Sunday, February 28, 2010

For he was an Englishman!

John Reed is dead. Reed was only famous to people like me, who own lots of Gilbert and Sullivan recordings, and to people like everyone in England. Until today, two weeks after his death, I had no idea he was also an old queen.

Victoria, to be precise.

But I kid. According to the Times obituary, "Mr. Reed’s only immediate survivor is his companion of more than half a century, Nicholas Kerri." Wikipedia, of course, makes no mention of his personal life after he started doing G&S and eschews any of the many LGBT tags that could apply to him.

The thing that I find most interesting about his obit is the following paragraph:
Before long Mr. Reed, a self-described shy man, became known for his subtle, surprisingly sympathetic characterizations of Gilbert and Sullivan’s buffoons. In 1978, in the course of a single interview with The Washington Post, he remarked, of the insecure Ko-Ko: “He’s so me”; of Reginald Bunthorne, the “fleshly poet” of “Patience”: “He’s so me”; and, of Jack Point, the tragic, lovelorn jester at the heart of “Yeomen of the Guard”: “He’s so me.”
Not only does it point out the interchangeability of his stock-character types, a facet of G&S characters that is both a boon and a burden to many performing troupes, but it also reaffirms, in the context of his sexual outing (a word which here means "exposure as a homosexual," not "a brief, recreational excursion"), the basic gaiety of all of these characters, the reason why they so often pair with the domineering lesbians played, in Reed's day, by Gillian Knight and Christene Palmer. Knight and Palmer, by the way, married a company carpenter and chorister, respectively, men who could never aspire to be their musical equals.

Farewell, John Reed. A true Savoyard would have a pithy Gilbert quote to sign off. I would rather remember you in your own words: "My God, that hat is so big the man behind her can’t see."

2 comments:

Ian said...

Thanks for pointing it out; by extreme coincidence, I was listening to the '64 recording of Yeomen of the Guard I just picked up when I read your post. I can't claim to have known Reed's name off the top of my head, but he was quite a master. (The name does ring a bell, but I'm probably just thinking of the "10 Days That Shook the World" author)

at_resonance said...

Were all those characters (and their female counterparts) supposed to come off as gay? I totally didn't catch that. Funny, I never thought of G&S as being too subtle for me.