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Grossmith, George(i)locked

  • Leon Berger

(b London, Dec 9, 1847; d Folkestone, March 1, 1912). English actor, singer, composer and writer, father of George Grossmith. He was a courtroom reporter and comic recitalist, like his father of the same name, before becoming a drawing-room entertainer: he was sometimes called ‘G.G. II’, to distinguish him from his father, or ‘G.G.’. He began a 12-year association with the Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy operas when he made his stage début in the title role of The Sorcerer in 1877. Of slight stature, with excellent diction, dapper footwork and a light comic touch, he created what became known as the patter parts or the ‘Grossmith roles’. In 1889 he resumed his lucrative Humorous and Musical Recitals, touring in England and America.

According to contemporary accounts he was not much of a singer, but his own songs display a wider tessitura than the Gilbert and Sullivan repertory suggests. He was the author of and often a performer in eight operettas, nearly 100 musical sketches and some 400 songs and piano pieces. This prolific song output was mostly in a patter style, with an infectious melody and a syllabic setting for fast delivery: a third of them were published and survive, but his manuscripts along with his performing librettos from the Savoy operas were destroyed in World War II. His songs are couched in quotidian detail: London streets and their surly cab drivers and bus conductors, seedy lodging houses, obstreperous babies, and fashionable dances as in See me dance the polka and See me reverse. They especially describe the trials of the entertainer, and they parody popular genres such as the revivalist hymn and coon songs and also the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. His persona was often that of the lover-manqué, deflating romantic aspiration, and the same quirky observations of suburban hopes and frustrations informed the fictional character of Charles Pooter, whose spoof diary, co-written with Grossmith’s brother, the actor Weedon Grossmith, was serialized in Punch and published as The Diary of a Nobody (New York and London, 1892/R; many later editions).

Grossmith’s last three stage appearances, in His Excellency (1894), His Majesty (1897) and The Gay Pretenders (1900, with both book and lyrics by his son), failed to capture the public taste and, through a combination of illness, exhaustion and nervousness, he retired.

Works

(selective list)

Operettas

Cups and Saucers (G. Grossmith), 1876

Uncle Samuel (A. Law), 1881

Mr Guffin’s Elopement (Law), 1882

A Peculiar Case (Law), 1884

The Great Taykin (Law), 1885

The Real Case of Hide and Seekyll (Grossmith), 1886

Haste to the Wedding (W.S. Gilbert), 1892

Castle Bang (Grossmith), 1894

Songs

The Gay Photographer (Grossmith), 1870

I am so volatile (Grossmith), 1871

The Muddle-Puddle Porter, 1877

An Awful Little Scrub, 1880

The Speaker’s Eye, 1882

The Bus Conductor’s Song, 1883

How I Became an Actor, 1883

See me reverse, 1884

The Lost Key, 1885

See me dance the polka, 1886

The Happy Fatherland, 1887

Thou, of My Thou, 1889

The French Verbs, 1890

Go on talking – don’t mind me!, 1892

I don’t mind flies, 1892

The Society Nigger, 1892

The Baby on the Shore, 1893

Johnnie at the Gaiety, 1895

Tommy’s First Love, 1897

The Happy Old Days at Peckham, 1903

Bibliography

  • G. Grossmith: A Society Clown (Bristol and London, 1888)
  • G. Grossmith: The Geo. Grossmith Birthday Book: Being a Collection of Quotations from his Original Works – Musical and Otherwise (Bristol, 1904)
  • G. Grossmith: Piano and I (Bristol and London, 1910)
  • W. Grossmith: From Studio to Stage (London, 1913) [autobiography]
  • T. Joseph: George Grossmith: a Biography of a Savoyard (Bristol, 1982)