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Fred Billington
Fred Billington (1 July 1854 – 2 November 1917) was an English singer and actor, best known for his performances in baritone roles of the Savoy Operas with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.

Life and career

Fred Billington was born in Lockwood, near Huddersfieldmarker.


Fred Billington joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company on tour in 1879 playing the Boatswain in H.M.S. Pinafore and Policeman 100-A in a companion piece, Antony and Cleopatra, a farce by Charles Selby. Soon he took over the larger role of Dick Deadeye. He created the role of Sergeant of Police in the Paignton performance of The Pirates of Penzance in 1879. He also had a part in Number One Round the Corner, a farce by Robert Brough that played as a companion piece with Pinafore.

Billington as Pooh-Bah (1888)
In 1880, in D'Oyly Carte touring companies, Billington added the roles of the Notary and later Doctor Daly in The Sorcerer, and Sisyphus Twister in the curtain-raiser Six and Six. In 1881, he began to perform in the roles of the Pirate King in Pirates and Captain Corcoran in Pinafore. In 1882 and 1883 he toured as Derrick von Slous and Captain Hendrich Hudson in Farnie and Planquette's Rip Van Winkle. He also played Private Willis in Iolanthe. In 1884, he played King Hildebrand in the tour of Princess Ida.

In 1885, Billington added to his list of roles the Learned Judge in Trial by Jury and Pooh-Bah in The Mikado. He soon travelled to New York for the American production of The Mikado, in a cast that included George Thorne (Ko-Ko), Geraldine Ulmar (Yum-Yum), and Courtice Pounds (Nanki-Poo). Returning from America, he performed the roles of Corcoran and Pooh-Bah in the provinces and then Germany and Austria. He then returned to England 1887 to rehearse the new opera, Ruddygore, gave two matinee performances as Sir Despard Murgatroyd at the Savoy Theatremarker, and then sailed for New York again, to play Sir Despard, followed by British and European tours of Ruddigore, The Mikado and Patience, in which he played Colonel Calverly. He also filled in for Rutland Barrington as Sir Despard briefly at the Savoy.

In 1888 and 1889, Billington toured as Deadeye, Sergeant of Police, Colonel Calverly, Pooh-Bah, Sergeant Meryll and later Wilfred Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guard. He then briefly left the D'Oyly Carte organisation to play Bragadoccio in Paulton and Jakobowski's comic opera Paola in Edinburgh. In 1890, Carte sent him to America to try to bail out the failed New York production of The Gondoliers, where he played Don Alhambra. He then returned to Britain, touring in The Gondoliers, then The Mikado and Yeomen as Pooh-Bah and Shadbolt.

1890 to 1917

From the end of 1890, until his death in 1917, nearly without any breaks (except as noted below), Billington toured with the D'Oyly Carte Repertory Opera Company, playing the Judge (until 1904), Doctor Daly, Deadeye (until 1912), the Sergeant of Police, Archibald Grosvenor in Patience (a new role for him, which he played until 1905), Willis (until 1913), King Hildebrand, Pooh-Bah, Shadbolt, and Don Alhambra on a regular basis. He also played Punka in The Nautch Girl (1892), King Paramount in Utopia Limited (1898–1900), and Sultan Mahmoud in The Rose of Persia (1900–01), when those operas were added to the repertory.

In 1896, he was at the Savoy in place of Barrington as Pooh-Bah and, in early 1897, he was back at the Savoy briefly to create the role of King Mopolio VII in F.C. Burnand and Alexander Mackenzie's His Majesty. He left the Savoy in April due to illness, and so he was unable to appear as Shadbolt in the 1897 revival of Yeomen as had been planned, the part going to Henry Lytton instead. After a lengthy convalescence, Billington returned to the touring company, where he remained for the balance of his career. He was particularly known for his excellent diction.

Events surrounding Billington's death

The night before his death, Billington had a curiously prophetic conversation with Henry Lytton, with whom he shared a dressing room:

     Only the night before he died, while we were in our dressing-room, he surprised me with the question, “How would you like to die, Harry?”
     From a man so little inclined to brood on the morbid the question was strange. I told him I didn’t know. I had never, I told him, thought it out, and didn’t intend to, either.
     “But if you had to die,” he insisted, “how would you prefer to go?”
     “Oh! I don’t know,” I retorted. “Anyhow, we’re not going to die just yet.”
     “Well,” was his answer, “if I had my way, it would be a good dinner, a bottle of wine, a good cigar, a good joke, and—pop-off!”

The next day, Billington did almost precisely that at the Liverpool Street Hotel:

On November 2, 1917 Fred Billington travelled from Cambridge, where the Company was then playing, to London to have lunch in a hotel with Rupert Carte himself. It was a convivial but not necessarily the happiest of occasions. Carte had decided that, however sad it might be, the fact could no longer be disguised that Billington was now over the hill and that the time had come to ask him to retire; and towards the end of that lunch, it seems, he broke it to him that the current tour would be his last. After they had finished the meal Carte departed. Billington remained, chatting and reminiscing with one of the hotel waiters. Eventually, remarking that it was time to get back to the safety of Cambridge—“we’ve not had any Zeppelins there”—he rose, walked towards the hotel exit, and dropped dead.

Billington's funeral was at Highgate Cemetery on 8 November. The chief mourners were Courtice Pounds and George Thorne.


  1. Lytton, pp. 106–107.
  2. Joseph, p. 180.
  3. The Times, 9 November 1917, p. 3


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