William Chappell (dancer)

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William Chappell
Born William Evelyn Chappell
(1907-09-27)27 September 1907
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England
Died 1 January 1994(1994-01-01) (aged 86)
Rye, East Sussex, England
Nationality British
Other names Billy Chappell
Occupation Dancer, ballet designer and director
Years active 1930s – 1970s
Known for Ballet designer

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.

Early life

Chappell was born in Wolverhampton, the son of theatrical manager Archie Chappell and his wife Edith Eva Clara Black (née Edith Blair-Staples).[1] After his parents separated, Chapell and his mother moved to Balham, London, where she pursued a career as a fashion journalist.[2] Edith's daughter by her first marriage, romantic novelist Hermina Black, Chappell's half-sister, was living nearby in Wandsworth.[3] 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.[2]

He did not take up dancing seriously until he was 17 when he studied under Marie Rambert,[4] whom he met through his friend Frederick Ashton.[2]



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.[4]


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.[4]

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[11]

He retired to his home in Rye and died there after a long illness.[4]


† 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)
  • 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)
  • Well Dearie: The Letters of Edward Burra, William Chappell, Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd, London (1985)

See also


  1. England Census, Worcestershire, Balsall Heath. The National Archives, 1911.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "William Chappell (1907-1994), Artist biography". www.tate.org.uk. Retrieved 14 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Edith Blair-Staples". bearalley.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved 14 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Brinson, Peter (4 January 1994). "Obituary: William Chappell". London: www.independent.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "An Intimate Revue at the Gate Studio Theatre". elvirabarney.wordpress.com. Retrieved 21 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 "Other works for William Chappell publisher=IMDb". Retrieved 21 April 2013. Missing pipe in: |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Edwards, Anne (1978). Vivien Leigh, A Biography (Biography). Coronet Books. ISBN 978-0-340-23024-4. Retrieved 25 July 2010.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "'Where's Charley?' Production, Synopsis, and Musical Numbers". Guidetomusicaltheatre.com, accessed 22 February 2011
  9. "Production Archive: Chichester Festival Theatre". cft.org.uk. Chichester Festival Theatre. Archived from the original on 10 June 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Opening Night! Opera & Oratorio Premieres - The Violins of Saint-Jacques". Stanford University Libraries. Retrieved 24 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 "William Chappell (I) (1908–1994)". IMDb. Retrieved 11 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Schumann, Howard. "Trial and Error". www.cinescene.com. Retrieved 12 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), Technical Crew". Cursum Perficio. Retrieved 12 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Reid, John Howard (30 April 2006). Hollywood Movie Musicals. Lulu.com. p. 119. ISBN 1-41169-762-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "The Winslow Boy, Production Team". www.britmovie.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Winslow Boy, The (1948)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 12 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "List of Original Documents held in the Archive as of 1st February 2000". Alexandra Palace Television Society. Retrieved 12 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 Penman, Robert (1993). Jordan, Stephanie and Allen, Dave (ed.). 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Davis, Janet Rowson (1983). Dance Chronicle. Vol 5, No. 3, Ballet on British television, 1933-1939. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. pp. 245–304.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links