Bridget D'Oyly Carte

With George Baker at a Gilbert and Sullivan Society celebration in 1964

Dame Bridget Cicely D'Oyly Carte, DBE (25 March 1908 – 2 May 1985), was the granddaughter of impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte and the only daughter of Rupert D'Oyly Carte. She was head of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from 1948 until 1982.

Though as a child she was not enthusiastic about Gilbert and Sullivan, after her father's death in 1948, Bridget D'Oyly Carte inherited the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and controlled the copyrights to the joint works of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, as well as all of her family's business interests. She had begun to assist her father in managing the Savoy Hotel in 1933, also undertaking child welfare work.

She hired Frederic Lloyd as general manager of the opera company in 1951 and moved to keep the Savoy operas fresh, marketing them as a bridge between popular and classical music. After the copyrights to the Gilbert and Sullivan works expired in 1961, she transferred the opera company to a charitable trust that she headed. Mounting losses, and the refusal of the Arts Council to provide a grant, forced the closure of the company in 1982, although the company re-formed after Carte's death and mounted several productions up to 2003.

In 1972, Carte founded the D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust to support charitable causes in the fields of the arts, medical welfare and the environment. She was created a DBE in 1975. With no children of her own or surviving siblings, she was the end of her family line.

Life and careerEdit

Bridget Cicely D'Oyly Carte was born at Suffolk Street, Pall Mall, London, and educated in England and abroad. Her father was Rupert D'Oyly Carte, and her mother was the former Lady Dorothy Milner Gathorne-Hardy (1889–1977), the youngest daughter of the 2nd Earl of Cranbrook.[1] Her grandfather was Richard D'Oyly Carte, who founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.[2]

In 1926, when she was only 18, she married her first cousin, John David Gathorne-Hardy, the fourth Earl of Cranbrook (1900–1978),[3] an explorer and naturalist. As a result of her marriage, Carte was styled as Countess of Cranbrook, and her married name was Gathorne-Hardy.[4] They soon separated and finally divorced in 1931; she relinquished her title and resumed her maiden name by deed poll in 1932, also dropping the name Cicely, which she disliked.[5] She then resumed her education at Dartington Hall in Devon from 1931 to 1933, a school with a long musical tradition, taking courses in dance, teacher training, art and design. There she met designer Peter Goffin who became a long-time friend.[6]

The accidental death of her only brother, Michael (1911–1932), made Carte the heir to her father's hotel and theatre interests. As a child, however, she had been reluctant to assume the family legacy. She later told The Gramophone magazine: "At home, you know, we weren't allowed to hum Gilbert and Sullivan; in fact we were fined for it, because it annoyed my father. We were allowed to sing it properly, but my brother and I couldn't – in my family the fact that I wasn't Mozart at about three years old was thought of as rather disappointing. So I went through a phase when I was very anti-Gilbert and Sullivan; I became rather a highbrow, and my father thought I was a bit of a snake-in-the-grass because of it."[7]

From 1933 to 1939, Carte was an assistant to her father at the Savoy Hotel, taking responsibility for furnishing and interior decoration, for which she had training and aptitude.[1] Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, however, she undertook child welfare work and continued with it until her father's death in 1948.[6] The family home was Coleton Fishacre, a house that her parents had built in Devon between Paignton and Kingswear in 1925. The house is still known for its design features and garden with exotic tropical plants.[8]

After her parents' divorce in 1941, Bridget D'Oyly Carte took over the house, which her father, who lived in London, would visit for long weekends. Shortly after her father's death, she sold Coleton Fishacre, and it is now owned by the National Trust.[9] In 1949 she bought Shrubs Wood, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, designed by the architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff. Here she pursued her love of gardening and gave summer parties for disadvantaged or disabled children.[1] In 1953, Carte was a member of the committee overseeing the decorations for the Coronation Ball at the Savoy Hotel in honour of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.[10]

