Dick Deadeye in the morning

Today’s morning name: the Gilbert & Sullivan character Dick Deadeye (from H.M.S. Pinafore): the rough and ugly able seaman, the grim realist of the Pinafore‘s crew. In my consciousness through some connection from my posting on Iolanthe yesterday, I suppose.

We don’t really get Dick Deadeye’s backstory in the plot of the opera, but the character is generally played as having one bad eye (often covered with an eyepatch) and being crippled and deformed — battle wounds. presumably. The name Deadeye might allude to the maimed eye, or to the character’s having been a crack shot before his injuries, or of course both. The alliterating first name Dick was is probably just a very common men’s nickname; dick ‘penis’ was well-established by the time of the Savoy operas but probably well below the consciousness of the Savoy audiences, and dick ‘stupid or reprehensible person’ was still well in the future then, so the name Dick Deadeye didn’t have the resonances then that it has for some modern speakers.

The name then led me to an oddity I hadn’t been aware of. From Wikipedia:

Dick Deadeye, or Duty Done is a 1975 British animated film musical [about 80 minutes long], based on the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

The comically convoluted plot is a pastiche of many in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, particularly Trial by Jury, The Sorcerer, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe and The Mikado, in which the principal character, Able Seaman Dick Deadeye, is sent by Queen Victoria on a quest to recover the “Ultimate Secret” from the Sorcerer, who has stolen it. The music is borrowed from many Savoy operas, with the orchestrations being updated in a contemporary (for 1975) popular style.

Animation was by Bill Melendez, who produced the Charlie Brown television cartoons, based on character drawings by veteran cartoonist Ronald Searle.

You can watch the whole thing here (the film quality isn’t very good). It’s an odd period piece: not an entertainment for children, and not particularly coherent as a musical for adults, but definitely enjoyable in pieces.

Searle’s sketches for the characters are delightful. Here’s Deadeye Dick:


The voicing for the character was done by the comic actor Victor Spinetti (a wonderful entertainer, and Welsh, and gay). From Wikipedia:

Vittorio Giorgio Andre Spinetti (2 September 1929 – 18 June 2012) was a Welsh comedy actor, author, poet and raconteur. He appeared in dozens of films and stage plays throughout his 50-year career, incuding the three 1960s Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour.

Born in Cwm, Ebbw Vale, Wales, Spinetti was educated at Monmouth School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, of which he became a Fellow. After various menial jobs, Spinetti pursued a stage career and was closely associated with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. Among the productions were Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be and Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), which transferred to New York City and for which he won a Tony Award. Spinetti’s film career developed simultaneously; his dozens of film appearances would include Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew, Under Milk Wood, The Return of the Pink Panther and Under the Cherry Moon.

During his later career, Spinetti acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company

… Spinetti was gay; his partner of 44 years, [actor] Graham Curnow, died in 1997.

John, Paul, and Victor in A Hard Day’s Night:


One Response to “Dick Deadeye in the morning”

  1. Roger Phillips Says:

    The Pinafore character may simply have been named after a bit of nautical equipment, a deadeye being “a round, flattish wooden block with a rope or iron band passing around it, and pierced with three holes for a lanyard”, according to The Chambers Dictionary.

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