Henry Lytton's career with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company spanned fifty years. Throughout the fifteen post-war years until his retirement in 1934, he enjoyed a dominance in the Company and a hold on the affection of the public - shared to a considerable extent with Bertha Lewis - such that older lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan think inevitably of the great days of Lytton.
He wrote two books of memoirs, one of which was called "The Secrets of a Savoyard". Was one of those secrets the astonishing fact that this mainstay for 26 years of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company could not read a note of music? Or that, without the devotion of his wife, he might never have soared to the top?
Certainty she was a woman in a thousand, for not only did she introduce her husband to Richard D'Oyly Carte, but she would play his songs over and over again until he knew them by heart.
Henry Lytton's real name was Jones, and he was the son of a London jeweller. Born in Kensington on January 3, l865 - he always did his best to pretend the date was 1867 - he was educated at St. Mark's School, Chelsea, where he entered with enthusiasm into amateur theatricals.
The rest of the curriculum does not seem to have interested him and, at an early age, he ran away from school to go on the stage. This was followed by the usual struggle for existence, but young Jones was not to be easily defeated and, by the time he was seventeen, he had made his first London appearance. This was at the Philharmonic, Islington, in "The Obstinate Bretons". It proved an exceptionally lucky engagement, for Lonie Webber happened to be in the cast, and it was she who, two years later, became his wife.
After she had effected the introduction to Richard D'Oyly Carte, Jones was taken on as a member of the chorus in "Princess Ida" at the Royalty, Glasgow, in February, 1884.
Believing his surname to be a bar to progress, he decided to adopt his wife's stage name of Henri, and was so billed when he appeared on tour with the London Comedy and Operetta Company.
In 1887 came an important turn in his fortunes when he was re-engaged by D'Oyly Carte to understudy George Grossmith senior at the Savoy. Almost immediately he got his chance when Grossmith went sick, and the future Henry Lytton was called upon to take over his part as Robin Oakapple in the first production of "Ruddigore". So impressed was W. S. Gilbert by his performance that he gave serious thought to a really good stage name for him, and it was he who produced the idea of Henry Lytton.
But even this burst of publicity did little to bring follow-up success in its train, and another ten years was to pass away before Lytton was again seen in London. Meanwhile he had to rest content with an engagement with the D'Oyly Carte touring company; the sad truth being that so long as George Grossmith reigned at the Savoy, a vacancy could not be found there for Henry Lytton,
As it happened he had to wait until April, 1897, before he could step into Grossmith's shoes; the part in question being that of Ferdinand the Fifth in 'His Majesty". This was followed by two years at the Savoy, during which time Lytton gradually built up the reputation that was to bring him lasting fame.
He deserted for a few months in order to try his hand at management, and produced a farcical comedy at the Criterion called "The Wild Rabbit" which, despite the engagement of George Arliss as lead, was a terrible flop.
This had the effect of sending Lytton speeding back to the Savoy where he stayed until 1903 playing leads in "The Rose of Persia", "The Pirates of Penzance" and "Patience". "The Emerald Island" and "Iolanthe", "Merrie England" and "A Princess of Kensington".
After that he put in three years free-lancing, appearing at the Adelphi in "The Earl and the Girl" and "The Talk of the Town", at the Criterion in "The White Chrysanthemum", at the Gaiety in "The Spring Chicken," at Daly's in "The Little Michus", and at the Hicks in "My Darling".
In April, 1908, he returned to the Savoy to play Ko-Ko in "The Mikado" for the first time, and never again did he stray from D'Oyly Carte. From then until his retirement in 1934 he worked continuously for that company, either in London or on tour.
Altogether he possessed a repertoire of thirty parts, his favourite being Jack Point in "The Yeomen of the Guard". It is indeed difficult to disassociate Lytton from any of the Gilbert and Sullivan characters he so perfectly interpreted, and everyone will have his own favourite, varying from John Wellington Wells in "The Sorcerer", through Sir Joseph Porter in "H.M.S. Pinafore", Major-General Stanley in "The Pirates of Penzance", Reginald Bunthorne in "Patience", the Lord Chancellor in "lolanthe", to the Duke of Plaza-Toro in "The Gondoliers". High on the list must also come the already mentioned Ko-Ko and Robin Oakapple.
Lytton's final appearance with D'Oyly Carte was at the Gaiety, Dublin, in June, 1934. He had been knighted in 1930, when a luncheon in his honour was held at which five hundred representatives of stage, literature, art, politics, law and commerce were present. It was at the end of this splendid occasion that Lloyd George had presented him with a national testimonial, and an album containing signatures of the highest in the land.
Henry Lytton said goodbye to the theatre at Christmas, 1934, with a performance of the Emperor in "Aladdin" at the Prince of Wales, Birmingham; his first and last appearance in pantomime.
He possessed a beautifully clear voice of pleasing quality, splendid diction, an inborn feeling for comedy, and the ability to time everything to perfection.
Sir Henry Lytton died in London on August 15, 1936, leaving a wife and two sons and two daughters. One other son had been killed in the first world war while serving with the Royal Flying Corps, and two more died in infancy.
His second book of memoirs, published in 1933, was called "A Wandering Minstrel". Lytton returned to the Savoy in 1908 to play the Mikado, not Ko-Ko, which he had played in the Provinces as early as 1888: he transferred to Ko-Ko temporarily when Workman was ill.
On the 7th June, 1933, the Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin wrote Lytton a letter from Downing Street, which appeared as the foreword to his book "A Wandering Minstrel". It concluded:
"To you, my dear Lytton, it has been given to interpret to the world for a generation the genius of Gilbert and Sullivan, to preserve and hand on the great tradition of Grossmith, and yet to give each part in turn the stamp of your own delightful and inimitable personality. That is a great work to have accomplished: you are handing on the lamp to your successor as brightly burning as when you received it.
To the artist, that is your pride and your reward. But to the man there is added the thought of the happiness you have brought to so many: the millions who have laughed with you and wept with you. And as one of that multitude, I say this on their behalf: "'May long and happy years lie before you. We shall never forget you. We honour the artist: we love the man." God bless you.
Yours in gratitude and sincerity,
(Sgd.) STANLEY BALDWIN.
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