H.G Pélissier - Edwardian composer, satirist and impresario, creator of the original Follies.
Courtesy of V&A Museum, London
H.G Pélissier aka Harry, was a satirist, composer and founder of The Follies. A fast-living, funny and flamboyant personality who composed over 60 songs and whose show packed the Apollo Theatre, London from 1908 to 1912. Banned by the Lord Chamberlain for his subversive satire he smashed the barrier between the worlds of Music Hall and respectable middle-class theatre.
At 37, he married, Fay Compton, the teenage daughter of an influential theatrical family only to die of cirrhosis a year later. It was 1913 and as the world prepared for the Great War, Pélissier’s Follies and music sank virtually without trace.
In 2018, H.G.Pélissier's scrapbooks, diaries, photo albums, other business documents and manuscripts were re-discovered by the writer and historian Anthony Binns. A meeting with Harry’s grandson, Jaudy Pélissier, revealed a considerable family archive that included personal letters and diaries and a complete folio of songs.
Harry on stage at The Apollo, 1910
Harry Pé lissier
Here is a brief entrée into a fantastic and sometimes misunderstood period - the decadent heyday of Edwardian musical comedy revue.
The first ever biography of H.G. Pélissier, satirist, composer and bohemian – one of the most famous Edwardians before WW1. A visionary forerunner of The Goons and Monty Python.
Recommended in The Times Writers' Favourite Books of 2022 by Quentin Letts.
Listen to some of the songs that Harry Pélissier composed. Enjoy a mix of the funny, satirical and the romantic. Lost songs that have magically stood the test of time.
Fay Compton met Harry when she was 14 and they married when she was 17. Tragically, she was only 19 when he died, leaving her with an infant son, Anthony. Throughout their romance and marriage, Harry sent her touching and funny letters and composed some of his most moving love songs.
Fay went on to become a great West End star and was the inspiration for Mary Rose, JM Barrie’s second most successful play after Peter Pan. Although married four times, Harry was clearly the love of her life.
She died in 1978, recognised as one of the best and funniest actresses of her generation.
The Follies were born in 1895 as a seaside pierrot show, a style of entertainment that was all the rage in the 1890s. As an ambitious 24-year-old owner / manager, Harry’s sights were set on London and by 1904 The Follies were packing the West End with their witty, anarchic and musical humour.
By this time they were six in total, three Pierrots and three Pierrettes, all talented actors and singers in their own right. Act 1 consisted of comedy sketches and songs whilst Act II was one of Harry’s infamous Potted Plays, a 40-minute satire on any successful West End play that took their fancy. Celebrated contemporary authors such as J.M.Barrie, Arthur Conan-Doyle and Hall Caine were all fearful of his work, as well as artists such as Beerbohm Tree and Maud Allan.