"Everybody who knew him or saw him on the stage will remember Harry’s amazing personality, how attractive he was by reason of his gifts, how lovable by reason of himself, and who was I to be proof against his magnetism?"
Fay Compton, "Rosemary" 1926
Fay aged 18
Research reveals that it seems probable Fay first met Harry in 1909 at the age of 14. Later that year, while she was still at boarding school, they began an exchange of correspondence that was to last until 1913.
At first glance, it was the most unlikely of romances. Harry was a large, fast-living bohemian performer, Fay a petite, auburn-haired beauty still at school. Whilst she came from a celebrated theatrical family, her parents never knew about their secret letters, nor did they ever imagine she’d marry a man 20 years her senior.
Within months of leaving school Fay was a Folly, performing in the West End and engaged to Harry. They were married two days before her 17th birthday and within a year she gave birth to their son Anthony. Tragically, the marriage lasted only 24 months as the years of hard-living and hard-drinking caught up with Harry. He died of cirrhosis aged 38, leaving Fay a widow at the tender age of 19.
Fay kept 18 of Harry’s letters, a correspondence that was only discovered 108 years later. Although none of Fay’s letters to Harry survive, the collection shows a meeting of hearts from very early on. It was as if Harry instinctively knew that Fay was the person to save him from his demons.
By 1912, the paternalistic Harry of 1909 became Harry the child, begging for Fay to come and look after him as his illness starts to take control.
Fay married three more times after Harry died, but amongst her papers it was only Harry’s letters she kept.
Fay & Anthony, 1912
© JG Pélissier
The first ever biography of H.G. Pélissier, satirist, composer and bohemian – one of the most famous Edwardians before WW1. who was A visionary forerunner of The Goons and Monty Python and the first of Fay Compton's four husbands.
Recommended in The Times Writers' Favourite Books of 2022 by Quentin Letts.
Harry's Letter, 1909
The Story of a Bingie,1912
“Harry lived and breathed music; when not rehearsing, writing, designing, acting, or at work on business management, he was composing. It was a dreadful pity that so much of a really high order that he created was lost for lack of time to write it down; the constant demand of the ever changing Folly bills made it practically impossible for him to do more than provide for or the quartettes and incidental music for the potted plays and burlesques.”