Happy Tom Parker - Music Hall Artiste Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Happy Tom Parker - Music Hall Artiste

0 Conversations

Happy Tom Parker, a comedian, singer and dancer in music halls at the turn of the 20th Century, has become an enigma for the Parker family: everybody knew of him but nobody actually knew him.

This Entry looks at the evidence that tells us about his life and his family - it seems the desire to perform on stage was in Happy Tom's blood.

Shoemaker's Widow Meets Itinerant Musician

Happy Tom's great-grandfather Thomas Parker married Bridget Perry in 1797 in Bury St Edmunds, UK. Their son (Happy Tom's grandfather), also called Thomas Parker, was born in 1802. Their second child Susanna followed in 1812. Some time between 1812 and 1845 the family moved to Maidstone, Kent.

Between 1842 and 1845, Happy Tom's grandfather Thomas met his wife to be, Elizabeth Hodges (nee Ackworth). She had previously been married to Thomas Hodges, a shoemaker of Maidstone, who had died in 1842. Thomas and Elizabeth had twins, Thomas Ackworth (Happy Tom's father) and Susan, born in 1845. Although Thomas and Elizabeth were still unmarried, the twins were registered in the name of Parker - their father being described as a musician, and their address being given as Under-the-Cliffe, Maidstone. In the 1851 Census, the couple were still unmarried - the twins were recorded as Thomas and Susan Hodges. Thomas's mother died in 1857 and it seems that at last the apparent bar to the marriage was removed - the couple married in 1858.

In 1871, Happy Tom's father Thomas Ackworth Parker was listed in the Census as a gunsmith. His father was deceased and his mother was the head of the household. Thomas married Adelia Jane Scoones in 1872 and their first child was Thomas Henry, the future Happy Tom Parker.

Tom and his Family

Happy Tom Parker was born on 17 April, 1875 in Maidstone, Kent. The family appear in the 1881 Census at 4 Arundel Street, Maidstone and it is believed that the Henry in that census is actually Happy Tom as his full name was Thomas Henry Parker and Henry was possibly used to differentiate him from his father Thomas. The 1891 Census shows the whole family - Thomas Henry, aged 16, is entered as a clerk alongside his five siblings, Albert, Emily, Rose, Adelia and William George1.

Happy Tom's father died in 1891 in Camberwell, London and then the family moved back to Maidstone. Whether Happy Tom moved with them is not known as he may have had his eyes on the floodlights by that time and also he did have a job in London. Adelia Jane died in 1896 leaving a will giving everything to her children to be spent on their education. A letter from Tom Moody, the son of Happy Tom's sister Adelia2, exists advising of what is thought happened to the younger children after their mother died in 1896 - it says that a family named Davies took them in.

Tom Meets Julia

Julia Emma Feaviour was born in 1877 and her mother's name was Emma Huggett. The child was registered under the name Feaviour but it is now believed that her father's name was Henry Feaviour-Giles. It appears that Henry was a bit of a lad. He had been married previously but was in a relationship with Emma Huggett. Emma had three children3 - Julia Emma, Frederick and a third one who died at birth around 1881. Henry Feaviour-Giles then went off and married someone 20 years younger, leaving Emma to bring up the children alone.

By the time of the 1891 Census when Julia was 12, her family were boarding in Liverpool and the census return shows Julia Emma's occupation as 'Musical Wonder'. Julia and her brother Frederick were the Babes in the Wood at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Liverpool, in that year. Their mother also appeared in the same production.

Tom Parker married Julia Emma Feaviour on 19 March, 1898 at Birmingham Registry Office. His occupation was comedian and his father was given as Thomas Ackworth Parker (Deceased), gunsmith. Julia was named as a spinster and her father was given as Harry Feaviour, comedian. Julia came from Sheffield and was also a professional musician. It seems safe to assume that they met while both were on tour.

The birth certificate of Happy Tom's eldest son, Henry Thomas4, shows he was living in Sheffield in 1899. Strangely, given that Julia's surname was Feaviour at the time of her marriage, Henry's mother's maiden name is given as Huggett. The 1901 census shows Tom and Julia boarding in Canterbury Street, Liverpool along with their eldest son and new baby, Albert, just five weeks old. When Albert's birth was registered in Liverpool, his mother's maiden name was given as Feaviour, as expected.

In 1907 one of Tom's society membership forms tells us that he and his family were living in York Terrace in Clapham.

The 1911 Census finds Tom and Julia in Cowley Road, Brixton with their five children. It was with great surprise that this Researcher found that Henry Thomas was not the eldest child - their daughter Florence, who was not in their household at the time of the 1901 Census, was born in 1898 in Yarmouth.

During Summer 2008 I visited the street where Happy Tom and Julia Lived in Lambeth. Holmewood Road comes off Brixton Hill about a half to three quarters of a mile from Brixton. The houses are probably the same as they were when they lived there and I discovered that it was a preservation area but there were no blue plaques for Happy Tom Parker or Julia Emma Feaviour. However I could close my eyes and look at the front door steps and see Happy Tom and Julia stood side by side on the step with Tom holding the dog [just like the picture in the family photo album].
- David Parker, Happy Tom's great-nephew.

