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John Reed (right) as Ko-Ko; Ken Sandford (left) as Pooh Bah

John Reed, OBE (born 13 February 1916), is a retired English actor, dancer and singer, known for his nimble performances in the comic leads of the Savoy Operas, particularly with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.


Life and career

John Reed was born in the village of Close House, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, the son of a butcher, and grew up near Darlington, County Durham. He studied elocution, dancing, singing and mime. Reed began his career in the theatre in plays and then in musical theatre for a number of years with the Darlington Operatic Society and as a director and dance instructor.


D'Oyly Carte years

Reed joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1951 as the understudy to Peter Pratt, who was then the principal comic baritone of the company. His first leads were mostly minor roles: Associate (1952-55) and the Learned Judge (1955-59) in Trial by Jury, Major Murgatroyd in Patience (1952-59), Second Citizen in The Yeomen of the Guard (1952-59), Annibale (1952-59) and Antonio (1953-59) in The Gondoliers, and Cox in Cox and Box (1957-59).

In 1959, when Pratt retired, Reed became the principal comic of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. His roles were numerous: Bunthorne in Patience, Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore, Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance, Ko-Ko in The Mikado, the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers, John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer, the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore, Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard and King Gama in Princess Ida. He dropped the remaining patter role, the Judge in Trial by Jury, after his promotion, briefly resuming it for the D'Oyly Carte's centenary celebrations at the Savoy Theatre in 1975. For that season he also played Scaphio in Utopia, Limited and Grand Duke Rudolph in The Grand Duke. The company had not performed these works since the original productions in the 1890s.

Reed was sometimes criticized for dropping character and adding anachronisms during the famous D'Oyly Carte "encores". He explained, "An encore is a different thing — a bit of fun between me and the audience — then I come right back into character again." (Ayre, p. 349)

After the D'Oyly Carte

After he left the D'Oyly Carte organisation in 1979, Reed continued to perform in, and direct, Gilbert and Sullivan productions for the rest of his career, also occasionally appearing in other theatre. He appeared as a guest artist numerous times with D'Oyly Carte after his retirement, including their "last night" concert. The show A Song to Sing O was created for and premiered by him at the Savoy Theatre in 1981. He also spent some time in the 1980s with the CU Opera Company in Boulder, Colorado and with the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players and The Lyric Opera of Dallas. He also performed in concerts in North America and Britain, including at The Berkshire Choral Institute (with Kenneth Sandford) as The Duke of Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers (1985). He continued to direct until at least 2004, including productions at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival.


John Reed recorded all of his major roles with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for Decca Records, several of them complete with dialogue. These recordings are still available either on the Decca label or under licence from Decca on Sounds on CD, a private label specialising in Gilbert and Sullivan recordings. Reed also appeared in videos of H.M.S. Pinafore and the 1967 film version of The Mikado as Sir Joseph Porter and Ko-Ko, respectively. He was also the voice of Robin Oakapple in the 1967 Halas and Batchelor Ruddigore cartoon.

A collection of Reed's patter songs was re-released on CD in 2007.[1] Sounds on CD also released 'Tete a Tete', a 1'50" recording from the 1970s of Reed reminiscing with his friend and fellow D'Oyly Carte performer Peggy Ann Jones. In addition, the official live recording of the final performance of the original D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from February 1982, in which John Reed was a guest artiste, is available from Sounds on CD.


  • Ayre, Leslie (1972). The Gilbert & Sullivan Companion. London: W.H. Allen & Co Ltd.   Introduction by Martyn Green.
  • Reed, John (2006). Nothing Whatever to Grumble At: His Story, as told to Cynthia Morey. London: Xlibris Corporation.   ISBN 1-4257-0256-2

External links


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