Born Julian Penkivil on 28 May 1930 in London, Slade originally intended to become an actor. He studied at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he wrote two musical plays, Bang Goes the Meringue and Lady May. He joined the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 1951 and appeared in small roles at the rep theatre, becoming the venue’s resident music director. While at Bristol, he wrote two musicals, Christmas in King Street and The Merry Gentleman, and incidental music for a staging of Two Gentlemen of Verona.
He also wrote the score for Sheridan's operetta The Duenna, incidental music for a Stratford production of The Merchant of Venice, and for a television production of The Comedy of Errors (later staged at the Arts Theatre).
In 1954, at the age of just 24, Slade wrote Salad Days with Dorothy Reynolds (pictured with a young Slade) as a summer musical for the Bristol Old Vic's resident company. It took them six weeks to write and was expected to run for just three weeks.
Instead, the show became a long-running success, transferring to the West End’s Vaudeville Theatre for 2,288 performances. It was subsequently seen on Broadway, produced all over the world and enjoyed West End revivals in 1976 and 1996 to mark its 20th and 40th anniversaries. There were also numerous television and radio productions. Two years ago, impresario Cameron Mackintosh presented a gala concert evening at Bristol Old Vic in honour of the 50th anniversary of Salad Days, which was Mackintosh’s early inspiration for a career producing theatre (See News, 8 Jun 2004).
Slade’s other collaborations with Reynolds included Free as Air, Follow That Girl, Hooray for Daisy!, and Wildest Dreams.
In 1962 Slade wrote the music for a production of Thackeray's Vanity Fair with Alan Pryce-Jones and Robin Miller. His later musicals include Nutmeg and Ginger, The Pursuit of Love, Out of Bounds and Trelawny. He composed the music for productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, and Now We Are Sixty, based on the works of AA Milne.
The composer also wrote a book for children, Nibble the Squirrel, which was published in 1946.
Julian Slade died on 17 June 2006 from cancer. He is survived by his sister Pauline, and brothers Adrian and Christopher.
- by Caroline Ansdell