W. S. Penley as Zapeter in Princess Toto

W. S. Penley (1875, 1879, 1891)

[Born St. Peters, Margate, Kent 18 or 19 Nov 1851, died London 11 Nov 1912]

William Sydney Penley learned singing in the Chapel Royal Choir at the Savoy before making his stage debut in 1871 at the Court Theatre as Tim in My Wife's Second Floor.

He would make his first appearance under D'Oyly Carte auspices as the Foreman of the Jury in Trial by Jury on tour in the summer of 1875. He later appeared at the Royalty Theatre, London, as the Foreman, November-December 1875, though D'Oyly Carte was no longer associated with the production. It was a role he would continue to play when Trial was transferred to the Opera Comique in January 1876, and would play again at the Royal Strand and on tour in 1877. In the meantime, he played Baron Jacquier (at Theatre Royal, Nottingham, June-September 1876) and Zapeter (Strand, London, October-November 1876) in W. S. Gilbert & Frederic Clay's Princess Toto.

In April 1879 he appeared again at the Royalty, this time as Mr. Grinder in a revival of Stephenson & Sullivan's The Zoo. He soon began six months on tour with D'Oyly Carte as Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore (June-July 1879 with Carte's "B" Company; July-December 1879 with Carte's "A," later "1st 'Pinafore,' Company").

Many roles with many companies would follow:especially noteworthy was his performance of the Reverend Robert Spalding in The Private Secretary at the Globe, May 19, 1884. It was a part with which his name would be associated for years.

Penley eventually returned to the D'Oyly Carte one last time in September 1891, replacing Rutland Barrington as Punka, the Rajah of Chutneypore, in The Nautch Girl at the Savoy, while Barrington and Jessie Bond took a series of "musical duologues" on a provincial tour. When Barrington returned in November, Penley moved on to other work.

On February 29, 1892, Penley produced the famous comedy Charley's Aunt at Bury St. Edmunds, appearing as Lord Fancourt Babberley. The piece was produced at the Royalty Theatre, London, in December of that year, and transferred to the Globe in 1893. Charley's Aunt was performed no fewer than 1,466 times in succession, a record at the time and for many years hence. It was withdrawn in December 1896 but was revived on several occasions since. Charley's Aunt would earn him a fortune estimated at $500,000 at the time of his death.

Penley rebuilt the old Novelty Theatre, reopening it as the Great Queen Street Theatre in May 1900 with A Little Ray of Sunshine, in which he appeared. This was followed by revivals of The Private Secretary in July and Charley's Aunt in December. In 1901 he retired from the stage but continued as proprietor of the Great Queen Street Theatre until 1907. W. S. Penley died in 1912 at the age of 53.

Page modified March 31, 2003 © 2001-03 David Stone