Dogs Of Devon Or “Foiled Again!” – A Forgotten Operetta

Dogs Of Devon Or “Foiled Again!”

Our operatic and dramatic societies are very sophisticated nowadays. They produce wonderful shows with wonderful performers in fantastic venues. The spirit of the companies is the same as it always was; optimistic, loyal, seeking to perform to the highest level – and rightly so, for ’twas ever thus. It’s just that the shows nowadays are different from those of 100 years ago…

In the somewhat undocumented hinterland that is the history of the amateur operatic and dramatic movement of the English speaking world, certain plays and operettas are talked about in whispers at best and with derision at worst. One such is the unjustifiably neglected “Dogs Of Devon”, described as “A New and Original Comic Opera in Three Acts, with book by F R Bell and Harold Ellis, Music by W H Bullock”.

The title page of Dogs of Devon Or, 'Foiled Again'
The title page of Dogs of Devon Or, ‘Foiled Again!’

First Performance

Dogs of Devon had its first performance in the city of Kingston Upon Hull, nowadays referred to simply as “Hull” and the year – 1913. My handsomely bound score shows a photograph of the original performance as well as suggestions by the original players as to suitable costumes and so on. Many other newly formed societies chose “Dogs Of Devon” too for their very first show. (See list at the end).

The Original Hull Production of 1913
The Original Hull Production of 1913

Not written for the West End…

As yet, it is not absolutely clear as to the origins of the operetta Dogs Of Devon (see below for new information). It seems to have been written solely for performance by amateurs – not having been tried out for the West End – at a time when amateur performances were setting up in many places. This Dance Plot is most characteristic and produces a pretty dance too!

Part of the Dance Plot for Dogs of Devon
Part of the Dance Plot for Dogs of Devon

Plenty is known about most of the composers of the period before the First World War. Musical Comedies and operettas at this time had been penned by Arthur Sullivan along with W S Gilbert, Lionel Monckton, Sidney Jones, Paul Rubens and others. Dogs of Devon seems to owe a little to these as well as what might be called the secular cantatas of the late Victorian period.

New Information Comes to Light! (01/02/2016)

In the last few days, we have discovered the origins of the work. “Dogs of Devon” was written originally by two schoolmasters from Hull Grammar School. It was first performed in 1913 – at Hull Grammar School, which in that time boasted a large and very successful Operatic Society made up of a membership of the students and staff and founded in 1909.

After the first performances – which were most successful – the play and the music were sent off to Messrs. Curwen and Son, Music Publishers, London and were somewhat rewritten with additional musical numbers. The score was also orchestrated. The revised version – the version which is known today – was performed in Hull early in 1914 at the Grammar School and subsequently at the Royal Institution. Here are some contemporary accounts from the Hull Daily Mail of those days:

Hull Daily Mail, January 30 1914
DOGS OF DEVON.” The Hull Grammar School Operatic Society, now in the fifth year of a very flourishing existence, makes an interesting announcement tonight’s “Mail.” On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Feb. 19th, 20th, and 21st, at the Lecture Hall, the Society i s giving three performances of a new edition of the successful comic opera, “Dogs of Devon,” so well received on its original production last year. As noted a week or two ago, the vocal score and “book” of the opera, which is written by Messrs F. R. Bell and Harold Ellis, and composed bv Mr W. H. Bullock, Mus.Bac., have just been published Messrs Curwen, of London, and is in its new and up-to-date form, with additional musical numbers and a fully-orchestrated score, that the opera is to be given next month. A chorus 60 performers and full orchestra conducted by the composer are both features of the production, which is in aid of the School Games Pavilion Fund, and there is already a rapid sale of tickets. These may be had from the Operatic Committee at the school, from any of the boys, from Messrs Gough and Davy’s.

and a fortnight later:

Hull Daily Mail, Saturday 14 February 1914
BRIGHT LOCAL PRODUCTION. If any ”Sports” readers who have not yet seen it, we advise them to look in at the Grammar School production of a work by two of the masters there and another, “Dogs of Devon.” It shows considerable ingenuity and playful wit. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday next it will be conducted by the composer, Mr Bullock, at the Royal Institution. A mere glimpse (at) the 200 and odd pages, and 30 or so musical numbers of the published vocal-score of the opera, a copy of which we acknowledge to-day, is enough — even if our favourable impressions on the occasion of its original production last year were not still fresh in our minds— to dispel once and for all the idea that may exist in some that because “Dogs of Devon” is produced under the auspices of a school operatic society — and that one of the biggest and most successful school operatic societies the country — it is just an operetta. Those who saw it last year know better. A “full-dress” comic opera, packed with sparkling music and a more than lively libretto, which has the additional attraction of hailing from Hull, the opera. according Messrs J. Curwen and Son. Ltd., the well-known London musical house, who have just issued it, is the biggest and most ambitious work the kind they have yet published.

