27 February 2015 / News

Obituary: Terence Rees

It is with great personal sadness that I sit down to pen these lines about my dear old friend Terence Rees who passed away on 15th September 2014 at the age of 86. Terence Albert Ladd Rees was born in Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan and was educated at the Universities of Cardiff and London. When I first met him in the late 1970s he was researching and lecturing at the Institute of Laryngology and Otology at University College, London. At that time he was living in Clapham providing him with ample opportunity to research and write about his love for all things associated with nineteenth century theatre and in particular his fascination for the work of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Terence was one of the first people to undertake serious academic research about Gilbert and Sullivan, with a particular interest in their “lost” opera Thespis – although the libretto survives most of the music has disappeared. The result was his first book, Thespis: A Gilbert and Sullivan Enigma, which is still a standard reference text today.

He was also a great collector of theatre material covering many areas and topics which included Gilbert and Sullivan (of course!), pantomime, opera, and theatre technology. His interest in nineteenth century technology resulted in his second book Theatre Lighting in the Age of Gas published by the Society for Theatre Research in 1978. At that time that I was involved in the restoration of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House and we first met there when Terence learned of the existence of an early “gas-plate” in the theatre. From that moment on our mutual fascination for the same subjects cemented a friendship which endured until his passing. Inevitably it led us to collaborate on many topics especially British Theatrical Patents 1801-1900 published by the Society for Theatre Research in 1996 and the second volume British Theatrical Patents 1901-1950 published in 2010.

In later years and after his retirement Terence returned to his beloved Wales to live first in Machynnleth and later in Welshpool. His discovery and acquisition of autograph scores for works by Arthur Sullivan and Edward German were significant landmarks in the reawakening of nineteenth century theatre music. His subsequent generous donations to the British Library and the National Library of Wales ensured that they are now available for all to see and consult despite Terence often wickedly paraphrasing Gilbert, “I gave them to the Nation so that no one would ever see them again!”

An itinerant traveller he visited many of the great European Opera Houses, often returning with the hilarious anecdotes and jottings of a true ‘Theatric Tourist’. His love of life, real ale, travel, and joie de vivre touched everyone who knew him. Yet more than that his encouragement and infectious inquisitiveness led so many more people to research, explore and re-discover that wonderful lost world of the nineteenth century theatre.

Here’s to you Terence, my great friend, collaborator, and all round jolly good chap!

David Wilmore