'I Don't Know Whether I'm Standing on my Head'

Happy Tom Parker was a comedian, singer and dancer. Despite searching, no records have yet been found of any recordings made by him, but this Researcher is hopeful that some will turn up eventually.

His youngest brother William learned to play the piano and often accompanied Happy Tom in his performances on music hall stages throughout the country.

In 1902 Happy Tom Parker appeared at the Bradford Empire on a bill which also included Alice Lloyd, the younger sister of the better remembered Marie Lloyd. Alice was equally as talented as her elder sister. This adds credence to one of the family legends that Happy Tom taught Marie Lloyd to dance; perhaps it was not Marie but Alice that he taught. Marie Lloyd was five years older than Happy Tom so alternatively it may have been the other way round - she may have taught him to dance. Another legend is that he used to give cigarettes to the young Charlie Chaplin when Chaplin worked as a stagehand.

The first record of a song written for Happy Tom Parker can be found in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. 'I Don't Know Whether I'm Standing on my Head', composed by Will Hyde with lyrics by JP Long, was published by Francis, Day and Hunter in 1908.

The day I married Eliza it was just a year ago
The parson came and he did the job in less than half a mo
He said do you with your worldly goods your darling wife endow
I looked at him in blank surprise and said go easy now
I don't know whether I'm standing on me head or on me feet
I don't mind giving Eliza half the blanket and a sheet
But as for giving her half me cash and half me grub to eat
I don't know whether I'm standing on me head or on me feet

In 1910 Happy Tom Parker toured Australia with Harry Rickard's 'Vaudeville Troupe'. Also in the troupe was the infamous mistress of King Edward VII, Lillie Langtry. The famous illusionist and escapologist Harry Houdini was on the tour as well.

Happy Tom received rave reviews - The Advertiser, Adelaide, described him as 'The man who made the World Laugh' and the Melbourne Argus review said 'His songs were well sung. Recalled with great gusto by the audience, Parker showed some clever clog-dancing.'

In 1913 he appeared again, with prominent billing, at a show with Harry Houdini. Also in 1913 there is a report in a magazine 'The Stage' of a meeting of the Chelsea Lodge of the Freemasons, where Happy Tom Parker was named as an attendee. The Chelsea Lodge was specifically set up in 1905 as a Lodge for Music Hall and other theatre artistes and it is still active today.

On stage, Happy Tom wore a shabby dinner suit, carried a broken umbrella and his nose was painted red. His signature tune, also now available from the Bodleian Library, was written for him in 1913 by Will Hyde (composer) and John L St John (lyricist). The song was entitled 'Nosey Parker'. The first verse demonstrates his comedy style:

I am a funny fellow and I've got a lot of cheek
But one thing I've got more of
I've got a decent beak
They call me Nosey Parker
And when I go strolling out
The kids they all run after me
Throw bricks at me and shout
Nosey Parker good old Nosey Parker
What a frontispiece you've got
Get it trimmed off while it's hot
Nosey Parker good old Nosey Parker
You've got a nose like an elephant's trunk
Daa daady da da daa daa daa - Good old Nosey Parker

When the music hall era ended and the variety theatre era took over in the mid 1920s, it is believed that Tom Parker became an impresario, managing other performers and arranging shows.

I have now sung both songs, just once, at my local folk club, in Frodsham, it seemed to bring Happy Tom back to life for a few minutes. I was accompanied by a friend on Piano Accordion and I explained the story of my great-uncle Tom and his Music-Hall experiences.
- David Parker, Happy Tom's great-nephew.

Final Years

Happy Tom lost his wife Julia Emma in November 1943. She died in Tooting Bec Hospital and her death certificate, registered and signed by Thomas Henry Parker, states his occupation as 'LCC Depot Caretaker (Comedian)'. It was believed in the family that Julia had been made upset and nervous after The Blitz in World War II and it is thought that this contributed to her death. Tom followed Julia six months later.

Tom and Julia are both buried at Streatham Park Cemetery, long associated with the Variety Artists Benevolent Fund. After Happy Tom's death, on 13 May, 1944 in Dulwich Hospital, there was a large funeral. A story is told of how Tom's younger brother, William, upon going to the funeral, was accompanied home by a large entourage of vehicles. Quarry Road in Maidstone had never seen such a cavalcade. The party that night must have been something to behold.

Despite apparently being a well-known and popular performer at the turn of the 20th Century, how come so little is now known of this accomplished comedian, dancer and singer? If you can shed any more light on his life and career, please start a conversation below.

1William had been a twin but his twin had died young.2Who married Herbert Moody.3To his legitimate children, Henry gave the name Feaviour-Giles while to the others it seems he only gave the name Feaviour.4Who became a performer himself, under the name 'Jolly Tom Parker'.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

There are no Conversations for this Entry

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more