Character of the Score

Dogs of Devon has admirable solo numbers and ensemble numbers. There are also very good chorus numbers and there are dances. The steps for the dances are all given in the score and there is a fully comprehensive gas-lighting plot. In addition there are hints on making scenery and how to set all the props out. The score also includes all the libretto and the dialogue – if just a little creaky – reads quite well and would perform acceptably today.

Stage Directions
Stage Directions for Dogs of Devon

A True Period Piece

“Dogs of Devon” is undoubtedly a “period piece”. There is a three paragraph essay at the start of the score labelled “Argument”. “Argument” in this sense is found on the frontispiece of Handel’s Samson – as well as oratorios by others – and explains the slant and moods of the story and the twists in the plot. Nowadays, we might say “so that we could see where they were coming from”.

How To Perform “Dogs of Devon”

There are diagrams showing the positions of chorus groups and how soloists might be placed among groups. The scenery may also be hired weekly for fairly expensive (for the time) amounts. This seems to suggest that Dogs of Devon was not to be undertaken lightly.

Historical Performances Everywhere

However, there is ample evidence in the archives of many church and sociable operatic or dramatic society minutes that budget performances may also have taken place. Here is a link to some sites that list some of the details of the many performances of ‘Dogs of Devon’ that took place:

Pleasing Melodies For Practical Performances

The music is both effective and touching. Accompaniment by an orchestra is not really necessary (a piano or two would suffice) but the whole score is cued as to orchestral intentions and presumably, were an orchestra available, the parts might be obtained from Messrs. Curwen (or their successors), the sometime publishers of this score. There is delightful counterpoint and descant play between the chorus and the orchestra. Much attention has been lavished on the part-writing too, with tuneful alto (and bass) parts (how welcome and such a rarity in operetta).

An extract from the score of Dogs of Devon
An extract from the score of Dogs of Devon

About The Composer?

W H Bullock seems to have disappeared without trace. I suspect however that he was the same William Henry Bullock (b. 1877 Haverhill, Suffolk) who aged 24 was described as a “Professor of Music” and by the age of 34 was a Professional Musician – a Lay Vicar at Westminster Abbey. From research, he appears to have continued in his work until his death in 1945 in Surrey. (By the way, for “Professor of Music” in the earlier part of the 20th century, read “private music teacher”, the honorific “Professor” suggesting here no Chair of Music in a university; rather a teacher who may have taken on Articled Pupils and prepared them for external examinations from the Universities and private bodies then offering those external degrees.)

The opening music of Dogs of Devon
The opening music of Dogs of Devon

Influences and the End of an Era

At a first hearing, the score owes more to Edward German than Arthur Sullivan but then in the solos, there is rather more of Lionel Monckton than Sidney Jones. This is wholesome entertainment too – and in an innocent way in those pre-1914 days before the maelstrom.

Hull Daily Mail Welcomes a Revival of “Dogs of Devon” after the 1914-1918 War

Hull Daily Mail Friday 3 October 1919
We are delighted to hear of the Hull Grammar School Operatic Society’s revival (after five years of war), of a “Third Edition” of their comic opera, “Dogs Devon.” Preliminary particulars of the production are available, and in view of the special interest to Hull these performances — the book and lyrics are by two of the Masters the School, and the whole production is carried out by masters, boys, and old boys — it is be hoped that even more enthusiastic support than in the past will be accorded. * * * The president of the Society is the Head Master (Mr Forty, M.A.): hon. conductor, J. Porter: hon. stage manager, Harold Ellis. There will four performances, with total company, chorus, and orchestra of nearly 100 performers, at the Royal Institution, on October 29th, 30th, 31st, and November 1st, and the plan may be seen and vouchers exchanged for seats, at Messrs Gough and Davy’s, Savile-street, Hull, on and after Monday, October 13th. The proceeds are in aid of the School Games Fund

A Recognisable Story

The story is everything that would be appreciated by the audience and all those taking part; the Mayor and Town Crier; Sir Francis Drake (of course); the Spanish Ambassador; The Town Clerk; Queen Elizabeth (naturally) and an assortment of Maids, Wards, Townsfolk, Sea-Dogs, Town Councillors and Beefeaters in addition to the Host of the “Pelican Inn”. The usual misconceptions and plot shifts abound and there is intrigue and deception afoot, not to mention disguised identities and comic relief. The whole operetta ending on a note of triumph at the vindication of one and the humiliation of the other at the hands of the gallant “Dogs of Devon”.

