The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Sussex

The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Sussex

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Henry Brougham Farnie was born in Burntisland, Fife in 1836, making him an exact contemporary of W. S. Gilbert. He was educated at the Edinburgh Institute and St Andrews University, he also studied music with a local teacher in St Andrews. He started life as a writer of books and a freelance journalist in Fife, but he had some connection with Kings College, London, probably as a junior lecturer.

He moved to London in 1863 when musical theatre was at a low ebb with little but


"Bouffonnerie Musicale : The Story of H. B. Farnie."
by Keith Drummond Sharp

H B Farnie

The images on this page are from Keith’s biography of him.

burlesques using music from the halls. During a spell in France he developed a liking for French opera bouffe and became the arch adapter of the genre for the English stage and almost single-handedly made it popular. And during a spell in America he met manager Alex Henderson and began a partnership which would make both of them wealthy.

But his first big success came when Henderson was still in America. It was an early work by Offenbach, Genevieve de Brabant, into which Farnie had introduced two songs of his own. Presented at the Philharmonic Theatre, Islington, it drew the carriages away from central London and broke all records by running for 459 performances. It also contained the one song for which Farnie is now widely remembered, the Gendarmes Duet.

Gilbert hated French opera bouffe but if there was rivalry between him and Farnie it didn't stop Henderson putting on Trial by Jury as an afterpiece to one of Farnie's shows and it didn't stop Richard D'Oyly Carte from taking one of Farnie's shows, Rip van Winkle, to America in 1882 and presenting it in New York.

He was not a great literary figure and often used ghost writers, 'penny-a-liners', to do his dialogue, but he had an uncanny knack of knowing just what audiences wanted and could put a show together so that he created over 100 shows and had more big hits on the London stage than any of his contemporaries. Apart from songs in his shows he wrote in excess of 300 other songs, for some of which he also wrote the music.

Many of his shows were several times revived long after his death and shows like Les Cloches de Corneville, Madame Favart, The Mascotte, and Falka became the darlings of amateur societies and kept their popularity through the Edwardian period and between the wars. And then he was forgotten!

"Bouffonnerie Musicale is a biography of H. B. Farnie and a story of his shows, his musical stars, his colleagues, and includes appendixes of all his works”.

This is the only full length biography of Farnie  and it, together with four pages in Kurt Ganzl's Encyclopaedia of Musical Theatre, are the only pieces relating to him that are based on research.



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Keith Sharp

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Keith Sharp