Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pettitt, Henry

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PETTITT, HENRY (1848–1893), dramatist, the son of Edwin Pettitt, a civil engineer, and the author, under the pseudonym of Herbert Glyn, of some works of fiction, was born 7 April 1848 at Smethwick, near Birmingham, and educated at a school kept by the Rev. William Smerdon. Thrown on his own resources at the age of thirteen, he made various experiments, including an attempt on the stage at Sadler's Wells, and was for two years clerk in the head offices in London of Messrs. Pickford & Co., the carriers. He wrote without remuneration for various periodicals, and obtained, about 1869, a post as junior English master in the North London Collegiate School, High Street, Camden Town. Still writing for periodicals and for the stage, he at length obtained 5l. for ‘Golden Fruit,’ a drama produced at the East London Theatre 14 July 1873. Before this time he had written, in collaboration with Mr. Paul Merritt, ‘British Born,’ in a prologue and three acts, produced 17 Oct. 1872 at the Grecian, of which theatre Mr. Merritt had been a principal support. In 1875 he gave to the Grecian, in conjunction with Mr. George Conquest, ‘Dead to the World’ 12 July, and ‘Sentenced to Death’ 14 Oct., and, with no collaborator, ‘The Promised Land, or the Search for the Southern Star,’ 13 Sept. Next year he gave to the same house, still in association with Mr. Conquest, ‘Snatched from the Grave’ 13 March, ‘Queen's Evidence’ 5 June, ‘Neck or Nothing’ 3 Aug., and the ‘Sole Survivor’ 5 Oct.; and to the Britannia, in collaboration with G. H. Macdermott, ‘Brought to Book’ 8 May. In 1877 he wrote for the Grecian, in conjunction with Mr. Conquest, ‘Schriften the One-eyed Pilot’ 2 April, ‘During her Majesty's Pleasure’ 21 May, and ‘Bound to succeed, or a Leaf from the Captain's Log-book,’ 22 Oct. From the same partnership sprang ‘Notice to Quit’ 20 April 1879, the ‘Green Lanes of England’ 5 Aug., ‘A Royal Pardon, or the House on the Cliff’ 28 Oct., and the ‘Queen's Colours’ 31 May 1879. Alone he wrote the ‘Black Flag, or Escaped from Portland,’ 9 Aug., and ‘An Old Man's Darling,’ a one-act comedy, 12 Nov. The other pieces were melodramas, and are chiefly interesting as showing fertility of invention. ‘Brought to Justice,’ by Pettitt and Merritt, was given on 27 March 1880 at the Surrey. In the same year he supplied the Grecian with a pantomime, ‘Harlequin King Frolic.’ This piece is said to have had the longest run of any pantomime.

Meanwhile he found employment in a more important sphere. On 31 July 1880 the ‘World,’ by Paul Merritt, Henry Pettitt, and Augustus (afterwards Sir Augustus) Harris, was given at Drury Lane, and marked the beginning of a very prosperous era both for Pettitt and the playhouse. In 1880 and 1881 he visited America to look after his royalties and superintend the production of a version of ‘Le Voyage en Suisse,’ which he wrote for the Hanlon-Lee troupe. In America he seems to have given the ‘Nabob's Fortune.’ On 31 Dec. 1881 ‘Taken from Life’ was played at the Adelphi, and on 18 Nov. 1882 ‘Love and Money,’ by Pettitt and Charles Reade, followed at the same house. ‘Pluck, or a story of 50,000l.,’ by Pettitt and Harris, was given at Drury Lane 5 Aug. 1882. In ‘In the Ranks’ (Adelphi, 6 Oct. 1883) he had for collaborator Mr. George R. Sims. On 1 Dec. Pettitt gave at the Olympic the ‘Spider's Web,’ first seen at the Grand Theatre, Glasgow, the 28th of the previous May. ‘Human Nature,’ by Pettitt and Harris, came out at Drury Lane 12 Sept. 1885. ‘Harbour Lights,’ by Pettitt and Sims, followed at the Adelphi on 23 Dec., and was in turn succeeded at Drury Lane by ‘A Run of Luck,’ written in conjunction with Augustus Harris, 28 Aug. 1886. On 28 July 1887 the Adelphi produced the ‘Bells of Haslemere,’ written in conjunction with Mr. Sydney Grundy, and on 19 July 1887 the ‘Union Jack,’ due to the same collaboration. On 23 Dec. this was succeeded by the ‘Silver Falls,’ by Pettitt and Sims, which, on 14 Sept. 1889, gave way to ‘London Day by Day,’ by the same writers. ‘Faust up to Date,’ by Pettitt and Sims, was seen at the Gaiety 30 Oct. 1888. To Drury Lane he supplied, with Augustus Harris, ‘A Million of Money,’ 6 Sept. 1890, and he took part with Sims in ‘Carmen up to Date,’ a burlesque, at the Gaiety 4 Oct. 1890, previously seen in Liverpool. ‘Master and Man,’ by Pettitt and Sims, had been transferred from Birmingham to the Princess's 18 Dec. 1889. ‘A Sailor's Knot’ (Drury Lane, 5 Sept. 1891) is claimed for Pettitt alone, while the ‘Prodigal Daughter,’ 17 Sept. 1892, is by him and Sir Augustus Harris. The ‘Life of Pleasure,’ a drama, by Pettitt and Sir Augustus Harris, 21 Sept. 1893, was his last play. To make room for the pantomime, it was transferred to the Princess's, at which house it ran until February 1894. This list, which does not claim to be complete, gives an idea how productive was Pettitt during his few years of dramatic activity. His plays showed considerable knowledge of dramatic effect, a sense of situation, and general deftness of execution. His characters are conventional, and do not dwell in the memory, and his style is without literary quality. He was eminently successful, however, accumulating in a few years, while leading an open-handed life, a personalty declared for probate purposes to be 48,477l. Pettitt was a popular and, in the main, an unassertive man. He died in London on 24 Dec. 1893.

[Personal knowledge; Athenæum, various years; Daily Telegraph, 25 Dec. 1893; Archer's Theatrical World, 1893.]

J. K.