Dialogue and some music from Dogs of Devon
Dialogue and some music from Dogs of Devon

A Moving Finale

However, the score contains something more than that. These unknown numbers are charming and tasteful and the whole operetta finishes with a chorus that must have brought the entire house to its feet every night. A song of sincere and unashamed patriotism; not of hope and glory or expansionist imperialism but of duty and acceptance of the burden of protection.

Ever Again?

How wonderful it would be should some group stage “Dogs Of Devon” once again – and no silly stuff either, just the whole show, as it was, without any unscripted ad libs or uncalled-for sly nods to the audience. This would give us a thorough and fair reappraisal of the whole thing, performed sincerely as it was meant to be when it was written. Hull is the City of Culture in 2017, would it be too much to hope that one of its operatic societies might care to present it once again?

The following list is a selection of performances of “Dogs of Devon”. What is certain is that this is just the tip of the iceberg and many are undocumented as yet. Can you help with any more?

Performances of Dogs of Devon (* denotes first show by a newly formed society).

1913 Hull, East Riding Hull Grammar School Operatic Society (founded c.1330; re-formed several times; closed 2005)
1915 Denton Amateur Dramatic Society, Lancashire
1918* Loughborough Amateur Operatic Society, Leicestershire
1919 Hull, East Riding Hull Grammar School Operatic Society**
1919 Loughborough Amateur Operatic Society, Leicestershire
1919? Southern Grammar School For Boys Portsmouth (1888-1975)
1920 Queensbury (West Riding) Victoria Hall Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society.
1921 Leigh Operatic and Dramatic Society, Lancashire
1921* Carlton Operatic Society (Nottingham) which began life in 1921 as The Netherfield Amateur Operatic Society
1921* Poole and Parkstone Operatic Society, Dorset
1922* Penistone and District Amateur Operatic Society First Production by this Society was “Dogs of Devon” in 1922. This production ran from March 27th to 31st at the Town Hall, Penistone, West Riding.
1922 Carlton Operatic Society (Nottingham)
1923* Barnstaple Musical Comedy and Dramatic Society, Devon
1923 The Hetton and District Choral and Amateur Operatic Society (County Durham) performed the comic opera “Highwayman Love” (music also by W H Bullock). By popular request they gave a repeat performance of “Dogs of Devon”.
1923* Melyncrythan Operatic Society (Neath, South Wales)
1923 Stowmarket Operatic and Dramatic Society, Suffolk
1924 Hessle Theatre Company, East Riding
1924 April 16th 17th – Cwmtwrch Operatic Choir, Central Hall, Ystalyfera (South Wales)
1924 St. David’s Amateur Society Tonyrefail (South Wales)
1924 Monday 3rd March 2LO BBC (365 metres) London 7.35pm the whole opera is broadcast.
1925 Abergavenny Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society
1925* St John’s AODS Nelson, Lancashire
1925* Merrow Operatic Society, Guildford, Surrey
1925 Woodhouses Church Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, Failsworth, nr Manchester, Lancashire
1925 Fri 24 July BBC “…on Wednesday from London and Daventry there will be broadcast a rendering of The Dogs of Devon (W. H. Bullock) specially adapted for broadcasting…”
1925 Weds 29 Jul – 2LO London BBC (extracts only)
1926 Murton Theatre Group (County Durham)
1926 Beaconsfield Operatic Society, Blyth, Northumberland
1926 Wednesday 6 January 2LO London 8-10 by the BBC
1927* Markinch Amateur Operatic Society, Markinch, Fife, Scotland
1927 St James’ Musical and Dramatic Society Sunderland – pianist/organist Mr H Grieg Thompson is awarded a gift from the society.
1927 Erith Operatic Society
