Dick Bagwell

August 16, 1936 – September 6, 2020

Dick Bagwell
Dick Bagwell

by Gillian Bagwell

Richard Herbold Bagwell died at home on with loved ones by his side following a heart attack a few days earlier.

Dick was a musician, theatre artist, writer, and educator with a BA in Theatre from Northwestern and an MA in Theatre from Penn State. He taught speech and drama at the Central YMCA College in Chicago and at Holy Names University in Oakland. He worked as a performer, director, administrator, and technician at professional theatres including San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Actors Equity Theatre of New York, Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland, and Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He enjoyed Scottish and English country dance and danced with morris teams, most recently Deer Creek, until a stroke in September 2014 left him hemiplegic.

As the educational director for the Living History Centre from 1973 to 1979, Dick developed educational programs that continued long after his association with the Faire had ended, including Workshop in the Woods, which brought tens of thousands of school kids to the Faire site during the week to try out life in Elizabethan England.

He wrote a vast amount of material for the LHC and the Faire, including scripts, marketing copy, grant proposals, and information for performers, and he created, edited, and wrote much of the contents of the New Merrye News & Tidings newsletter.

Following Dr. Robert Easton’s lecture shortly before the 1975 Southern Faire on how English sounded in sixteenth-century England, Dick wrote Poor Richard’s Guide to the Queen’s Tongue: The Faire Person’s Elizabethan Bag and BFA [Basic Faire Accent] Pronunciation Guide, which included Poor Richard’s Three Steps to Faire Elizabethan (Understand the Elizabethan Point of View Toward Language, Memorize Your “Elizabethan Bag,” and Practice—Out Loud!) as well as helpful sections on topics including Syntax and Grammar; “You” or “Thou”?; Titles, Names, and Greetings; Phrases and Expressions; Country Matters; and Invective and Abuse.

He performed in the streets of the Faire as Will Kemp, playing the pipe and tabor and dancing his merry jig from London to Norwich and, and on stage as Singing Simpkin in the Elizabethan stage jig he wrote.

Dick’s most well-known contribution to the world of the faires is the Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Review, which he created for the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in 1974. It was an instant hit and has remained one of the most popular entertainments at Dickens, playing to packed houses twice a day.

The entire Bagwell family was involved with the Faires for many years. Dick’s then-wife, Beth Bagwell, who died in 2006, served as librarian for the Living History Centre and ran the information booths at Dickens and the Renaissance Faire. Gillian performed onstage and in the streets in a variety of roles, she and Rachel were founding members of Clan Colin, and Jennifer appeared in an early panto at Dickens, among other things. Jennifer also met her husband at Dickens. He was in the navy and, like many active-duty service members, attended the Fair at no charge. He danced with Jennifer at Fezziwig’s and impressed her by escorting her off the dance floor at the end of their turn.

After Dick left the Living History Centre, he spent years performing at fairs and festivals across the US as Merry Will Kemp and the Pied Piper.

In a life lived fully, Dick’s other notable accomplishments include marching with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama in 1965; taking his one-man show Shakespeare’s Clown to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1982; in 1988, publishing his Pipe & Tabor Tutor, a Self-Teaching Method, still the definitive instruction manual; starring as Thomas Sly in the Elizabethan Christmas Revels in Oakland in 2003 and Portland in 2004; and in 2014, directing his chamber opera, To Hell with Heroes, which features Osama bin Laden welcoming George W. Bush to hell, for San Francisco’s Goat Hall Productions.

Dick was keenly interested in art and architecture. He was a member of the Berkeley City Club and for several years he gave tours and organized the docent program for the Berkeley City Club Conservancy, which preserves Julia Morgan’s landmark building.

Besides his daughters, Dick leaves many friends and family members and his beloved cat, Tiffany.

Friends have asked about making donations in Dick’s name. There is no need to do so, but if you’d like to honor his memory, please consider supporting the Berkeley City Club Conservancy.

Dick Bagwell was one of my earliest friends at Dickens Fair. We met in 1972, when Fair was at Army Street in SF. Dick was a piper, an actor, singer, dancer, composer, teacher, scholar – truly a multi- talented thespian. He was also a writer – but I didn’t find that out until a bit later.

I have a very clear memory of Dick picking up my husband John Turnipseed and me every Saturday & Sunday morning. He would pull up in his classic VW bus, with his wife Beth, and their three young daughters, plus his instruments (drums, and several different pipes & flutes), and drive us all to Fair. Once there, we all went off in different directions. At the end of the day, we would meet & he would drive us back to the East Bay, everyone talking about their day.

Dick had a vivid imagination, both in his Fair life and his “civilian” life. He was a composer who eagerly embraced new ideas – sometimes boldly going where few composers had gone before! One of his projects was a one-act chamber opera he wrote. He called it To Hell With Heroes. It was a fantasy for 2 singer/actors: Pres. Bush dies, goes to Heaven, and is greeted by Osama Bin Laden! (!!!) I didn’t get a chance to see it, but Dick showed me part of the score, which was impressive. He was very proud of it. (I was amazed at the very notion of including Osama Bin Laden at all! Dick’s creativity was staggering!)

One day in 1974, Dick mentioned a new project he was working on for Dickens Fair. He said it was going to be an adults-only show in the V& A, held at the end of the day. He asked me if I would play piano for it. Of course I said yes! He said he hadn’t decided the name yet – but he was thinking of calling it French Postcards. He worked very hard on the concept and the script. It premiered that season. The first cast featured Will Wood as Horatio Puddingforth, & Judy Kory as his wife, the ever faithful Letitia. Of course Postcards still lives on, and on, and on! The name Puddingforth became Ever’ard, and various details changed, but under Diana Young’s wonderful direction and marvelous ever-evolving scripts, Dick’s original vision remains alive and well, still entertaining and amusing audiences.

Sometimes in off-seasons, Phyllis would hire Dick for smaller shows. Dick would hire me, Annie Lore, Michael Parvin, and a handful of others. It would be almost like a little mini-Dickens Fair. So many good times! Dick had a vast wealth of knowledge about different styles of music, theatre, comedy, etc – and I could see why Phyllis trusted him to help put on those shows.
Dick was a vital presence at Dickens Fair for many years. And he was a good friend to me. I’m so glad I got to work with him as much as I did.

Ellen Hoffman

He was a brilliant innovator of extra-curricular classroom education: He created Workshop In The Woods at Northern Faire where I taught Commedia dell’ Arte.

Dick was so easy to work with. He always trusted me, just allowed me to do what I love to do best

He was a naughty playwright and director: He cast me as Mrs. Lucretia Puddingforth (pun intended) opposite Will Wood as Mr. Puddingforth, when he wrote and produced the first of many Naughty French Postcard shows.

One summer we hit the road for Kansas in his faded, red VW bus. Dick got us a gig teaching for an early Kansas City Renaissance\ Festival. I taught improv acting and history, while Dick taught English country dance, playing drum, tabor, and penny whistle and all with his droll sense of humor. His “students” just loved him!

When I retired, I flew north on visits to Dickens Fair. Dick gave me a room, fed me yummy breakfasts, drove me to fair. I miss this lovely generous man: his joking, his engaging, hearty laugh. He loved people, and we loved him.

Judy Kory aka Mad Sal (the first)