‘The Ascent of Wilberforce III’ (1981)

‘The Ascent of Wilberforce III’ is a musical with Music by Maxwell Hutchinson and Book & Lyrics by Judge Smith. It was first produced at the Traverse Theater, Edinburgh, from 4th to 27th of June, 1981. Later that year, the show was produced at the Lyric Theater, Hammersmith, from 30th of Dec 1981 to 30th of Jan 1982.

The show follows the (fictional) 1929 League of Nations expedition to the unclimbed and legend-haunted Himalayan peak of Wilberforce III, ‘the White Hell of Ifish Oderabad’. Led by wealthy socialist peer, Lord Melior, it is to be the first international expedition to be conducted in Esperanto, a decision which is to have immediate and disastrous consequences. It contains songs about Madame Blavatski and Aleister Crowley, features a singing Yeti, a Secret Chief, and a long argument about British dance bands conducted in an impenetrable Himalayan dialect. Oh yes, and by the end almost everybody dies. The show also featured the original appearance, performed by the late Godfrey Jackman, of the the song ‘Four Pails of Water and a Bagful of Salts’, perhaps better known as ‘Four Pails’, as recorded and performed by Peter Hammill.

Judge writes: Max and I were in our mid-thirties when we wrote ‘Wilberforce’. Coming back to it in 2017 to prepare it for this website, I was surprised at how entertaining I still found it. It made me laugh a lot, and the songs are pretty irresistible. As writers of stage musicals, I think ‘Wilberforce’ shows us at the top of our game.


Below you will find a link to the ‘THE ASCENT OF WILBERFORCE III’: SCRIPT’. This opens a .pdf file with a full and detailed stage script of the show. The title of each musical number is a link to an archive recording of that song. We suggest that that you open this link in a new tab (‘Right Click’ for Windows devices) and then click on the original tab so that you can follow the script as you hear the music.

THE ASCENT OF  WILBERFORCE III  A  314 Kb .pdf file with links to an archive recording of every song (except for some brief reprises, towards the end of the show, of earlier numbers.)


The recordings come from three sources:-

  • An unofficial, ‘bootleg’ recording of a performance at the Lyric Theatre in 1982. The musicians were Robert Pettigrew, keyboards, and Johnny Phillips, guitar. The songs are sung by members of the cast: Godfrey Jackman, Peter Harding, Paul Dalton, Carole Harrison and Bill Bradley.
  • A similar ‘bootleg’ recording of the earlier, Traverse Theatre production in which musicians and cast were the same, with Gordon Sanderson taking the place of Bill Bradley.
  • Where these two sources do not cover the song in question satisfactorily, we have used tapes made by the Composer, Maxwell Hutchinson, and the Author, Judge Smith. These simple, crude recordings were made to teach the music to the musicians who would be playing for the show.

The quality of the recording, and of the performances, is distinctly variable throughout, but the intention is to provide as complete a record as possible of a musical unlike any other.

THE WILBERFORCE GALLERY: A gallery of photographs from the first and second production.