1927 – A PROUD BEGINNING. HORNSEA AMATEURS’ SUCCESS IN DOGS OF DEVON. “The Hornsea Victoria Theatre was crowded on Saturday night when the newly formed Amateur Operatic Society concluded three nights’ presentation of the comic opera, “Dogs of Devon.” (2nd May 1927 – Hull Daily Mail – Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England)
1927 Salford Secondary School Play, Lancashire
1927 Fri 14th Oct BBC “…from Daventry (5GB) at 8 o’clock there will be broadcast The Dogs of Devon, the comic opera by Messrs F H Bell and Harold Ellis, with music by W H Bullock
1928* Walmsley Amateur Operatic Society, Egerton near Bolton November 10th 14th and 17th
1928 December The Vale of Leven Amateur Dramatic Society production by the Drama Club was in fact a comic opera “The Dogs of Devon” (Vale of Leven, Dunbartonshire, Scotland)
1928 Pelaw Presbyterians (Gateshead) staging a concert called ‘Dogs of Devon’ in 1928 link to photograph
1929* Queen Street Primitive Methodist Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society First musical in 1929. (Trinity Church Congregational/Methodist Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society, Farnworth, Lancashire)
1930 Barnoldswick Choral Society (West Riding) link to photograph
1930 Milton Abbot Players early 1930s link
1930 Uxbridge Musical Theatre
1930 Stainforth Musical Society (near Doncaster)
1931 May 8th Hutton Rudby Choral Society (North Riding)
1932 Framlingham Amateur Dramatic Society
1931 Tues 9 Jun “…Cardiff (968kc.) (309.9m.) The Dogs of Devon, a comic opera in three acts: books and lyrics by F R Bell and Harold Ellis; music by W H Bullock, with Glyn Eastman, William Parsons, Ronald Chivers, Percy Fleming, Walter Glynne, Kenneth Ellis, Margaret Tann Williams, Susie Stevens, Lilian Keys; Lottie Wakelin’s Choir; The National Orchestra of Wales (Leader Louis Levitus), conducted by Warwick Braithwaite. The times for this live BBC broadcast were 7.45 to 9pm – Act 1 and 9.40 to 10.40pm – Acts 2 and 3, making a performance of two and a quarter hours.
1933* Chigwell Row Operatic and Dramatic Society
1934 Merrow Operatic Society, Guildford, Surrey
1934 April – Tiffin Musical and Dramatic Society, Kingston, Surrey
1934 July 10th (Australia) Narracoorte Amateur Operatic Society presented the comic opera “Dogs of Devon” to a large and appreciative audience in the Town Hall
1935 December 15th Conspicuous success attended the St. Peter’s Newlyn Dramatic Society’s performance of the comic opera “Dogs of Devon” at St. Peter’s schoolroom, Newlyn
1937 Sat 22nd May – BBC Western (804kc.) (373.1m.) 9pm Dogs of Devon or Foiled Again! an abridged version for broadcasting
before 1939 St. Anne’s Amateur Dramatic & Operatic Society, Tottington near Bury, Lancashire
1940 Abergavenny Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, South Wales Technical Day School
1940sHartlepool, Dogs of Devon was their first non-G and S opera. Porlock area, Somerset, during the last war.
1948* High Green (Sheffield) Amateur Operatic Society nowadays High Green Musical Theatre Group was formed on 12th January 1948 with the first production being “The Dogs of Devon”
1951 Boys and Girls Schools, operas, St. Joseph’s Church, Leigh. Images include scenes from Dogs of Devon in the Wigan Archives
(no date) Alresford Choral Society put on several Gilbert and Sullivan productions in the Town Hall, and on one occasion, the Dogs of Devon
(no date) Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen – early performance in the Public Hall (South Wales)
A Famous Actor Remembers His Start in “Dogs Of Devon” Derek Fowlds writes: (at my school) “I first trod the boards. I played the Mayor of Plymouth in an operetta, Dogs of Devon; I’ve never had reviews like it”. 1953
1960Sage Cross Methodist Church, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. (A recording of this performance is in existence as at 21/06/2018)