Managing the family interestsEdit

When her father died in 1948, she inherited all his interests including the Savoy Hotel group and the family's opera company, which presented the Savoy Operas from 1875 to 1982. She did not succeed Rupert D'Oyly Carte as chairman of the Savoy Hotel group, in which she retained a large shareholding, but she became an active director. She moved into a suite in the Savoy Hotel and resumed control of the furnishing and decoration departments. When the Savoy Group acquired them, she took interest in the soft-furnishing company, James Edwards, and was chairman of the royal florists, Edward Goodyear Ltd. She became vice-chairman of the Group in 1971 and was its president at the time of her death.[1]

At first, Bridget D'Oyly Carte "did not feel qualified to sustain the responsibility" of running the opera company.[11] Nevertheless, she was determined to prove herself.[12] One of her early decisions proved especially unpopular and led to a wave of important defections from the company at the end of the Festival of Britain season in 1951, most importantly, Martyn Green. This was the 1949 hiring, as stage director, of Eleanor Evans, Mrs. Darrell Fancourt, known as "Snookie" in the company.[13] Green wrote in 1952:

"I ... told Miss Carte that I thought she was making a great psychological error. During Anna Bethell's regime (Mrs. Sydney Granville), there had been growing signs of discontent and suggestions of favouritism.... But to appoint not only a woman who had for fifteen years worked in the chorus alongside several who were now principals, but the wife of one of the main principals, seemed to me to be a psychological error of the first magnitude. I felt that ... she would, rightly or wrongly, be accused of that very same favouritism. My views made no impression on Miss Carte, but time was to prove that I was right.... Production is done to a plan that takes no consideration of the individual, his personality or his histrionic ability – a stereotyped plan that results in a clockwork performance devoid of spontaneity.[14]

The historian Tony Joseph wrote: "But Green was not the only member of the Company to leave.... Ella Halman left too. So did Richard Watson ... Margaret Mitchell ... Radley Flynn and no fewer than twenty-two other small part players and choristers. It was the largest single exodus of performers in D'Oyly Carte history, and that was why the sense of sadness that hovered over the season was so marked.... August 1951 was the end of an era.[15] Cynthia Morey, who joined the Company just before the defections, wrote: "I have never found out precisely why this great exodus took place.... We were always under the impression that we should feel honoured to be in the employ of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company; it was patently obvious that the management held firmly to the policy that nobody is indispensable".[16] Morey noted that Evans had played several roles with the company and commented, "In 1927 she was apparently demoted to the chorus, and there she remained for [fifteen years]. ... I should not have thought these qualifications sufficient for such an important post; to spend all those years as a chorister seems to signify a lack of ambition or achievement. But I suppose a 'Director of Productions' in those days merely needed to know every move and every gesture, and exactly when they occurred, for no departure from the set production was ever permitted."[17] Richard Walker, Kenneth Sandford and others also criticised Evans's temperament and methods. She retired as stage director in 1953, the year that her husband died, but she was engaged to coach new D'Oyly Carte principals in their roles for some years thereafter.[18][19]

Carte made an important move to hire Frederic Lloyd as general manager in 1951, which position he continued to discharge until the company closed. In running the D'Oyly Carte Opera company she took steps to keep the productions fresh, engaging designers to redesign the costumes and scenery. Her old friend, Peter Goffin, who had previously redesigned The Yeomen of the Guard and Ruddigore for Rupert D'Oyly Carte, designed a unit set in 1957 to facilitate and reduce the cost of touring. He also produced new settings and costumes for Patience (1957), The Mikado (1958 – settings only, most of the celebrated Charles Ricketts costumes being retained), The Gondoliers (1958), Trial by Jury (1959), H.M.S. Pinafore (1961), and Iolanthe (1961). Princess Ida was redesigned by James Wade in 1954.[11]

