The partnership of W S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan began in 1871. The manager of the Gaiety Theatre asked Sullivan to compose music for a Christmas piece by Gilbert; the result was Thespis. After a respectable run for 63 performances the two went their separate ways.
Richard D’Oyly Carte was the manager of the Royalty Theatre in Soho and he remembered the work of G&S and in 1875 he brought the two together again to provide him with a curtain raiser for Offenbach’s La Perichole. They wrote the one act drama Trial by Jury, which soon became a huge success.
This left D’Oyly Carte in no doubt that the collaboration of these two men could serve to realise his own ambition, to present good English comic opera on the London stage.
The opposing temperaments of composer and author contributed to what was a continually productive partnership for over a quarter of a century. His first commission was The Sorcerer in 1877. This was followed immediately by HMS Pinafore a year later and following its success Richard D’Oyly Carte formed Mr D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company.
Over the next couple of decades the duo wrote a succession of operas, all of which are as famous now as they were then - The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe, Princess Ida, The Mikado,Ruddigore, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Gondoliers, Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke.
The success of the operas enabled them to build the Savoy Theatre and later on the Savoy Hotel.
Sullivan died in 1900, and Gilbert retreated to his private estate, where he spent the rest of his life until he died in 1911.
Richard D’Oyly Carte died in 1901 and his widow, Helen, became responsible for the company and for keeping the Savoy tradition alive.
On the death of Helen D’Oyly Carte in 1913, the family business passed to their son Rupert and it was under his control that the company continued during the two world wars.
There were American tours and the start of a long association with Sadler’s Wells until he died in 1948. His daughter Bridget, being the sole surviving member of the family, took up the reins and took care of the difficult days surrounding the expiry of the copyright in 1961.