Henry A. Lytton as the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers

Henry A. Lytton (1884-85, 1887-1903, 1907, 1908-34)

[Born Kensington, London 3 Jan 1865, died London 15 Aug 1936]

Born Henry Alfred Jones and educated at St. Mark's School, Chelsea, where he took part in amateur theatricals, Henry A. Lytton ran away from school to go on the stage, making his debut at the Philharmonic, Islington, at age seventeen in The Obstinate Bretons. The cast included Louise Webber, who two years later would become his wife.

The next months were difficult for the young couple. They joined several other out-of-work actors and sought their fortune going from town to town in Surrey, performing a drama, All of Her, and an operetta, Tom Tug the Waterman, to indifferent audiences. The plays were augmented by songs and dances which Lytton later claimed, in "The Secrets of a Savoyard," were the best feature of the program. They spent more than they earned and were soon in dire financial difficulty.

Miss Webber was using the stage name Louie Henri when she was engaged for Mr. D'Oyly Carte's "D" ('Princess Ida' No. 1) Company as Ada in February 1884 in the first provincial production of Princess Ida. Henry Lytton (masquerading as her brother and using the name H. A. Henri) joined the chorus at the same time. As H. A. Henri, Lytton served in the "D" Company chorus until May 1885, then from September to December of that year toured with Carte's "C" (Repertory) Company. While still in the chorus, the young man managed to get his name in the program as Hercules, the page in The Sorcerer.

In 1886, he and Louie found work in the chorus of Ivan Caryll's comic opera The Lily of Leoville. It was produced at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham, on May 3, 1886, under the management of Violet Melnotte, and brought to the Comedy Theatre, London, a week later for a run of 41 perfomances, ending June 25 of that year.

When Lytton (still going by H. A. Henri) was engaged for the chorus and as understudy to George Grossmith as Robin Oakapple in Ruddygore at the Savoy (January 1887) his luck began to turn. Grossmith fell ill a week into the run, and Mr. Henri filled in with much success. He was now a principal comedian, and though he would leave the Savoy in April, he would appear in a succession of "Grossmith" parts for provincial audiences over the next several years:as Robin with "B" Company (April 1887) and "C" Company (July-November 1887); as Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore, Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance, Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard, Ko-Ko in The Mikado, and the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers with "E" Company (December 1887-February 1890); as the Duke with Carte's New York Gondoliers Company (March-April 1890), Carte's "D" Company upon their return (May-July 1890), and "C" Company (July-November 1890); and as Ko-Ko, the Duke, the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, Rev. William Barlow in The Vicar of Bray, King Paramount in Utopia Limited, the McCrankie in Haddon Hall, and Col. Felix Flapper in Billee Taylor with "E" Company (November 1890-July 1894).

He then played Paramount with "D" Company (July-December 1894), and Ko-Ko briefly with "B" Company (December 1894), before rejoining "D" Company as Paramount, Rev. Barlow, Bobinet in Mirette, and Peter Grigg in The Chieftain. In April-May 1895 he spent some time with "C" Company, touring as John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer, Sir Joseph, General Stanley, Reginald Bunthorne in Patience, the Lord Chancellor, King Gama in Princess Ida, Ko-Ko, Jack Point, and the Duke of Plaza-Toro. He then returned to "D" Company again, touring as Gama, Paramount, and Rev. Barlow until December 1895. Lytton spent January-February 1896 with "B" Company as Sir Joseph, Ko-Ko, and Rev. Barlow. Then in March 1896 he joined Carte's Company "D" as Ludwig in The Grand Duke. When Utopia Limited was added to the "D" repertoire in October, Lytton took up Paramount again.

Company "D" was disbanded in November 1896, and Lytton returned to Company "C" for a month as Wells, Sir Joseph, General Stanley, Bunthorne, the Lord Chancellor, Gama, Ko-Ko, Point, and the Duke. He then spent December 1896 to February 1897 with Company "B" as the Lord Chancellor, Ko-Ko, and Point, before being summoned to the Savoy in March.

