About this Recording
NA440312 - GROSSMITH, G. / GROSSMITH, W.: Diary of a Nobody (The) (Unabridged)
English 

George and Weedon Grossmith
The Diary of a Nobody

 

Although they are now principally remembered for The Diary of a Nobody, one of the classic English comic texts, George (1847–1912) and Weedon (1854–1919) Grossmith spent much of their working life in the theatre.

George began in more prosaic style as a police court reporter for The Times at Bow Street Magistrates Court with his father (also named George), but his natural affinity for comedy drew him inexorably to the stage. He developed a reputation for comic turns at private parties where he would entertain with sketches performed to his own piano accompaniment, especially satirising the business world. His great strength was his ability to improvise at will (a talent which later, when employed on stage, was to cause some of his fellow actors anxious moments as he took the scripts into uncharted territories).

His association with Richard D’Oyly Carte’s Savoy Theatre in the 1870s changed his life. He was noticed by W.S. Gilbert, who offered him the role of John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer. He took it, though with some misgivings, still unsure whether this kind of formal theatre was something he could do. He regarded himself as more an entertainer than an actor. However, he won the part by his exuberance and natural ability to charm an audience, and he became a star performer within the D’Oyly Carte company (despite the initial reluctance of D’Oyly Carte himself).

During a six-month run of The Sorcerer, Sullivan offered him the part of the Judge in Trial by Jury. This role confirmed George’s position in the company and his star status as a performer in the eyes of the public.

Gilbert and Sullivan went on to create many of their principal buffo roles for George Grossmith, including Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore, Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance, Reginald Bunthorne (the Oscar Wilde character) in Patience, the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, King Gama in Princess Ida, Ko-Ko in The Mikado and Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore. These came to be called ‘Grossmith roles’. Thus, as Gilbert and Sullivan would have written to his personal strengths, we now have a living tradition of what George Grossmith must have been like both on stage and as a person.

Interestingly, George’s own creative talents were not ignored by the company. His Cups and Saucers, a collection of musical sketches, was included in the D’Oyly Carte touring programmes; and he wrote the music for Arthur Law’s Uncle Samuel, the one-act curtain raiser that preceded Patience.

He was with D’Oyly Carte for two decades. However, illness intervened a week after the first performance of Ruddigore and he formally retired from the company in 1891. But after 20 years in the limelight, the lure of performance was too much. After recovering his health, George went on the road with his own show, which proved hugely popular. He even performed for Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. He came back to D’Oyly Carte in 1897 for the new role of King Ferdinand V of Vingolia in Alexander Mackenzie’s His Majesty, but he was not happy with the part and left after a handful of performances.

His son, George Grossmith junior, followed in his father’s footsteps as a popular entertainer, making his debut in Haste to a Wedding written by W.S. Gilbert with music by his father—though the show itself closed after 22 performances.

George Grossmith was a prolific entertainer, and wrote numerous operettas, nearly 100 musical sketches, and some 600 songs and piano pieces. He wrote two volumes of memoirs, The Reminiscences of a Society Clown (1888) and Piano and I (1910). Yet he is now principally remembered as the creator (with his brother Weedon) of one of the great characters of English comic fiction: Charles Pooter.

While George was developing his career with the Savoy Theatre, his younger brother Weedon was also demonstrating his talent on stage. He trained at the West London School of Art but had little commercial success. Like his brother, he had a natural ability as a humorist and developed a stage career, even playing with Sir Henry Irving. Also like his brother, he wrote several plays, including The Night of the Party and The Duffer. He eventually became manager of Terry’s Theatre. His irrepressible sense of careless humour is demonstrated by an existing photograph of himself sitting in a chair with a rather large lion cub on his lap. It was taken in an attempt to cheer up a friend who was ill - but it was certainly not without its dangers.

Pooter first appeared in the pages of Punch, and his Diary was expanded into book length for the first publication in 1892. It has never been out of print. Its many period references—the fashion for bicycling, the performance style of Henry Irving—are enlivened and coloured by the unforgettable characters, including Carrie, Lupin, Padge, Mr Gowing and, of course, the inimitable, accident-prone Mr Pooter himself.

Notes by Nicolas Soames

 

The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS catalogue

HOLST St Paul’s Suite
8.550823

Bournemouth Sinfonietta
Richard Studt, conductor

PARRY An English Suite
8.550331

Capella Istropolitana
Adrian Leaper, conductor

PARRY Lady Radnor’s Suite
8.550331

Capella Istropolitana
Adrian Leaper, conductor

Music programmed by Sarah Butcher


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