If you have seen the film “Topsy Turvy”, you will recall that George Grossmith was the lead comic who created the role of Ko-Ko in The Mikado. Before that, he had created the comic leads in The Sorcerer, HMS Pinafore, the Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe and Princess Ida. After that, he would do the same for Ruddigore and The Yeomen of the Guard. Then he broke with the D’Oyly-Carte Company and is now a fond memory in the history of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.
So it is with special interest that I listened to two discs of songs that “GG” was famous for when he performed in other than G&S. A British company aptly named Divine Art has issued “A Society Clown – The Songs of George Grossmith” (24105) and “The Grossmith Legacy” (24109), holding between them 45 of the kinds of songs that show the Victorian and Edwardian ages at their most humorous. Only three of them are G&S. Interestingly enough, “My Name is John Wellington Wells” is sung in a “lower class” accent, which might have been used in the original. The other two are the only recordings of both stanzas of the duet that opens Act II of Ruddigore and of Ruthven’s patter song later in the act, “Henceforth all the Crimes” (G&S historians take note). The rest are bits that range form “well, maybe this was funny back then” to very funny indeed. Since human nature does not change, human foibles never change either.
Some of the titles are “His Nose was on the Mantelpiece”, “I’m tired of the Moon , my Love and Myself”, “How I became a Detective”, “The Muddle-Puddle Porter”, “Keep the Baby warm, Mother” and “Bertie the Bounder”. You can just guess what the words are like!
On both discs there is a baritone named Leon Berger as Grossmith and a pianist named Selwyn Tillett as accompanist. Since I have no idea of what the original man sounded like, I cannot comment on style. But it all seems to come from the same mold as the humorous G&S songs – sprightly tunes, funny lyrics and the need for excellent enunciation. Her, Berger excels. Listening to one of these recordings in my car, I found very few words I could not quite catch, a high recommendation indeed in these days of singers whose words are mush and not worth hearing to begin with.
All of this material originally appeared on tapes issued by the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society. The booklets give a good deal of information about the songs, but the lyrics are not included. Great fun from a bygone age when you could keep a stiff upper lip and still laugh.
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