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Powell, Felix Lloyd (1878–1942), composer, was born in the High Street, St Asaph, Flintshire, on 23 May 1878, second child and first son of John Morris Powell (1842–1882), a house painter and lay clerk at St Asaph Cathedral, and his wife, Sarah Snelson, née Hill (b. 1855, d. in or after 1901). A second son, George Henry Powell (1880–1951), was born there on 27 April 1880. Their widowed mother became a dressmaker while they attended school in St Asaph; she married a widower, Frederick Fear, in 1896, but was widowed again in 1901.

Building on musical talent inherited from their father, the Powell brothers took up careers as entertainers, the more introverted Felix as pianist and the more extrovert George as vocalist, for which he assumed the surname Asaf after their place of birth. Their concert party, Asaf and Powell's Harlequinaders, toured the variety circuit with considerable success for some years. It included, besides themselves, two other men and the Powell brothers' wives, who had earlier performed in variety as a duo. On 15 July 1905, at Exeter register office, George married Leila, the 22-year-old daughter of Thomas Byron, tailor and outfitter; they had no children. Felix married, on 11 June 1911, at Scarborough register office, Mabel, the 26-year-old daughter of Rolande Florence, solicitor, and had one son (b. 1916), named Harley after the concert party.

The Harlequinaders' song successes included ‘Queen of Summer’ (1913), with music by Felix Powell and words by their elder sister Constance (b. 1877). However, the brothers' careers as songwriters really took off when in 1915, after the outbreak of war, the popular song publisher Francis, Day, and Hunter announced a prize of 100 guineas for the best ballads, chorus songs, and march songs. First prize of £35 in the march-song category, announced in August 1915, went to ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag’, with words by George Asaf and music by Felix Powell. Written originally in 6/8 time, the song was revised for the competition and sung first in the Harlequinaders' own revue Some Glee. Performed in that winter's pantomimes and taken up by chorus singer Florrie Forde, it became a huge success—above all as a morale-booster for troops. Across the Atlantic it was the hit of the 1916 Broadway show Her Soldier Boy. Though other Powell songs achieved publication, none had remotely similar success.

In 1917 Felix Powell disbanded the Harlequinaders and formed another concert party, the White Knights, to tour the trenches. George Powell, a Christian Scientist and pacifist, was left to tour the country in a caravan, selling alternative medicines. After the war Felix ran a public house in Hungerford, entertaining customers at the piano. Then the Canadian entrepreneur Charles William Neville brought the brothers and their wives to Peacehaven, his ‘Garden City by the sea’ near Newhaven in Sussex. George became the first editor of the Peacehaven Post in 1921, and the brothers collaborated on songs to promote the resort, including ‘Come to Peacehaven’ and ‘Lureland Waltz’, named after the resort's dance-hall.

As musical director of Peacehaven's amateur theatrical entertainments in the resort's 300-seat Pavilion Theatre, Felix Powell conducted several comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Then in 1933 the company staged the ‘farcical operetta in 2 Acts’ Rubicund Castle, for which Felix had written book, lyrics, and music. When revived in 1936 it attracted the attention of the West End singer–producer Anne Croft, who saw it as a potential successor to her show Tulip Time. Revised as Primrose Time, the show was produced professionally at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, in December 1937. However, the finance promised to take it to the West End failed to materialize.

In these later years Felix Powell worked as an estate agent, and when war broke out he joined the Peacehaven Home Guard, becoming a staff sergeant and quartermaster. However, with his most famous song once more a rallying song for troops, he found himself unable to pack up his own troubles. Not only had his work on Primrose Time come to nothing, but he had apparently incurred financial difficulties attempting to fund it. Recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia, he arrived for Home Guard duties in the requisitioned Lureland dance-hall, Peacehaven, on 10 February 1942, locked the door, left notes on the piano for his colleagues and family, and shot himself in the chest with a service rifle. He died later that day in the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton.

George Powell moved to Hove around the same time and, after years of ill health, died there, at his home, 10 Palmeira Avenue, on 3 December 1951.

Andrew Lamb

Sources  

C. Nevin, ‘Suicide with a smile’, The Independent (10 Sept 2000) · Brighton Evening Argus (11 Feb 1942); (13 Feb 1942); (3 Dec 1951) · The Stage (12 Feb 1942) · T. Payne, Images of England: Peacehaven (2000) · D. Croft, You have been watching…: the autobiography of David Croft (2004) · private information (2008) [ Aubrey Powell, grandson] · census returns, 1881, 1891, 1901 · b. cert. [F. Powell] · m. cert. [F. Powell] · d. cert. [F. Powell] · b. cert. [G. Powell] · m. cert. [G. Powell] · d. cert. [G. Powell]

Archives  

priv. coll.


Wealth at death  

£147 16s.: administration, 27 April 1942, CGPLA Eng. & Wales · £1144 1s. 8d.—George Henry Powell: probate, 10 Jan 1952, CGPLA Eng. & Wales