May 18, 2023

Episode 108: MY FRIEND SANDY, part 2

Episode 108: MY FRIEND SANDY, part 2

With Deborah Philips, author of "AND THIS IS MY FRIEND SANDY — Sandy Wilson's THE BOYFRIEND, London Theatre and Gay Culture"

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This is the second half of my recent conversation with author Deborah Phillips whose fascinating new book is titled AND THIS IS MY FRIEND SANDY — SANDY WILSON’S THE BOY FRIEND, LONDON THEATRE AND GAY CULTURE.

If you missed the previous episode you may want to catch up with that before listening to this one.

The Boyfriend is one of the most popular and successful British musicals of all time. On the previous episode Deborah Phillips shared with us how its creator Sandy Wilson grew up as a musical theater obsessed kid whose idols were Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, and Binky Beaumont — the three dynamic gay theater artists who dominated London’s West End in the 1930s and 40s. She also described London’s vibrant but clandestine gay theatrical subculture of the early 1950s out of which Sandy Wilson and The Boyfriend emerged. And we even heard a bit about the secret gay language of chorus boys and sailors called “Polari,” and the hilarious BBC radio series, Round The Horne, that introduced Polari to millions of listeners in the mid-1960s, even though most of those listeners had no idea what is was, or understood its connections to gay culture. All of that was, of course, happening at a time when you could be sent to prison for being homosexual.

Deborah and I pick up our conversation just as Sandy Wilson is about to launch the first production of The Boyfriend at the private theater club, The Players Theatre, where it became a major hit and quickly moved to the West End.  

We then go on to discuss London’s other major hit musical of 1952, Julian Slade’s SALAD DAYS.Those two shows — both set in the 1920s — created nearly as much excitement as Queen Elizabeth’s coronation that same year. In this episode you will hear a clip from Round the Horne featuring two very camp characters named “Julian & Sandy” (inspired by the two songwriters) who pepper their dialogue with Polari words and phrases, and whose catch phrase inspired the title of Deborah Phillip’s book.

That original West End production of The Boyfriend ran for five years. Meanwhile, an American production opened on Broadway in 1954 and became a major hit in spite of Wilson’s objections to how it was redirected for Broadway. 18 years later, in 1972, a film version of The Boyfriend was released, directed by Ken Russell, that Wilson loathed.

Wilson went on to create several highly anticipated subsequent musicals including The Buccaneer, Valmouth, and the sequel to The Boyfriend — Divorce Me Darling. None of them, however, were able to achieve the same kind acclaim and popularity as The Boyfriend. Phillips also shares some fascinating stories of several other high-profile projects that got away from Sandy Wilson and went on to legendary success with other songwriters. 

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