George Grossmith had abandoned his part as King Ferdinand V in His Majesty, and Lytton was brought in as his replacement. While Lytton would remain at the Savoy for the next several years (until 1903) it would not be as principal comedian:that job would fall to Walter Passmore. Lytton next appeared as Wilfred Shadbolt in the revival of The Yeomen of the Guard (May-November 1897), then as Prince Paul in The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein (December 1897-March 1898), Giuseppe in The Gondoliers (March-May and July-September 1898), Simon Limal in The Beauty Stone (May-July 1898), the Learned Judge and Dr. Daly in Trial by Jury and The Sorcerer (September-December 1898), Baron Tabasco in The Lucky Star (January-May 1899), the Judge (again) and Captain Corcoran in Trial by Jury and H.M.S. Pinafore (June-November 1899), the Sultan Mahmoud in The Rose of Persia (November 1899-June 1900), Charlie Brown in the curtain raiser Pretty Polly (April-May 1900), General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance (June-November 1900, a rare "Grossmith" part while Passmore took the Sergeant of Police), Archibald Grosvenor in Patience (November 1900-April 1901), Pat Murphy in The Emerald Isle (April-November 1901), Ib's Father in Ib and Little Christina (November 1901), Strephon in Iolanthe (November 1901-March 1902), the Earl of Essex in Merrie England (April 1902-July 1902, and on tour), and William Jelf in A Princess of Kensington (January-May 1903, and on tour).

When the tour ended, Lytton and many of the Company left the D'Oyly Carte organization, transferring to the Adelphi where he appeared in The Earl and the Girl. He performed in West End musical comedies for the next four years, appearing in The Talk of the Town, The White Chrysanthemum, The Spring Chicken, The Little Michus, and My Darling. During his absence from the Company, Lytton rejoined many of his former colleagues for the Ellen Terry benefit at Drury Lane in June 1906, appearing as Counsel for the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury, a role he'd not played with the D'Oyly Carte. He returned to the D'Oyly Carte and the Savoy from June to August 1907 as Strephon in Iolanthe at the tail end of Carte's First London Repertory Season. He then went on tour in My Darling, but returned to the D'Oyly Carte in April 1908 for the beginning of the Second London Repertory Season. It ran until March 1909. This time his roles were the Mikado of Japan in The Mikado, Dick Deadeye in H.M.S. Pinafore, Strephon in Iolanthe, the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, and Giuseppe in The Gondoliers. (He would also fill briefly in August 1908 for C. H. Workman as Ko-Ko in The Mikado and Sir Joseph in Pinafore.)

In March 1909 Lytton joined the D'Oyly Carte Principal Repertory Opera Company on tour:this time as principal comedian, replacing Charles R. Walenn. From that point forward he would play all the "Grossmith" parts (J. W. Wells, Sir Joseph, General Stanley, Bunthorne, Lord Chancellor, Gama, Ko-Ko, Robin, Point, and the Duke) for the next twenty years, and all save Major General Stanley (which he yielded to Martyn Green in 1929) and Robin Oakapple (which Green assumed in 1931) for the next twenty-five. Lytton was knighted in 1930, a rare honor for an actor at the time. He is the only person to be so honored for service to Gilbert and Sullivan.

A tragic motor-car accident, in which Lytton was driving, claimed the life of Bertha Lewis in May 1931. Lytton himself suffered rib, leg, and kidney injuries, but was able to return to the stage within a matter of weeks.

Sir Henry's final appearance with D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, in June 1934, as Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard. It was not, however, his last appearance on the stage. He appeared at Christmas 1934 in Aladdin at Prince of Wales's Theatre, Birmingham, his first and last appearance in pantomime.

Lytton wrote two volumes of reminiscences: "Secrets of a Savoyard" (London, Jarrold's, [1922]) and "A Wandering Minstrel" (London, Jarrold's, 1933). In the first book Lytton claims to have played a number of other roles not mentioned in any other source:the Usher in Trial by Jury, Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre in The Sorcerer, Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance, the Earl of Mountararat in Iolanthe, Florian in Princess Ida, and the Lieutenant of the Tower in The Yeomen of the Guard. As an author, however, Lytton's memory is not to be completely trusted.

Lytton made numerous recordings between 1901 and 1905, including songs from The Sorcerer, Iolanthe, Merrie England, and A Princess of Kensington. But by the time the D'Oyly Carte and HMV collaborated on a series of the operas, Lytton's voice was not what HMV wanted. Of the 23 complete operas and abridged sets recorded under D'Oyly Carte supervision between 1918 and 1933, Lytton appears on just five:the 1924 and 1932 Princess Idas (as King Gama), the 1926 Mikado (as Ko-Ko), the 1927 Gondoliers (as the Duke), and the 1930 H.M.S. Pinafore (as Sir Joseph). He also sang Ko-Ko in a 1926 BBC radio broadcast of The Mikado, and may be seen as Ko-Ko, albeit briefly, in a four-minute silent promotional film made of the D'Oyly Carte Mikado in 1926.

Lytton's two volumes of reminiscences are not noted for their accuracy. Anyone wishing to learn the full story of this remarkable entertainer is advised to turn to "Lytton: Gilbert & Sullivan's Jester" by Brian Jones, an exhaustive biography published by the author's own Basingstoke Books Ltd. in 2005.

Page modified November 30, 2005 © 2001-05 David Stone