The Secrets of H.M.S. Pinafore

On March 6, 2014, Prof. Ralph MacPhail, Jr., Professor emeritus of Theatre, Bridgewater College of Virginia, presented a lecture at the University of Chicago on The Secrets of H.M.S. Pinafore. During the course of a lively lecture, interspersed by three songs from the production, and well received by a hearty crowd of community and University members, “secrets were shared”:

  • Gilbert’s supposed adaptation of H.M.S. Pinafore for American audiences as U.S.S. Pinafore
  • That a 1960s critic accused the very proper Gilbert of ribaldry by creating “a slightly smudged Pinafore” because of connotations associated with the contents of Little Buttercup’s basket
  • The dearth of primary-source evidence that Arthur Sullivan really suggested changing Gilbert’s original title, H.M.S. Semaphore, to H.M.S. Pinafore
  • The significance of Sir Joseph Porter’s name and order of knighthood, the cabinet minister on whom the character was based, and why his Prime Minister Disraeli may have taken offense
  • The class distinctions between Captain Corcoran and Sir Joseph often missed by American audiences.

Selected Online G&S Resources
The Premier Light Opera G&S Archive:  an incredible “first stop.”  This is a convenient site containing texts, images, history, music, finding guides, links to other sites of Gilbert & Sullivan interest, and other delights.
GS Opera: information on forthcoming productions, organizations, production specialists, and Harry Benford’s online Gilbert & Sullivan Lexicon
The Gilbert, the Sullivan, and the Gilbert & Sullivan Societies in the U.K.
Savoynet: for information on the Savoynet online Google, Facebook & Performing Groups—devoted to all subjects of interest to Savoyards
A site promoting the annual U.K. Festival (held in Harrogate, England), a G&S OperaTV subscription service, and other things G&S.
The Savoyaires, our fellow G&S enthusiasts in Evanston, Illinois
Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works), north suburban Chicago
The Gilbert & Sullivan Austin

*Annotated with University of Chicago Library Call Numbers for copies in its Regenstein and Mansueto Library collections.

Allen, Reginald. “‘Pinafore’s’ First 100 Years.” New York Times 9 July 1978: D13, 22.

Archer, William, Recorded by. “Real Conversations: Conversation V. With Mr. W. S. Gilbert.” Critic 24:3 (1901), 240-50. [Mansueto, AP2.C92]

Benford, Harry. The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon In Which Is Gilded the Philosophic Pill. 3rd Edition. Houston: Queensbury P, 1999. [URL:, accessed 2014-02-25]

Bradley, Ian. “Gilbert & Sullivan and the Victorian Age.” History Today 31:9 (1981), 17-20. [Mansueto, D1.H68]

—. Lost Chords and Christian Soldiers. London: SCM P, 2013.

—. “‘When I first put this Uniform 0n’: Sullivan’s upbringing in the Chapel Royal.” The Magic that is Gilbert & Sullivan. Ed. Ian G. Smith. Halifax: Gilbert & Sullivan Festivals, 2013. 24-29.

Cellier, François, and Cunningham Bridgeman. Gilbert, Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte: Reminiscences of the Savoy and the Savoyards. London: Pitman, 1927. [Regenstein, ML410.S94C4]

Cookson, David. “Gilbert as 19th Century Dramatist Looked at Through 21st Century Eyes.” The Magic that is Gilbert & Sullivan. Ed. Ian G. Smith. Halifax: Gilbert & Sullivan Festivals, 2013. 108-11.

Dibdin, Charles. The Songs of Charles Dibdin. London: How & Parsons, 1843. [Regenstein, PR4549.D3 1842; [URL-1842 ed.:, accessed 2014-02-25]

Gilbert, W. S. H.M.S. Pinafore. The Savoy Operas: I. London: Oxford UP, 1962. [Regenstein, PR4715.G4A1 1962]

Hayes, Peter L. “A Slightly Smudged Pinafore.” Journal of Popular Culture. II:4 (1969): [665]-78. [Mansueto, AP2.J825]

Hyder, William. “H.M.S. Pinafore in American Waters: Reflections, Corrections, and a Startling Revelation.” Papers, Presentations and Patter: A Savoyards’ Symposium. Ed. Ralph MacPhail, Jr. York, PA: The International Gilbert & Sullivan Association, 2012. 185-98.

Miller, Tom. “One hundred years of Gilbert and Sullivan.” Illustrated London News Christmas Number 1977: 28-29, 31-32. [Mansueto, f AP2.I29]

“Sala, George Augustus Henry.” Wikipedia. 8 Jan. 2014. [URL: George_Augustus_Henry_Sala, accessed 2014-02-25]

“Savoy Memories: Interesting Speech by Mr. W. S. Gilbert.” Daily Telegraph 31 December 1906: 12. [Reprinted in The Gilbert and Sullivan book by Leslie Baily. London, Spring Books, page 388, Regenstein, ML410.S94B19]

Wilson, Fredric Woodbridge. “Gilbert and Sullivan in America.” Copyright © 1992, 2000 by Fredric Woodbridge Wilson. TS. [Also printed in Nineteenth century, Victorian Society in America, Volume 10, No. 10 (Spring 1990), Mansueto, N6450.N71]


Ralph MacPhail, Jr., is Professor emeritus of Theatre, Bridgewater College of Virginia, where he taught and directed for 33 years. Still residing in Bridgewater “in retirement,” he serves as Artistic Director of the Gilbert & Sullivan Austin, and keeps an active schedule of speaking on, writing about, and directing the Savoy operas. An avid collector of anything related to G&S, he also enjoys corresponding with fellow Savoyards.


Department of Music, Nicholson Center for British Studies, and Theatre and Performing Studies at the University of Chicago; and the David Currie Memorial Fund of the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company.