Actor and singer Kenneth Sandford was a leading member of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company for 25 years was memorable for his roles as Pooh-Bah in the Mikado, Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers and Dr Daly in The Sorcerer. He also appeared in the original West End production of Paint Your Wagon and was a vocalist with the Crazy Gang at the Victoria Palace.
Born in Godalming, Surrey on June 28, 1924, Sandford studied at the Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts, gaining a scholarship to London’s Royal College of Art.
He made his showbusiness debut as a singer in the chorus of Carousel (Drury Lane, 1950) and then toured the UK in Ivor Novello’s King’s Rhapsody. He appeared as Sandy Twist in Paint Your Wagon (Her Majesty’s, 1953) and a year later joined the Crazy Gang in their revue Joker’s Wild (Victoria Palace). In 1956 he understudied Alfred Drake in the musical Kismet (Stoll Theatre).
He joined the D’Oyly Carte Company in 1957 as principal baritone. “I learnt about eight roles in eight weeks,” he said. “Before I knew it, I was on stage at the King’s Theatre, Southsea. I was in full repertory with The Mikado Monday night, Gondoliers Tuesday, Iolanthe Wednesday, Ruddigore Thursday and Patience Friday.”
In 1962 Sandford sang the role of head jailer Wilfred Shadbolt in The Yeoman of the Guard in the grounds of the Tower of London during the first festival of the City of London.
During his years with D’Oyly Carte he recorded many of his major roles and in 1965 appeared in the BBC TV production of Patience as Grosvenor. He appeared in the 1966 film version of The Mikado as Pooh Bah.
After D’Oyly Carte’s close in 1982, Sanford remained closely involved with G&S as managing director of The Magic of Gilbert and Sullivan and as co-director of Savoy operas at Gawsworth Hall in Cheshire. He also gave master classes, attended G&S conferences and toured with The Best of Gilbert and Sullivan.
A biography entitled Kenneth Sandford: ‘merely corroborative detail’, writen by close friend and colleague Roberta Morrell, was published in 1999.
Morrell writes: “Ken Sandford’s memorable portrayals of the famous Pooh-Bah roles earned him a reputation as a cultured singer/actor always seeking to highlight the brilliance of WS Gilbert’s libretti. His constant search for the truth to be found in words and music has been inspirational to a host of performers, both professional and amateur. A man of unfailing charm and modesty he was always generous in passing on his tricks of the trade. Such unique talent is best summed up by the great D’Oyly Carte comedian, John Reed, who said ‘In my sixty years in the business, I have never known anyone who could time a line like Ken.’”
He died on September 19, aged 80. In 1952 he married Pauline Joyce. They had a son and a daughter.