Carte claimed that the most important function of the operas, which in later years she advertised rather as musicals, was "to bridge the generation gap and link serious music to pop."[20] She televised and had recordings and films made of some of the operas, engaged Sir Malcolm Sargent to conduct performances at the Festival of Britain season in 1951 at the operas' original London home, the Savoy Theatre, and supported an increasing number of tours of the United States.[6] In 1960 the company's own touring orchestra was formed as a change from the ad hoc recruitment of players at each venue.[1] In 1975 the company produced a centenary season at the Savoy Theatre, in 1977 it gave a royal Royal Command Performance at Windsor Castle, and in 1979, for the first time, it toured Australia and New Zealand.[21]

Later yearsEdit

With the approaching end of the D'Oyly Carte monopoly on Gilbert and Sullivan performances, when the copyright on Gilbert's words expired in 1961, Carte set up the charitable D'Oyly Carte Opera Trust to continue to present the operas. She endowed the trust with the company's scenery, costumes, band parts, recording rights and other assets, together with a cash endowment of £30,000. She formed Bridget D'Oyly Carte Ltd to manage the opera company, with herself as chairman and managing director. Finally, mounting losses, and the refusal of the Arts Council to provide a grant, forced the closure of the company in 1982.[6][22] Even after it closed, however, the company's productions and style continued to influence the productions of other companies.[23]

Planter in front of the Savoy Hotel in honour of Carte and her family

In 1972, she founded the D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust – entirely separate from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Trust and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company – supporting charitable causes in the fields of the arts, medical welfare and the environment. In 2001, the trust endowed the D'Oyly Carte Chair in Medicine and the Arts at King's College London with £2 million.[24] In 1974 she was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain, and in 1975 was created a DBE.

In the 1970s, Carte became the tenant of the semi-ruined Barscobe Castle, Balmaclellan, a small seventeenth-century fortified house in south-west Scotland, which she restored.[1] Always shy, old-fashioned and formal, Carte appreciated simplicity and avoided parties and social events as much as possible. For her Who's Who entry she listed her recreations as, "country living and gardening; reading, theatre and music."[5]

Death and legacyEdit

A heavy smoker, Carte died of lung cancer in her country home in Shrubs Wood, Buckinghamshire in 1985, aged 77. Her remains were cremated. She left a fortune of £5,479,888.[6] With no children of her own or surviving siblings, she was the end of her family line. The Savoy hotel group continued under the control of her trustees until 1994.[25] The group's hotels remained among the most prestigious in London, with the London Evening Standard calling the Savoy "London's most famous hotel" in 2009.[25]

A legacy of £1 million from her private fortune enabled a new opera company, using the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company name, to begin operations in 1988.[1] The company secured sponsorship from Sir Michael Bishop, who eventually became chairman of the Board of Trustees, and BMI British Midland Airways (of which Bishop was chairman).[26]

From 1988 to 2003 the new company produced short seasons each year, mounting productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas on tour and in London, as well as operettas by Jacques Offenbach, Franz Lehár and Johann Strauss II. The new company did not employ many of the members of the original company and did not follow its performing traditions, even staging some "concept" productions of the operas. Once again, costs outran receipts, public subsidy was denied by the English Arts Council, and the company suspended productions in May 2003. It continues to rent scores.[26]

