her stage name was Jessie Gaston, after her father's name, Gaston Murray Wilson. After the marriage, she was sometimes credited as Jessie Pounds. Stone, David. "Jessie Pounds", Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1 September 2007, accessed 4 May 2018
  61. ^ Jones, Brian. Lytton: Gilbert and Sullivan's Jester. Trafford Publishing, p. 34, 2005 ISBN 1-4120-5482-6
  62. ^ "Remarkable Divorce Case", The Morning Post, 14 December 1895, p. 7
  63. ^ The Times, "Deaths; Funerals; Mr. Courtice Pounds", 27 December 1927, p. 13
  64. ^ HMV 04281
  65. ^ HMV 02697
  66. ^ HMV 02668
  67. ^ HMV 4-2812; this has been reissued on compact disc on "The Art of the Savoyard" (Pearl GEMM CD 9991)
  68. ^ HMV 02659
  69. ^ HMV 04186
  70. ^ "New Music", The Musical Times, May 1923), p. 329. These have been reissued on CD (Pearl Gemm CD 9115)


  • Ayre, Leslie (1972). The Gilbert & Sullivan Companion. London: W.H. Allen & Co Ltd. ISBN 0-396-06634-8.
  • 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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