Lilian Baylis

Lilian Baylis

Infobox Person
name = Lilian Mary Baylis

caption = Lilian Baylis and friend c. 1920
birth_date = birth date|1874|5|9
birth_place = London
death_date = death date and age|1937|11|25|1874|5|9
death_place = London
death_cause = Myocardial infarction
resting_place = East London Cemetery
resting_place_coordinates =
other_names =
known_for = Revived Old Vic and Sadler's Wells. Founded forerunners of English National Opera, National Theatre and Royal Ballet.
occupation = Theatrical producer and manager
nationality = British

Lilian Mary Baylis CH (9 May 187425 November 1937) was an English theatrical producer and manager. She managed the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theatres in London, and ran an opera company, which became the English National Opera (ENO), a theatre company, which evolved into the English National Theatre, and a ballet company, which eventually became the English Royal Ballet.

Lilian Baylis was born in London, England. Her education was mainly in music, and she began performing and teaching music at an early age. The Baylis family ran a concert party which performed with some success under the name of The Gypsy Revellers and, as a young teenager, Lilian Baylis sometimes played several Gypsy Revellers engagements in one night. The other major influence in Baylis’s life was social housing; Baylis’s aunt, Emma Cons was an associate of Octavia Hill and worked energetically to improve the quality of life for those living in London’s slums.

In 1891 Baylis’s family emigrated to South Africa when The Gypsy Revellers were offered a long term contract there. They toured for some time but eventually settled in Johannesburg where Baylis earned a good living as a music and dance teacher. In 1898, Baylis returned to London from South Africa as she was ill, and her intended return to South Africa was delayed by the outbreak of the Boer War. Whilst living in London Baylis assisted Emma Cons in running The Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern near Waterloo Station, and Baylis gradually took on more management duties running concerts, film shows, lecture programmes and variety shows. Eventually she decided to stay in England and, following Cons's death in 1912, Baylis had complete managerial control of the theatre, known by then as the "Old Vic", until her death. One of her most significant achievements at the Old Vic was to produce a full cycle of Shakespeare's plays, starting with "The Taming of the Shrew" in 1914 to "Troilus and Cressida" in 1923.

In 1925, Baylis began a campaign to re-open the derelict Sadler's Wells Theatre, something she finally achieved with a gala opening on twelfth night, 6 January 1931, of a production of Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night" starring John Gielgud as Malvolio and Ralph Richardson as Toby Belch. For the first few years the opera, drama and ballet companies, known as the "Vic-Wells" companies, rotated between the two theatres, but by 1935 the ballet and opera companies were based at Sadler's Wells and the drama company at the Old Vic.

In 1928, Baylis engaged Ninette de Valois, under whose direction British classical ballet really developed at Sadler's Wells. Here de Valois nurtured the careers of dancers such as Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann, and her productions of classical work often featured guest appearances from Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin. Musical direction was by Constant Lambert, and choreography for new works by de Valois and rising star Frederick Ashton. The ballet company’s descendants today are the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The Drama company also nurtured the careers of stars – Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Sybil Thorndike, Edith Evans, Alec Guinness, Michael Redgrave, Maurice Evans, Ralph Richardson - and became famous for stylish productions under the artistic directorship of Tyrone Guthrie during the 1930s. In 1937 Guthrie’s production of "Hamlet" played at Elsinore/Helsingør in Denmark, with Olivier in the title role, and Vivien Leigh as Ophelia.

One of Baylis' greatest achievements was Gielgud's first performance as Hamlet in 1930, which became the first Old Vic production to be transferred to the West End for a run. She also scored a casting coup by featuring Charles Laughton at the theatre in 1933 after he had become a worldwide name in the film "The Private Life of Henry VIII." To exploit the audiences' interest in the film, she cast Laughton as Shakespeare's Henry VIII.

Baylis was awarded an honorary Master’s degree from Oxford University in 1924, only the second such honour to be given to a woman by the university. In 1929, she was made a Companion of Honour (CH) for service to the nation. In 1934 Birmingham University awarded Baylis an honorary doctorate.

After a long illness, Baylis died of a heart attack on 25 November 1937 aged 63, the night before the Old Vic was to open a production of "Macbeth" starring Olivier and Judith Anderson ["Olivier" by Robert Tanitch, Abbeville Press] . She was cremated at East London Cemetery and Crematorium, where her ashes were scattered at her own request. There is no memorial.

In 1985 English National Opera founded an education and outreach department calling it The Baylis Programme in her honour. The current Sadler's Wells theatre contains a 200-seat theatre named after her and the National Theatre has a Lilian Baylis terrace. In Vauxhall the Lillian Baylis secondary school is also named in her honour. There is a Lilian Baylis rose, and the Royal Victoria Hall Foundation administers the annual Lilian Baylis awards for promising acting students.


* Richard Findlater, "Lilian Baylis: The Lady of the Old Vic", London, Allen Lane, 1975.
* Cicely Hamilton and Lilian Baylis, "The Old Vic", London, Cape, 1926.
* Elizabeth Schafer, "Lilian Baylis: A Biography", Hatfield, University of Hertfordshire Press, 2006. ISBN 1-902806-63-8


External links

* [ PeoplePlay UK biography]
* [ Sadler's Wells biography]
* [ Lilian Baylis Theatre]
* [ Lilian Baylis School] , Kennington
* [ Lilian Baylis Technology School] , Kennington
* [ Morton Place, Lambeth] (home)
* [ Lilian Baylis archive at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection] , University of Bristol
* [ Old Vic archive at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection] , University of Bristol

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  • Lilian Baylis — [Lilian Baylis] (1874–1937) an English theatre manager. She ran the ↑Old Vic, famous for its Shakespeare productions, and ↑Sadler s Wells, the home of the companies that later became the ↑Royal Ballet and the ↑English Nation …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Lilian Baylis — ➡ Baylis * * * …   Universalium

  • Baylis Road — The Old Vic Theatre from the north east end of Baylis Road …   Wikipedia

  • Baylis, Lilian Mary — ▪ British theatrical manager born May 9, 1874, London, Eng. died Nov. 25, 1937, London       English theatrical manager and founder of the Old Vic as a centre of Shakespearean productions (Shakespeare, William).       As a child, Baylis studied… …   Universalium

  • Baylis, Lilian Mary — (1874–1937)    Founder of the Old Vic theatre company in London. Born in London, Lilian Baylis spent many years of her youth in South Africa teaching dancing, violin and banjo. In 1898 she returned to London and joined her aunt Emma Cons, who ran …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

  • Baylis — is a surname, and may refer to: * Julie Baylis, wife of The Honourable Jeremy Lascelles * Lilian Mary Baylis (1874–1937), British theatrical producer, manager and founder of a ballet company * Trevor Graham Baylis (born 1937), English inventor of …   Wikipedia

  • Baylis — /ˈbeɪləs/ (say bayluhs) noun Lilian M, 1874–1937, theatrical manager of the Old Vic and Sadlers Wells …   Australian English dictionary

  • Baylis, Lilian (Mary) — born May 9, 1874, London, Eng. died Nov. 25, 1937, London British theatrical manager and founder of the Old Vic. She assisted her aunt, Emma Cons, in the operation of the Royal Victoria Hall and Coffee Tavern, and on Cons s death in 1912 she… …   Universalium

  • Baylis, Lilian (Mary) — (9 may. 1874, Londres, Inglaterra–25 nov. 1937, Londres). Empresaria teatral británica y fundadora del Old Vic. Fue asistente de su tía, Emma Cons, en la administración del Royal Victoria Hall Coffee Tavern. Después de la muerte de Cons en 1912… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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