Composer best known for his musical ‘The Boy Friend’

Sandy Wilson: May 19th, 1924 – August 27th, 2014

The composer and lyricist Sandy Wilson, who has died aged 90, achieved his greatest success while still in his 20s – and it was a very considerable success indeed. In the 1950s, The Boy Friend ran for more than five years at Wyndham's theatre in London and spent more than a year on Broadway. When it opened in the West End, in January 1954, it was revolutionary, a totally new and different kind of musical.

Big American shows such as Oklahoma!, Annie Get Your Gun and Carousel had dominated musical theatre for years. They were big and brash, full of women in gingham dresses and men in big hats chewing cigars. Here came a show that was a throwback to the flappers of the roaring 20s. Young women were seen with flattened chests and cloche hats; young men wore bell-bottomed trousers and all but said, "Anyone for tennis?" Set in a finishing school in the south of France, The Boy Friend revolved around the romance of a wealthy boy and girl who are each attempting to keep their family's fortune a secret.

When the show opened in New York in September 1954, its startlingly brilliant leading lady was Julie Andrews, making her Broadway debut. It was Wilson's plangent, plaintive songs, such as I Could Be Happy With You and A Room in Bloomsbury that really made the show. The tunes became standards, and for a time everyone wanted to do the charleston: the packed audiences found some kind of relief from postwar austerity in this romantic tribute to a more lighthearted age. Hugh Leonard proclaimed it to be "as English as muffins and monocles". 'Idol' Wilson was born in Sale, Cheshire, the son of George and Caroline (née Humphrey). He was educated at Elstree preparatory school, in Berkshire, Harrow school and Oriel College, Oxford, where he gained an English degree.

He had first thought about writing The Boy Friend while he was at Oxford, where he was declared an "idol" in the university's magazine, Isis, in 1947. He produced and wrote a mass of student shows, and in his mid-20s contributed to the West End revues Slings and Arrows and Oranges and Lemons.


While The Boy Friend was still running, two more of his shows opened in London. He adapted Ronald Firbank's novel Valmouth, set in an Edwardian spa, for a production that picked up good reviews, but a sequel to The Boy Friend entitled Divorce Me, Darling! was judged by Bernard Levin to be "relentlessly incomprehensible". Anniversary In 1970, The Boy Friend ran again for three months on Broadway with Judy Carne and then became a much-hyped film, directed by Ken Russell and starring Twiggy.

In 1994, in an Observer interview marking a 40th anniversary production of The Boy Friend at the Players', he was asked what he thought of contemporary popular music. "I've hated it since 1950," he replied. "Since rock'n'roll I've turned a deaf ear."

Wilson is survived by his partner, Chak Yui.