Death of a Covent Garden chief

Death of a Covent Garden chief


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2020

A small notice in the Times announced the death of Sir John Tooley, general director of the Royal Opera House from 1970 to 1988. He was David Webster’s deputy from 1955 and effectively took over the running of the house from the mid-1960s.

Always youthful looking, he was 95 at his death. The funeral will be private, with a service of thanksgiving once conditions permit.

There is a paywall obit in the Telegraph.

A full acount of his life and work can be found in my book Covent Garden: The Untold Story.

John was not an easy man to know, maintaining  the reserve of a former Guards officer behind an impassive facade. What I saw of him was a man without guile, or malice. He answered every question I put to him without evasion and never once told me a lie. In that respect, at least, he was a moral example to all opera administrators.

May he rest in peace.

photo: ROH



  • Has-been says:

    Sad news. JT was a Mensch. He dealt with every problem in a fair and upfront manner. He was always available, polite and with his favorite phrase ‘leave it with me’ left you feeling your question/problem was being considered. I will never forget his perseverance with both Muti and Abbado’s
    demands and bringing both to Covent Garden for Macbeth and Boris in difficult financial times. RIP JT

  • Nick2 says:

    I only had occasion to meet Sir John on three occasions in the decade after he had retired from the ROH. On one he was accompanying Plácido Domingo whom he had been able to persuade to sing an arena concert for a large international promoter. Over lunch he admitted to me that he felt slightly uncomfortable as no less that four major promoters paid him the same large retainers purely to try to get Domingo for concerts, and he was aware there was no possibility of his succeeding to fulfill his brief for more than one or two. Along with his pension, those early retirement years must have seen him earn considerably more than he did as General Director of the ROH.

    He enjoyed both major successes and failures at the ROH. Despite all the problems facing the House, though, he kept it on a steady course, unlike his immediate successor.

    He was indeed a perfect gentleman and it was a pleasure to work albeit briefly with him. RIP!

  • Dalledu Alletre says:

    He led the building expansion, first back to James Street, later south into the decrepit Floral Hall.

    I still remember the news conference. 1979?

  • erich says:

    A true gentleman who always exuded a sense of calm and competence. Rest in peace.