Legendary British legit impresario Harold Fielding died Sept. 27 at a nursing home in Kingston-upon-Thames, where he has been cared for since having a series of strokes in 1998. He was 86.
Known as “the Guvnor,” Fielding produced at least 35 stage musicals, including such top comedies of the 1960s and 1970s in Britain as “Half a Sixpence,” “The Great Waltz” and “Charlie Girl,” which opened in 1965 and ran for more than five years. He worked often with Tommy Steele, notably on “Singin’ in the Rain.”
He also imported such Broadway and Off Broadway fare as “Sweet Charity,” “Mame,” “The Music Man,” “Show Boat,” “Barnum” and “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
In addition he brought major — and soon-to-be-major — U.S. stars to London, including Elaine Stritch at the start of her career, Ginger Rogers and Van Johnson, and raised Steele’s status. He produced Noel Coward’s “Sail Away,” starring Stritch.
The Woking, Surrey, native, a stockbroker’s son, was a child prodigy violinist and toured the country before giving up performing after a bout of stage fright. But that didn’t stop him from staging spectacles: He started as a producer of summer shows and tours for musical stars (including a young Julie Andrews), managed Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic and introduced a series of Sunday concerts at the Opera House in Blackpool, which became a 30-year tradition and drew such stars as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Danny Kaye.
His first big theatrical hit came in 1958 with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” He went on to become known for extravagant productions, publicity stunts and using his own money to stage such epics as “Gone With the Wind,” which featured the burning of Atlanta.
Despite numerous successes, he also was known for some spectacular flops, including the 1988 musical “Ziegfeld,” about the legendary showman, for which he spent $4 million of his own money and took out a five-year lease on the London Palladium (it lasted seven months); and 1990 Civil War musical “Someone Like You,” starring Petula Clark (show ran five weeks); combined, the two shows led to his company’s bankruptcy.
Nonetheless, Fielding was respected in legit circles for knowing what auds wanted, and for his risk-taking.
He received the Gold Badge of Merit from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors in 1996.
His wife, Maisie, died in 1985.