Harold Fielding

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Leading producer of stage musicals from the 50s until the 80s, presenting some of the West End’s favourite shows.
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b. 4 December 1916, Woking, Surrey, England, d. 27 September 2003, Surrey, England. A leading producer of stage musicals from the 50s through to the 80s, Fielding has presented, or co-presented, some of the West End’s favourite shows. When he was 10 years old he resisted parental pressure to play the piano, and instead took up the violin, studying in Paris with virtuoso Szigeti. By the time he was 12, Fielding was himself a concert performer, touring as a supporting artist to the diva Tetrazzini. When he was in his early 20s, the impresario who was presenting him died, and Fielding took over the tour management. In a short space of time, he was presenting hundreds of concerts throughout the UK, including his Sunday Concert Series at Blackpool Opera House, which endured for many years. He also mounted a series called Music For Millions in collaboration with his wife, Maisie. Among the artists appearing in his productions were Richard Tauber, Grace Moore, Benjamino Gigli, Rawicz and Landauer, Jeanette MacDonald, Paul Robeson, Gracie Fields, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Subsequent promotions in the popular music field would include Johnnie Ray, Danny Kaye, Nat ‘King’ Cole, and Frank Sinatra. In January 1949, while returning from the USA after negotiating a contract for the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra to visit England, Fielding was involved in the famous pick-a-back air crash. A light aircraft collided with the roof of his Constellation airliner, and the dead pilot fell into Fielding’s lap. The Constellation made a perfect landing, and, having survived that kind of crash, from then on Fielding believed that flying was the safest form of travel. By the late 50s, with government-sponsored concerts affecting his business, Fielding turned to the legitimate theatre. He had already collaborated with Charles B. Cochran and Jack Hylton, one of his associations with Hylton resulting in the first ever arena concert festival at Harringay, London. They also promoted a classical ballet season. Just prior to Christmas 1958, Fielding launched himself as a solo producer with a spectacular presentation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Cinderella at the London Coliseum. Originally conceived for US television, Fielding blended pantomime material with the musical comedy aspect of the piece, and cast rock ‘n’ roll star Tommy Steele as Buttons. Cinderella was followed by another Coliseum extravaganza, Aladdin, and from then on Fielding lived a rollercoaster existence - producing or co-producing many of the West End’s biggest hits, and some of its biggest disasters.

The Music Man, starring Van Johnson, and Noël Coward’s Sail Away, led in 1963 to one of Fielding’s most fondly remembered shows, Half A Sixpence, a musicalization of H.G. Wells’ novel, Kipps, starring Tommy Steele. However, the success of Half A Sixpence in London and New York paled in comparison with Charlie Girl (1965, 2, 202 performances), which was followed by several more profitable productions in the shape of Sweet Charity, Mame, The Great Waltz, Show Boat, I Love My Wife, Irene, stage versions of the popular movies Hans Andersen and Singin’ In The Rain (both with Tommy Steele), as well as Barnum (Michael Crawford). At the time, Fielding’s 1971 Show Boat was the longest-running to date with 910 performances (Hal Prince’s 1994 production clocked up 951). Like all the great showmen since Florenz Ziegfeld, Fielding was fond of making extravagant gestures. When Ginger Rogers arrived in the UK to appear in Mame (1969), he ensured that the event made the front pages by transporting her from Southampton to London in a special train filled with pressmen, and an orchestra playing tunes from the show. There was also a portable movie theatre showing her old films. The Ziegfeld reference would probably send a shiver up the now-venerable producer’s spine, because Ziegfeld (1988), with a book by Ned Sherrin, was one of his shows, along with Man Of Magic, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Phil The Fluter, Gone With The Wind, Beyond The Rainbow, On The Twentieth Century, The Biograph Girl, and the 1986 revival of Charlie Girl with Cyd Charisse, which failed to set the London theatrical scene alight. He was reported to have lost £1.3 million on Ziegfeld, and that sum rose to £1.7 million four years later when Petula Clark’s American Civil War musical, Someone Like You, folded after only a month, ensuring that Harold Fielding Limited went into voluntary liquidation.

Since then, understandably, Fielding has not been a major force, partly due to ill health, although he was associated with the West End transfer of Mack And Mabel from the Leicester Haymarket Theatre in 1995, which resulted in the show’s long-awaited London premiere. Over the years, he has presented a whole range of entertainment, including revues, plays, and variety shows featuring outstanding performers such as The Two Ronnies (Corbett and Barker), Petula Clark, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers, Benny Hill, Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt, and Shirley Bassey, but it is for his often lavish and immensely likeable musicals that he will be remembered. In 1986 he ‘passed’ on the opportunity to present the UK version of La Cage Aux Folles because ‘it wasn’t a family show’, yet more than 10 years previously he had been associated with the notorious ‘sexual musical’, Let My People Come. A much-loved personality, he belongs to the tradition of great British showman such as Hylton, Bernard Delfont, and Lew Grade. He risked his own money rather than that of theatrical ‘angels’, and in 1996 received a Gold Badge from BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters. Composers and Authors) in recognition of his special contribution to Britain’s entertainment industry.