Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was a comic writer, dramatist and librettist.
W. S. Gilbert began his career as a civil service clerk and barrister but by 1861 he had turned to comic writing and illustration, becoming a contributor to Fun and Punch. He also contributed to literary reviews such as the Cornhill and Temple Bar. From 1866 he became a prolific writer of plays and burlesque but he is probably best known for his writing partnership with Arthur Sullivan on the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. In 1871 they enjoyed a modest success with their first collaboration Thespis for John Hollingshead's Gaiety Theatre. Trial by Jury, which opened at the Royalty Theatre on 25 March 1875 was also a success. However it was their production of HMS Pinafore in 1878 which established their celebrated partnership and drew large audiences. It was followed by The Pirates of Penzance (1879) and Patience (1881), the last mentioned a satire of the æsthetic movement in which the actor George Grossmith impersonated JW in the character of Bunthorne. The partnership continued into the 1890s and brought Gilbert and Sullivan lavish wealth.
Grove Music Online, http://www.grovemusic.com (accessed 5 August 2004); Dictionary of National Biography, on-line edition (accessed 5August 2004).