William Chappell (dancer)

William Chappell (27 September 1907  1 January 1994) was a British dancer, ballet designer and director. He is most noted for his designs for more than 40 ballets or revues, including many of the early works of Sir Frederick Ashton and Dame Ninette de Valois.

William Chappell
Duncan Grant with the choreographer Frederick Ashton, and ballet dancers Lydia Lopokova and Billy Chappell
William Evelyn Chappell

(1907-09-27)27 September 1907
Died1 January 1994(1994-01-01) (aged 86)
Rye, East Sussex, England
Other namesBilly Chappell
OccupationDancer, ballet designer and director
Years active1930s  1970s
Known forBallet designer

Early life

Chappell was born in Wolverhampton, the son of theatrical manager Archibald Chappell and his wife Edith Eva Clara Black (née Edith Blair-Staples). Edith, the daughter of an army officer, was raised in Ceylon and India; in pursuing a career in repertory acting, she moved away from her upper-middle-class roots and married twice to fellow actors, by the first of whom she had a daughter, Hermina, the second time being to Archibald Chappell, by whom she had two daughters, Dorothea and Honor, followed by Billy. Chappell was acutely aware of his 'déclassé origins': whereas his mother's brother had maintained a conventional upper-middle-class life, being a tea-planter in Ceylon and able to provide his son, Patrick (who was close to Billy and spent time with his aunt's family in school vacations) with a public school and Oxford education, Chappell studied at Balham Grammar School.[1]

[2] After his father deserted the family when he was still a baby, Chappell and his mother moved to Balham, London, where she pursued a career as a fashion journalist.[3] Edith's daughter by her first marriage, romantic novelist Hermina Black, Chappell's half-sister, was living nearby in Wandsworth.[4] Chappell studied at the Chelsea School of Art where aged 14 he met fellow students Edward Burra and Barbara Ker-Seymer forging a lifelong friendship.[3]

He did not take up dancing seriously until he was 17 when he studied under Marie Rambert,[5] whom he met through his friend Frederick Ashton.[3]



For two years Chappell and Ashton toured Europe with Ida Rubenstein's company under the direction of Massine and Nijinska. Chappell returned to London in 1929 to dance with Rambert's Ballet Club (later Ballet Rambert), the Camargo Society and Ninette de Valois's Vic-Wells Ballet becoming one of the founding dancers of British ballet. Throughout the 1930s he created more than 40 roles for Rambert and Vic-Wells including:


His flair as a designer was encouraged by Rambert and for this he is best remembered. In parallel with his dance career he designed more than 40 ballets or revues, including many of the early works of Ashton and de Valois including:


His designs for Les Patineurs remained in the repertory and his conception for Les Rendezvous, although frequently revised, continues. He brought his vast experience of ballet design to opera, musical theatre, revues and drama, as both director and designer.[5]


Chappell has been credited as directing the following productions:

Libretto and production

Military service

At the outbreak of war in 1939, he was the first male dancer to join up, spending the duration of the war as a second lieutenant and entertaining the troops.[5]

In his book Studies in Ballet he describes an occasion in North Africa when his company had no transport and had to march to their destination about eighteen miles away. He used this story to illustrate the benefit of ballet training to legs and feet, allowing a middle-aged man to arrive fresher than men nearly half his age, who had only received the routine Army physical training. He also emphasised the importance of a long unbroken tradition and continuity in the training of male dancers. He was of the opinion that the war was a factor that had caused chaos in the Sadler's Wells Company and rendered valueless years of work. He contrasted the treatment of the ballet in England and in Russia, where male dancers were considered important enough in their work to be kept in it.

Personal life

He was invited by writer and lecturer on dance Peter Brinson to take part in a series of 8 lectures on 'The Ballet in Britain' at Oxford University where he entertained an academic audience with his thoughts on problems of ballet design. Other speakers included Dame Ninette de Valois director of the Royal Ballet, Marie Rambert, Arnold Haskell, William Cole and Douglas Kennedy[12]

He retired to his home in Rye and died there after a long illness.[5]


† This was the second broadcast of ballet on British television following the official start of the BBC high definition television service on 2 November 1936.


  • Studies in ballet, William Chappell, John Lehmann Ltd, London (1948) ISBN 978-1340914226
  • Fonteyn: Impressions of a ballerina, William Chappell, Rockcliff Publishing Corporation Ltd, London (1951)
  • Edward Burra: A painter remembered by his friend, William Chappell, HarperCollins Distribution Services (1982) ISBN 978-0233974507
  • Well Dearie!: The Letters of Edward Burra, William Chappell, Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd, London (1985) ISBN 978-0860920762

See also


  1. Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye, Jane Stevenson, Pimlico, 2008, pp. 39-40
  2. England Census, Worcestershire, Balsall Heath. The National Archives, 1911.
  3. "William Chappell (1907-1994), Artist biography". www.tate.org.uk. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  4. "Edith Blair-Staples". bearalley.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  5. Brinson, Peter (4 January 1994). "Obituary: William Chappell". London: www.independent.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  6. "An Intimate Revue at the Gate Studio Theatre". elvirabarney.wordpress.com. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  7. "Other works for William Chappell". IMDb. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  8. Edwards, Anne (1978). Vivien Leigh, A Biography (Biography). Coronet Books. ISBN 978-0-340-23024-4. Retrieved 25 July 2010.
  9. "'Where's Charley?' Production, Synopsis, and Musical Numbers". Guidetomusicaltheatre.com, accessed 22 February 2011
  10. "Production Archive: Chichester Festival Theatre". cft.org.uk. Chichester Festival Theatre. Archived from the original on 10 June 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  11. "Opening Night! Opera & Oratorio Premieres - The Violins of Saint-Jacques". Stanford University Libraries. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  12. de Valois, Ninette; Chappell, William; Rambert, Marie; Haskell, Arnold; Cole, William; Kennedy, Douglas (1962). Brinson, MA, Peter (ed.). The Ballet in Britain - Eight Oxford Lectures. London, New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  13. "William Chappell (I) (1908–1994)". IMDb. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  14. Schumann, Howard. "Trial and Error". www.cinescene.com. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  15. "The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), Technical Crew". Cursum Perficio. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  16. Reid, John Howard (30 April 2006). Hollywood Movie Musicals. Lulu.com. p. 119. ISBN 1-41169-762-6.
  17. "The Winslow Boy, Production Team". www.britmovie.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  18. "Winslow Boy, The (1948)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  19. "List of Original Documents held in the Archive as of 1st February 2000". Alexandra Palace Television Society. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  20. Penman, Robert (1993). Jordan, Stephanie; Allen, Dave (eds.). Parallel Lines: Media Representations of Dance (Arts Council Series), Chapter 5 Ballet and Contemporary Dance on British Television. London: John Libbey & Company Ltd. p. 105. ISBN 0-86196-371-7.
  21. Davis, Janet Rowson (1983). Dance Chronicle. Vol 5, No. 3, Ballet on British television, 1933-1939. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. pp. 245–304.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.