Man sitting at piano
National Portrait Gallery

Harry Liston (7 October 1843 – 12 April 1929) was an English comedian and actor who appeared in music hall, variety shows and other entertainments during the Victorian era and the first decades of the 20th century. Born in Stockport, Cheshire, he started work as a commercial traveller before deciding on a career as a performer.[1]

Liston made his performing début at the Scotia Music Hall, Glasgow in 1863, continuing on the music hall circuit. Two years later, he moved to London and adopted a new style of performing as a lion comiqueType of popular entertainer in the Victorian music halls, a parody of upper-class toffs or “swells” made popular by Alfred Vance and G. H. MacDermott, among others. . He became associated with many popular comedians of the day, including Arthur Lloyd, George Leybourne and Alfred Vance. His repertoire included such songs as “The Ginger-haired Swell”, “Naughty Mary Ann” and “I’ll Tell Your Wife”. Perhaps his best-known song became his signature tune, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.[1][2] By 1888 and with the lion comique becoming dated, Liston developed a new entertainment, “Merry Moments”, with which he toured concert halls throughout the country.[3][4]

In later years and with music hall on the decline, Liston made a successful transition to variety and performed in the northern provinces for the remainder of his career. He retired in 1925 and died four years later in Manchester, aged 85.[1]



Anthony, Barry. The King’s Jester. I. B. Taurus & Co, 2010.
Staff writer. “Mr Harry Liston at the Royal Public Rooms.” Western Times, 15 Jan. 1887, p. 4.
Staff writer. “Mr Harry Liston at Alfreton.” Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 4 Mar. 1893, p. 7.
Staff writer. “Mr Harry Liston’s Merry Moments.” Manchester Evening News, 3 Sept. 1873, p. 2.