George Humphrey Wolferstan Rylands, known as 'Dadie', was born on 23 Oct. 1902 at Tockington, near Bristol. His father was an estate agent in Gloucestershire, and his mother was the daughter of a master at Marlborough. Dadie was educated at Eton, where he was the King's Scholar and directed the school's productions of 'Twelfth Night' and 'A Winter's Tale'. He came up to King's in 1921 early, at the insistence of the Provost, J. T. Sheppard, to perform in a production of 'Oresteia'. He studied for the Classics tripos in his first year, then transferred to the English course, studying under F. L. Lucas and gaining a first in 1924.
Dadie was elected to the Apostles on the recommendation of John Maynard Keynes, and through him became friends with members of the Bloomsbury group. He worked for Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press for a few months while completing his thesis. Noel Annan wrote that Dadie 'possessed a genius for friendship', and he loved to entertain in his rooms at King's.
In 1927, Dadie was elected to a Fellowship at King's. His dissertation, 'Words and Poetry', was published by the Hogarth Press in 1928. He held a number of posts within the College: before the war he was Dean and steward; from 1939 he was assistant bursar, praelector and the only director of studies during the war. Between 1935 and 1962 he was a University Lecturer in English Literature, and also held at various times the posts of assistant tutor, College Lecturer and Director of Studies in English.
Dadie directed the Marlowe Dramatic Society's productions between 1929 and the 1960s, acting himself in numerous productions. It was with the Marlowe Society that he did his most notable productions and influenced greatly the speaking of Shakespearian verse in English theatre. Over 8 years from 1957 he recorded the complete works of Shakespeare, with his friends Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud and others, including members of the Marlowe Society. He was also chairman of the Apollo Society, formed in 1943 to take programmes of English verse and chamber music to provincial theatres across England during the war years, and he prepared and performed in many of their programmes.
The Cambridge Arts Theatre opened in 1936, and Dadie was involved from the early days. When Keynes died in 1946, he became the Chairman, a post which he retained until 1982. Dadie was a generous patron and fundraiser for the Arts Theatre. He was also a council member of the Royal College of Dramatic Art and a governor of the Old Vic for many years.
CBE for services to Shakespearian studies, 1961
Honorary D. Litt, University of Cambridge, 1976
Companion of Honour, 1987.
For further biographical information on G. H. W. Rylands, the reader is referred to the following works:
- Peter Jones: 'George Humphrey Wolferstan Rylands 1902-99: A memoir', containing contributions by Noel Annan, John Barton, Frances Partridge, Sir Steven Runciman and others (King's College, Cambridge, 2000)
- Michael Burrell: 'Dadie: George Rylands' in 'Charleston Magazine' no. 13, Spring/Summer 1996, pp. 30-35;
- Milo Keynes: 'Dadie Rylands 1902-1999' in 'Charleston Magazine' no. 19, Spring/Summer 1999, pp. 32-38;
- Alan and Veronica Palmer: 'Who's Who in Bloomsbury' (Harvester Press: Brighton, 1987), pp. 141-142.
The collection contains G. H. W. Rylands' published and unpublished writings, the scripts of broadcasts, correspondence, and programmes and other papers relating to theatrical productions.
The papers of G. H. W. Rylands were transferred as a gift to the Archive Centre at various points in the 1980s and 1990s. The catalogue was completed by Jacky Cox in October 1999. With various letters subsequently found in furniture and books, an updated version was produced in September 2001.