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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

George Grossmith (1847-1912), Entertainer and author

Entertainer and author; born 9 December 1847 in London. Educated North London Collegiate School; newspaper reporter at Bow Street police court from 1866, full time then intermittently until 1877; began touring with own compositions from 1870, date of his earliest professional engagement as entertainer; continued these ‘humorous and musical recitals’ [1] even after 1877, when he became chief comic in the operas that W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan wrote for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company; part-time news reporter for The Times 1880–85; returned full time to his one-man shows 1889; with his brother Weedon wrote The Diary of a Nobody (serialized in Punch 1888–9; published in book form 1892); toured United States and Canada between 1892 and early 1900s; a final entertainment in Brighton 1908; moved to Folkestone 1909, where he died 1 March 1912; buried at Kensal Green cemetery, London.

Grossmith said of his work as an entertainer: ‘To clown properly is a very difficult art, and I am never so happy as when I am making people laugh. I am unfeignedly proud of my profession, on and off the stage. … On the stage I play the fool of others’ creation, and at the piano I play the simple fool of my own.’ [2]

On his work for D’Oyly Carte one biographer has written: ‘The agility and droll dignity of his small frame, his dry humour, his pleasant voice, and the skill in rapid enunciation which caused his “patter-songs” to be made a regular feature of these operas, suited Grossmith perfectly to this form of dramatic and musical art.’ [3] By contrast, Gilbert expressed this opinion to Sullivan: ‘[Grossmith] is a d—d bad actor, but he has worked very hard for us, and has endeavoured in every way to meet our wishes during the thirteen years of his engagement.’ [4]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Child 1927.
2) Grossmith 1888, ch.1.
3) Child 1927.
4) Quoted in Baily 1952, p.333.

Referencesback to top

Ainger 2002
Ainger, M., Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography, Oxford, 2002.

Baily 1952
Baily, L.W.A., The Gilbert & Sullivan Book, London, 1952.

Baily 1973
Baily, L., Gilbert & Sullivan and their World, London, 1973.

Beerbohm 1958
Beerbohm, M., Max’s Nineties: Drawings 1892–1899, London, 1958.

Cheshire 1989
Cheshire, D., Portrait of Ellen Terry, Oxford, 1989.

Child 1927
Child, H.H., ‘George Grossmith (1847–1912)’, DNB, Oxford, 1927.

Furniss [1919]
Furniss, H., My Bohemian Days, London, n.d. [1919].

Furniss 1924
Furniss, H., Some Victorian Men, London, 1924.

Furniss 1925
Furniss, H., The Two Pins Club, London, 1925.

Grossmith 1888
Grossmith, G., A Society Clown: Reminiscences, Bristol, 1888.

Grossmith 1910
Grossmith, G., Piano and I: Further Reminiscences, Bristol, 1910.

Grossmith 1933
Grossmith, G., ‘G.G.’, London, 1933.

Grossmith 1913
Grossmith, W., From Studio to Stage: Reminiscences of Weedon Grossmith, London, 1913.

Hall 1930–34
Hall, L.A., Catalogue of Dramatic Portraits in the Theatre Collection of the Harvard College Library, 4 vols, Cambridge, MA, 1930–34.

Hart-Davis 1972
Hart-Davis, R., A Catalogue of the Caricatures of Max Beerbohm, London, 1972.

Johnson 2005
Johnson, J., ‘Discovering George Grossmith in Folkestone’, Gaiety, Spring 2005.

Joseph 1982
Joseph, T., George Grossmith: Biography of a Savoyard, Bristol, 1982.

Joseph 2004
Joseph, T., ‘Grossmith, George (1847–1912)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; online ed., January 2008.

Matthews & Mellini 1982
Matthews, R.T., and P. Mellini, In ‘Vanity Fair’, London, 1982.

Pearson [1935] 1975
Pearson, H., Gilbert and Sullivan: A Biography, London, [1935] 1975.

Stedman 1996
Stedman, J.W., W.S. Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and His Theatre, Oxford, 1996.

Sullivan & Flower 1927
Sullivan, H. and N. Flower, Sir Arthur Sullivan: His Life, Letters & Diaries, London, 1927.

Ward 1915
Ward, L., Forty Years of ‘Spy’, London, 1915.