Hugo Rumbold

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Hugo Cecil Levinge Rumbold (7 February 1884 – 19 November 1932) was an English designer of theatrical scenery and costumes. Among those who commissioned designs from him were Sir Herbert Tree, Sir Thomas Beecham, Arthur Bourchier and Rupert D'Oyly Carte.

Life and career[edit]

Rumbold was born in Stockholm, the younger son of the diplomat Sir Horace Rumbold and his second wife, Louisa Anne (d. 1940), daughter of Thomas Russell Crampton. His elder half-brother was another diplomat, also called Horace Rumbold.[1]

Rumbold went to Eton in 1897. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 7th (Militia) Battalion of the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own) in 1901[2] and served in South Africa during the Second Boer War. He was promoted to lieutenant in June 1902, the same month the war ended, and soon returned to England.[3] He served with the Grenadier Guards in the First World War, during which he was wounded and received the Order of the Crown (Belgium). In civilian life, he was sometimes referred to by his military title of Captain H. C. L. Rumbold.[4]

Stage design[edit]

Rumbold's costumes for Patience

As a stage designer, Rumbold's early work included "Pre-Raphaelite" sets and costumes for William Faversham's Romeo and Juliet in 1913;[5] and Tudor décor and costumes for Arthur Bourchier's production of Bluff King Hal, the following year. The Observer considered Rumbold's contribution the best thing about the show, and said, "His costumes and his scenes at Greenwich, Westminster and Hampton Court show considerable power of being original within the limits of archaeology and probability; and, though inexperience peeps out here and there, the work as a whole is splendid and beautiful."[6] In the following years his designs included The Right to Kill, a melodrama set in Turkey staged by Sir Herbert Tree at His Majesty's Theatre;[7] and Charles Villiers Stanford's opera The Critic (based on Sheridan's play of the same name) at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1916, of which The Times said, "Mr Hugo Rumbold apparently carries the 18th century atmosphere about in his pocket."[8] He also designed L'Apres Midi d'un Faune in 1916.[9]

Rumbold was commissioned by Rupert D'Oyly Carte to dress a 1918 revival of Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, in succession to W. S. Gilbert, who designed the original costumes, and Percy Anderson, who dressed the 1907 revival. Some of Rumbold's costumes (for the "everyday young girls") were retained by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company until Peter Goffin's new designs were introduced in 1957.[10] For Sir Thomas Beecham, Rumbold designed revivals of La fille de Madame Angot, by Lecocq, and Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1919.[11] In the same year he designed the first British production of Ravel's L'heure espagnole for Covent Garden.[12] Rumbold designed a revival of Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man at the Duke of York's Theatre in 1919,[13] and The Tempest for Viola Tree's company at the Aldwych Theatre in 1921.[14]

Other theatrical work[edit]

In 1920 Rumbold acted as impresario, producing Darius Milhaud's new ballet, Le bœuf sur le toit at the Coliseum Theatre, under the title The Nothing Doing Bar.[15] This departure from his milieu was noted in his obituary notice in The Times, which said: "He was essentially a Bohemian and a clubman, who was witty and amusing and always tried to pass on his zest for life to others.... Later, he took to film-producing. He was indeed something of a dilettante and dabbler in many pursuits. Had he been more of a 'sticker' he would have made more of a name for himself."[4] With Zoë Akins, he wrote The Human Elephant, a play in three acts adapted from the short story of that title by Somerset Maugham.[16]

Personal life and death[edit]

Rumbold was described as "one of the Last of the Dandies" and a "brilliant flâneur".[17] He was a member of Noël Coward's set, with a penchant for cross-dressing in pursuit of comic turns at parties, according to Coward's biographer Philip Hoare[18] and Faith Compton Mackenzie, whose clothes he borrowed in 1904.[19] Despite the mutual hostility of Coward and the Sitwells, Rumbold maintained a friendship with all of them.[20] Charlie Chaplin said that as a mimic he had never known anyone to compare with Rumbold.[21] In the last year of his life, Rumbold married the dramatist Zoë Akins.[22]

Rumbold died in Pasadena, California, in 1932, aged 48, from an illness caused by his injuries in World War I.[4] He is buried at San Gabriel Cemetery, San Gabriel, California.[23]


  1. ^ Otte, T. G. "Rumbold, Sir Horace George Montagu, 9th Baronet (1869–1941)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004), accessed 10 Nov 2007 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ Hart′s Army list, 1902
  3. ^ "The Army in South Africa – Troops returning Home", The Times, 15 September 1902, p. 10
  4. ^ a b c The Times, 21 November 1932, p. 19
  5. ^ "Hugo Rumbold Attacks Realism in Stage Scenery; Thinks Belasco and Tree Are Wrong", The New York Times, 21 December 1913, p. SM9
  6. ^ "Bluff King Hal", The Observer, 6 September 1914, p. 3
  7. ^ The Times, 5 May 1915, p. 13
  8. ^ The Times, 13 January 1916, p. 11
  9. ^ Profile of Claud Lovat Fraser, Claud Lovat Fraser and Grace Crawford Lovat Fraser Collections, Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections, accessed 10 July 2014
  10. ^ Rollins and Witts, Appendix, pp. vii and viii
  11. ^ The Times, 30 June 1919, p. 10
  12. ^ "Hugo Rumbold", The Daily Mail, 21 November 1932, p. 10
  13. ^ The Times, 12 December 1919, p. 12
  14. ^ The Times, 2 February 1921, p. 8
  15. ^ The Times, Monday, 12 July 1920, p. 12
  16. ^ List of manuscripts, New York Public Library, accessed 10 July 2013
  17. ^ Montesole, Max. "Little memories of big people", The West Australian, 22 September 1934, p. 7
  18. ^ Hoare, p. 107
  19. ^ Compton Mackenzie, pp. 165–167
  20. ^ Lloyd, p. 61
  21. ^ "How to Entertain Royalty on £1500 a Year", The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 1954
  22. ^ "Zoe Akins to be Wed to Hugo Rumbold", The New York Times, 8 March 1932; and Porter, p. 105
  23. ^ "Hugo Cecil Levinge "Hugh" Rumbold (1884–1932)", Find a Grave, accessed July 23, 2017


  • Compton Mackenzie, Faith (1938). As Much as I Dare. Pall Mall, London: Collins.
  • Hoare, Philip (1995). Noel Coward. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. ISBN 1-85619-265-2.
  • Lloyd, Stephen (2001). William Walton : muse of fire. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 085115803X.
  • Porter, Darwin (2004). Katharine the Great. Blood Moon Productions. ISBN 0-9748118-0-7.
  • 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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