The Gilbert and Sullivan operas, nurtured by the Carte family for over a century, continue to be produced frequently today throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.[23][27][28] By keeping the Savoy operas popular for so long, the Carte family influenced the course of the development of modern musical theatre throughout the 20th century.[29][30]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Obituary notice, The Times, 3 May 1985, p. 11
  2. ^ D'Oyly "was a forename (not part of a double surname)". Jacobs, Arthur. "Carte, Richard D'Oyly (1844–1901)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004, accessed 12 September 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32311. The name comes from her grandfather's great grandmother, Elizabeth D'Oyly, who was a descendant of Peregrine D'Oyly of Overbury Hall in Layham, Suffolk (c. 1625–1667).
  3. ^ Both were grandchildren of John Stewart Gathorne-Hardy, 2nd Earl of Cranbrook.
  4. ^ Lundy, Darryl, ed. "Bridget Cicely Carte",, 28 September 2010.
  5. ^ a b "D'Oyly Carte, Dame Bridget", Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edition @, Oxford University Press, December 2007, accessed 30 March 2011 (subscription required)
  6. ^ a b c d e Taylor, C. M. P. "Carte, Dame Bridget Cicely D'Oyly (1908–1985)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Oxford University Press, accessed 20 June 2009. (subscription required)
  7. ^ "Wimbush, Roger. "Here and There", The Gramophone, March 1975, pp. 1630–33 (p. 33 in online version), accessed 22 February 2011
  8. ^ Country Life, 25 October 2007, pp. 78–80
  9. ^ "Coleton Fishacre" Archived 17 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine, National Trust, accessed 30 March 2011
  10. ^ The Times, 15 November 1952, p. 10
  11. ^ a b Mander and Mitchenson, p. 8
  12. ^ Lloyd, Frederic. "The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company – How it Works" in The Gilbert and Sullivan Journal, 8/14, May 1964, pp. 220–21
  13. ^ Rollins and Witts, p. v
  14. ^ Green, pp. 236–37
  15. ^ Joseph, p. 272
  16. ^ Morey, pp. 51–52
  17. ^ Morey, pp. 81–82
  18. ^ Stone, David. "Eleanor Evans", Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 24 June 2002; accessed 26 November 2009
  19. ^ Watt, John. "The Ones that I Like", Interview with Sandford, at the Memories of the D'Oyly Carte website, reproduced from The Savoyard, Vol. XI, No. 2, September 1972
  20. ^ Sunday Times, 1 March 1981
  21. ^ Wilson and Lloyd, p. 178
  22. ^ Joseph, p. 358
  23. ^ a b Bradley, passim
  24. ^ "First UK Chair in Medicine and the Arts", King's College, London, 29 March 2001, accessed 30 March 2011
  25. ^ a b Prynn, Jonathan. "Savoy 'up for sale' as Saudi owner's billions dwindle" Archived 19 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine, 16 April 2009.
  26. ^ a b Bradley (2005), pp. 53–69
  27. ^ List of 200 amateur G&S performing groups[dead link], The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 1 November 2009
  28. ^ Lee, Bernard. "Gilbert and Sullivan are still going strong after a century", Archived 6 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine Sheffield Telegraph, 1 August 2008
  29. ^ Bargainnier, pp. 120–33
  30. ^ Jones, pp. 10–11


  • Bargainnier, Earl F. (1989). "W.S. Gilbert and American Musical Theatre". In Timothy E. Scheurer (ed.). American Popular Music: Readings from the Popular Press, Vol. 1. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press. ISBN 0-87972-466-8.
  • Bradley, Ian (2005). Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! The Enduring Phenomenon of Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-195-16700-7.
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  • Jacobs, Arthur (1992) [1986]. Arthur Sullivan: A Victorian Musician (second ed.). Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0-93134-051-9.
  • Jones, J. Bush (2003). Our Musicals, Ourselves. Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press. ISBN 1-58465-311-6.
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  • Mander, Raymond; Joe Mitchenson (1962). A Picture History of Gilbert and Sullivan. London: Vista Books. OCLC 317062414.
  • Morey, Cynthia (1998). Inclined to Dance and Sing – A D'Oyly Carte journal of the 1950s. Chichester: Prospero Books. ISBN 1-90232-003-4.
  • Rollins, Cyril; R. John Witts (1962). The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. London: Michael Joseph, Ltd. OCLC 1317843. (and four supplements published in 1966, 1971, 1976, and 1983)
  • Wilson, Robin; Frederic Lloyd (1984). Gilbert & Sullivan – The D'Oyly Carte years. London, UK: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-78505-2.

External linksEdit