Sandy Wilson was born in Sale, Cheshire on 19 May 1924, and was educated at Elstree Preparatory School, Harrow and at Oriel College, Oxford. His name first came to notice as the writer of revue material. In 1948 he contributed to Slings and Arrows, and the following year wrote for Oranges and Lemons. He was sole author for See You Later (1951) and its sequel See You Again (1952). He made his debut in musical plays as the lyricist of Caprice (1950), with a book by Michael Pertwee and music by Geoffrey Wright. Caprice didn't get to London.
When the Players Theatre commissioned Wilson to write a divertissement, he came up with a pastiche of 1920s musical comedy, The Boy Friend. After some lengthening of the original show, and various efforts to get the show to the West End, the production opened to great acclaim at Wyndhams Theatre in January 1954, and ran for 2084 performances. The piece went on to world-wide success, various London revivals and a film version (loathed by Wilson) directed by Ken Russell.
The Buccaneer, an even smaller musical about a failing boys' comic being taken over by modern influences, was seen at the New Watergate in September 1953, but had to wait until 1955 before it reached the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and, briefly, the Apollo Theatre. Wilson's interest in the byways of English literature was perhaps first noted when Valmouth, adapted from the novel by Ronald Firbank, was seen in 1958. One of the most interesting, idiosyncratic and delicate British musicals of the twentieth century, Valmouth revealed Wilson as a superb craftsman, with an exceptionally refined quality. Although Valmouth did not achieve a long run, its reputation is legendary. Unfortunately, the Chichester Festival Theatre revival seen in 1982 was not altogether successful in conveying the strange atmosphere of the work. Valmouth represented a high point of achievement that Wilson found difficult to follow.
He contributed material to the Peter Cook revue Pieces of Eight in 1959, and in 1960 wrote some songs for a play by Robert Tanitch, Call It Love, at Wyndhams Theatre (the show was a disaster). In 1964 his sequel to The Boy Friend, Divorce Me, Darling!, in which the characters of the 1920s original were revisited ten years later, had a disappointing run. Its failure effectively marked the end of Wilson's London career. Everything that followed was unassuming but adventurous. Caviar to the general were two musicals adapted from off-beat novels: His Monkey Wife (1971) taken from John Collier's tale of the affection between a man and a female chimpanzee, and The Clapham Wonder (1978), taken from the eccentric novella The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns. The shows were briefly seen, respectively, at Hampstead Theatre Club and at Canterbury. An 'original' pantomime, Aladdin, showed the composer well below par at the Lyric, Hammersmith in 1979. In between came As Dorothy Parker Once Said and his one-man entertainment Sandy Wilson Thanks The Ladies.
Along the way Wilson had to abandon several works that remain unproduced, including Goodbye To Berlin (an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's novel), and musicals about Henry VIII and Amy Johnson. Another collaboration with Geoffrey Wright, Lydia Languish (from Sheridan's The Rivals) has not been seen. In January 1956 Wilson was confidently announcing the production of his musical My Royal Past, the big waltz number of which 'is to be sung by Jeanette Macdonald' but My Royal Past - like so much else from Wilson's hand - did not materialise.
There were forays into television (he was an ideal choice to write incidental music to some adaptations of P. G. Wodehouse). As an author, he has published the libretto of The Boy Friend with his own line drawings, two amusing 'animal' biographies (This Is Sylvia and The Poodle From Rome) and an excellent study of Ivor Novello. There was also a fascinating autobiography, I Could Be Happy.