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Obituary: Michael Wild – ‘The nearly man of British musical theatre’

Michael Wild was the nearly man of British musical theatre in a career that saw him produce more than 40 such works. His few West End runs were short-lived despite his obvious gift as a tunesmith.

He began performing at Reading School and was twice recipient of the drama medal bearing the name of former pupils and leading British filmmakers the Boulting Brothers. Aged 12, he turned to composing and drew attention for his ballet score for The Necklace at the Embassy Theatre while still a student at RADA.

After National Service, he trained at the Guildhall School of Speech and Drama, producing the revue Well, Really! with fellow student Jim Murphy in 1952.

Seen in Reading in 1957, his first full musical, Pardon My Prejudice, a reworking of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, was written while Wild – who also directed his shows – was at teacher training college.

Several adaptations followed: of Thomas Hardy in Fairwell, My Fancy (1958), Oscar Wilde in Earnestly Yours (1960) and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1969, which The Stage reported as being “the most commercial musical of the last 20 years”.

Maggie, another adaptation, of JM Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows, enjoyed a brief run at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1977. It marked Anna Neagle’s last appearance on a West End stage and won Anna Sharkey a Society of West End Theatre (now Olivier) award for best performance in a musical.

Wild had larger ambitions for his portrait of the entertainer Josephine Baker, claiming interest from soul diva Diana Ross for a mooted Broadway run that never came to fruition. It eventually achieved a showcase performance at the Fortune Theatre in 1989.

In the early 1990s, Hastings’ White Rock Theatre staged revivals of Pardon My Prejudice, Maggie and Little Lord Fauntleroy.

An occasional performer, he was the piano accompanist for Tom McGrath’s Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy (Mayfair Theatre, 1976), was seen in cabaret and headlined An Evening with Michael Wild and Friends at the Latchmere Theatre in 1990.

He published an autobiography, Composer, Known Only to God and Anna Neagle, in 2018.

Michael John Wild was born on May 13, 1931 and died on November 11, 2018, aged 87.

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