Thursday, August 01, 2013

The talented Mr Henry

Richard Wyn Jones' new book (see previous post) provoked quite a reaction on twitter, well two tweets at least.  But then as Professor Jones pointed out there's a reluctance in Wales to get to grips with the real history of Welsh fascism rather than banging-on about Saunders Lewis.  Let's try and help fill in one or two blanks.

To students of British fascism Leigh Vaughan-Henry is one of the more obnoxious Jew haters of the 1930s.  A one time director of music for the British Union of Fascists, a "notorious pro-Nazi" according to the Home Office and someone suspected of having links with German intelligence.  Little wonder that he was picked-up in the summer of 1940 and sat out the rest of the war in various of His Majesty's establishments.

Dig a little deeper and you find that Leigh Henry - the Vaughan was a later addition - was born in Liverpool in 1889, the son of a man who features in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, John Henry the Porthmadoc born composer of favourites such as Gwlad y Delyn.  Young Leigh was also a talented musician and joined Edward Gordon Craig as director of music at his experimental theatre institute in Florence. Leigh Henry was fortunate to avoid the bloodbath of the First World War as a civilian internee in the Ruhleben Camp; while, back home, his wife Nancy - they had married in 1911 - pursued a friendship with D H Lawrence.

It was in the 1920s, after the closure of his radical cultural journal Fanfare that Leigh Henry returned with a vengeance to his Welsh roots.  He joined the Gorsedd in 1923 and often figured in Eisteddfodic proceedings as a composer, conductor and lecturer.  His poetry and short-stories were published in magazines such as Welsh Outlook and he appeared regularly on the radio. In 1926 for example Henry hosted a St David's Day programme of Welsh folk music on 2LO.  A pleasant appointment at this time must have been as musical adviser to Clara Novello's Royal Welsh Ladies Choir on a tour of Australia and Noth America.

Divorced from his first wife, Leigh Henry was briefly married, it seems, to the vivacious American war correspondent Paula Lecler - forgotten now, but a woman whose globe trotting derring-do made Martha Gellhorn look like a stay-at-home.  Subsequently Henry married (bigamously it later transpired) a German woman, while always paying attention to wealthy ladies such as Winifred Coombe-Tennant and his fellow composer and musicologist Margaret Glyn.  The latter left him her fortune in 1945.  Shortly before she died Henry is said to have conducted the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in a symphony composed by Glyn at the 1945 National Eisteddfod.

A Radnorshire connection?  Well Henry wrote a biography and a rather badly received play about the composer John Bull (1563-1628), although he was unaware that Bull probably came from Old Radnor.

Leigh Henry died in 1958, having seemingly managed to keep his various identities quite separate - the progressive English musicologist and composer, the Welsh eisteddfodwr and the Union Jack waving anti-Semite.

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