**Cast List for 1919 Hull Production: Hull Daily Mail Monday 27 October 1919
DOGS OF DEVON.” The following is the final list of the “Dogs of Devon” cast performing this week at the Royal Institution, commencing Wednesday evening, by the Hull Grammar School Operatic Society: Sir Francis Drake, Mr Harold Ellis; Don Bernardino de-Mendoza (Spanish Ambassador), Mr Norman Dixon (O.G.); Sir Wilfrid Leigh; Capt. E Teesdale (O.G.); the Captain of the Guard, Mr W. S.Blakeney (O.G.); Noah Fleming (Host of the “Pelican Inn”), Mr A.H.Smith; Capt. Hugh Fleming (his Son), Mr F. A. B. Cook (O.G.); Simon Simple (A Sea-Dog)’; Mr J. S. Cahill (O.G.); The Sergeant of Beefeaters, Mr A. H. Dewey; George Potter (Town Clerk of Plymouth), Mr C. G. Fox (O.G.) Percy Pepper (Town. Crier of Plymouth), Mr H. England (O.G.); Malachi Mudd (Mayor of Plymouth), Mr F. R. Bell ; Queen Elizabeth, Mr H. E. Newton (O.G.) : Dame Margery Fleming, Mr G. Wilby (O.G.); Dorothy and’ Elsie (Maids at the “Pelican Inn”), J. C. and H. G. Grinnell; Dolores (Sir Francis Drake’s Ward), P. A. Hepton. Chorus of maidens, townsfolk, councillors, sea-dogs, and beefeaters.

(O.G. = Old Grammarian)


14 thoughts on “Dogs Of Devon Or “Foiled Again!” – A Forgotten Operetta

  1. Vox-You blow me away with the extent of knowledge you possess about a great many things. This is a compilation of exactitude. I cannot pretend to understand most of it, and perhaps hearing the music would be helpful. Yet, I am in awe.

  2. It was performed by the Trinity and St James Musical and Dramatic Society of Sunderland in 1927, evidenced by a gift from the Society to the organist/pianist, a Mr H Greig Thompson

  3. Living as I do in Kingston-upon-Hull, I am interested to see whether the “Dogs” might be staged. Chester Music are in the process of supplying me with a photocopy of the only vocal score they have. They have no record of what may have happened to the orchestral material which must have been hired out many times. Vox, do you or any of your readers have any clues which I might follow to locate said score?
    Many thanks, Stan Kell.

    1. Hi Stan, I hope you received my private message to you. If any other readers have any ideas where the orchestral material may have gone, then please let me know.

  4. It was performed in 1925 by the Woodhouses Church Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, Failsworth, Manchester. The society was formed in 1924 performing “Magic Ruby”. In 1926 they performed “Highwayman Love” and in 1927 and thereafter they perfomed the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in sequence. The society is still going having just completed a run of “Patience”, May 2018.

    1. Hello Pam, Thank you for visiting and also for your information. How wonderful that the Society at Woodhouses is nearly ready to celebrate its centenary! I have added you to the list of performances. The songs in “Dogs of Devon” are really rather affecting and touching. I felt that “Highwayman Love” was perhaps less strong musically, although the story seems to be stronger – from my reading of the script and score. How splendid that you performed “Patience”. We are all for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas here. “Patience” is not so often performed perhaps as some of the others – but they are all wonderful. Best wishes.

  5. I am listening to a recording of this performed by Sage Cross choir and others in about 1960 as I write this message.It should be better known as it is a lovely thing.

    1. That is wonderful to learn that you have this recording. I am so pleased that you sent your comment and that the recording still exists. The music is quite charming and has an understated power which is extremely engaging. My wish too was that it might be recorded once more. It was a significant work for many community opera groups in England, Scotland and Wales. In many cases, “Dogs of Devon” was the very first work that established community drama and operetta. It is a real pity that it is almost forgotten now. I hope you continue to enjoy the recording. Best wishes.

  6. The operetta was performed by Markinch Amateur Operatic Society (1927) in Scotland as their first production. The society is still going strong – attended an excellent performance of Annie last week. Details of previous productions in their program.

    1. Thank you Stephen for sending your comment and information. I am very pleased to hear that the Markinch Amateur Operatic Society is going strong and that you enjoyed their production last week. ‘Annie’ is a great show too – I often wonder what the original members of societies might think of the newer shows! I am sure that they would have been as enthusiastic and committed as ever – and those are two of the major strengths in these performing groups. Every good wish to you and to them!

  7. Nice to have stumbled on this blog having had another look through a score I have on the shelf of ‘Highwayman Love’ and wondering if there might be any more information about its composer. Very illuminating.

    1. Thank you for your comment and I am pleased that you enjoyed reading the article. Interestingly, I too have a copy of “Highwayman Love” – the character of the show is very different. However, I don’t see why either “Dogs of Devon” or “Highwayman Love” could not be revived carefully and presented as period pieces – and without any rewriting. The music of both pieces is a big part of our national heritage and played a huge role in the development of amateur theatre to the level that it stands at today. These two works were immensely popular and it is a great pity that they have never yet been recorded. As more information appears, I add to the essay from time to time, so do come back! Best wishes, voxturturis

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