Opera Scotland

John Wells Suggest updates

Born Ashford, Kent, 17 November 1936.

Died Sussex, 11 January 1998.

English satirist, author, director and translator.

The son of a clergyman, John Wells was educated at Eastbourne College and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he studied French and German. His first, brief, career was as a schoolmaster, including a period at Eton. He came to public notice as a performer in the early sixties, on the late night Saturday satirical TV series put on by the BBC, firstly That Was The Week That Was, followed by Not So Much A Programme, More A Way Of Life.

He wrote a number of television scripts and screenplays, and appeared regularly in dramas both on TV and film, usually in cameo roles. He can be seen in two of the Bond films. He worked with Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, based at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. One of his first TV scripts was for Voltaire in England, a dramatisation of the 1727 meeting between Voltaire and Alexander Pope.

Also in the sixties, he was a founder member of the team that launched the satirical magazine Private Eye, and during the years of the Wilson government contributed the Mrs Wilson's Diary column, which was converted into a stage musical by Joan Littlewood's team, and enjoyed a long West End run at the Criterion Theatre. In 1979 he achieved similar success with the Dear Bill letters, a column written in collaboration with Richard Ingrams, purporting to be a gin and golf biassed correspondence between Denis Thatcher and Daily Telegraph editor William Deedes. The stage adaptation of this, with Anyone for Denis? as its title, also ran at the Criterion, this time as a parody of a classic farce, in which Wells himself had a great success in the title role.

Due to his academic background as a linguist, he also enjoyed a high reputation as a translator of classic foreign texts. For the National Theatre he prepared Danton's Death (Büchner) and The Marriage of Figaro (Beaumarchais).

His introduction to Scottish Opera came in 1978, when he provided the text for the Carl Davis opera Peace, produced by the Opera Go Round offshoot of the company - directed by Graham Vick and conducted by Stewart Robertson. He went on to provide a fluent and witty translation for Offenbach's La vie parisienne (1985). When the staging was revived in 1987 he was the director, with a very positive touch. He combined writing and directing roles in his collaboration with Jonathan Miller on Bernstein's Candide, renewing his connection with Voltaire. Hugh Wheeler having died, Wells was also able to assist Bernstein in final revisions to the book, which Scottish Opera staged in 1988. Further adjustments were made for the final version recorded by the composer. Wells returned to Scottish Opera in translator role for The Merry Widow in 1989, and to Offenbach in 1995 for his ribald and stylish translation of La belle Hélène.

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