William Henry Bell

Jump to navigation Jump to search

William Henry Bell (1873-1946). Composer, organist, violinist, director/producer, teacher.

Affectionally nick-named ‘Daddy Bell’ An important influence on the development of formal theatre training in the country.


Born in St Albans, England in 1873.

Bell was educated at St Alban's Grammar School, then studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Frederick Corder, Charles Stanford and others.

Died in Gordon’s Bay, 1946.


He was appointed organist of St Alban's Cathedral in 1893 and was later organist of All Saints Church in London. He was made professor of harmony and counterpoint at the Royal Academy of Music in 1903. His works were performed in these years by leading conductors such as Henry Wood, Thomas Beecham, Hans Richter and Arthur Nikisch.

Bell travelled to Cape Town to take up role of Professor in and first director of the South African College of Music (later the Faculty of Music at the University of Cape Town)(1912-1934). Made dramatic studies part of music training.

Prime mover to obtain, and first general director (1931-1934) of, the University of Cape Town's Little Theatre, which opened in 1931. He helped open up the venue for “guest performances” by the amateur societies of Cape Town in dire need of suitable venues.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Besides his critical role in the South African College of Music and the Little Theatre, he was an active member of the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society, instrumental beginning the UCT Ballet School (bringing Dulcie Howes back to South Africa to run it) and in founding of the UCT Drama Department (19*-) . [TH, JH]

As director

Bell directed several plays at Stal Plein Hotel, including a pre-1931 production of Everyman.

As composer

Bell composed twelve operas (often in one act), including:

His Japanese-inspired operas include:


Du Toit, P.J., 1988.

Inskip, Donald P., 1972.

Binge, 1969.

Wayne Muller. 2018. A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). Unpublished PhD thesis.

“South African College of Music”. University of Cape Town. https://humanities.uct.ac.za/college-music/history

“Bell, William Henry”. University of Pretoria. https://www.up.ac.za/sacomposers/article/2752604/bell-william-henry-

Claudia E. Jansen van Rensburg. 2017. "Perspectives on musical strategies of settlement and migration: Four case studies from the Western Cape, South Africa". Stellenbosch University. Unpublished PhD Thesis.

Hilde Roos. 2012. 'Indigenisation and history: how opera in South Africa became South African opera'. Acta Academica Supplementum. 2012(1).

Return to

Return to ESAT Personalities B

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to Main Page