Born George Edward Perry on May 15, 1931, in Derby, England; died on February 9, 2003, in London, England; married Doreen Davies, 1959 (divorced, 1991); children: one son, two daughters. Education: Printer's apprentice. Addresses: Record company---Hyperion Records, website: http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/index.html.

Hyperion Records founder Ted Perry built a recording empire by tapping into a previously unidentified consumer base for obscure English music. As a record producer, he displayed an impressive talent for identifying likeable music that would sell, and having trained as a printer's apprentice in his youth, he used his typography skills to ensure the highest quality sleeve notes in the packaging of Hyperion compact discs. These factors combined to give him a sizeable edge in the record industry. With the help of his family and a partner, Bill Singer, Perry grew the company to support a 250-page catalog of more than 1,200 songs at the time of his death in 2003.

A Young Connoisseur

Born George Edward Perry on May 15, 1931, in Derby, England, Perry was a sickly youngster who walked with a limp. He wore leg braces for a time and underwent hip surgery as a child. Bed-ridden during recuperation, he spent his time in perusing record label catalogs with such enthusiasm that he committed much of the information to memory. He was still in his teens when he quit school and began an apprenticeship in the printing trade. In that endeavor he learned to appreciate perfection in typographical production, a talent that he would use to his benefit later, as a record publisher.

After moving to the city as a teenager in 1949, Perry took his first job in the record department of EMB Handmade Gramophones on Newman Street, in London's Oxford Street district. Calling on his extensive knowledge of the record catalogues, he excelled in this position and in 1956 hired into the London office of Heliodor. His employment with Heliodor, which at that time was a start-up venture from Deutsche Gramophon, led to a promotion within months, to a newly opened London-based office belonging to the parent company. In that capacity, Perry oversaw production of new releases.

A change of employment in 1957 sent Perry packing to Sydney, Australia to work in the marketing and distribution office of Festival Records for the next four years. In 1959, he married Doreen Davies with whom he had three children.

A Rising Entrepreneur

Perry returned to London with his new family in 1961 and joined the British-based Saga Records as a director of A&R. Despite an affinity for the recording industry, he was unable to support his family amidst the fickle fluctuations of the music market. Thus for much of the mid-1970s Perry sold ice cream from a truck for supplemental income, while an on-again-off-again relationship transpired with Saga. By the end of the decade he had separated altogether from Saga and established his own company, Meridian Records, in partnership with his colleague, John Shuttleworh.

In 1980, after securing a bank loan of £12,000, Perry founded a basement label, for the express purpose of publishing obscure English folk music. In the spirit of a cottage industry, this joint venture was owned by Perry and his wife, along with a third partner, Bill Singer. They called the venture Hyperion Records, in honor of the sun god of Greek mythology.

During the early years of Hyperion, Perry labored at odd jobs for the mainstay of his income. He drove a taxi on weekdays and spent weekends in the kitchen of his home, hand-packaging compact discs for shipment, with assistance from his family and the Hyperion recording artists. The fledgling company prospered for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Perry's good taste and his unique sense of appreciation for good music. Capitalizing on modern manufacturing processes for producing records on compact disc, Perry insisted on high quality sound and demanded typographical perfection in the printing of packaging materials. He further enhanced the Hyperion product with informative and impeccably printed sleeve notes. All of these factors contributed to the appeal of the new record label.

The label launched its maiden release in 1980 with Dame Thea King's Finzi & Stanford Clarinet concertos, including Charles Villiers Stanford's Clarinet Concerto in A Minor, Op 80, and Gerald Finzi's Concerto For Clarinet and String Orchestra Op 31.

A Solid Success

A breakthrough album for Perry's Hyperion label came during the earliest days of the venture; he happened to hear a song on the British Broadcasting Company's (BBC) Radio 3 while driving his cab. The composition, performed on BBC by the Oxford-based Gothic Voices, was of a twelfth-century work by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen. Perry arranged with Christopher Page and soloist Emma Kirkby to record the work at the church of St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead on September 14, 1980. The Hyperion recording appeared under the title A Feather on the Breath of God, and established a comfortable niche in the company catalog. This release became a perennial favorite, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold over the course of two decades. Other successful releases from the early days of Hyperion include a July 1980 recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, transcribed for organ and performed by Arthur Wills.

In the mid-1980s, Perry, at the suggestion of pianist Graham Johnson, undertook to record the 745 songs of Schubert on compact disc. With enthusiastic support from patron Lucy Hayward-Warburton, the first disc was released in 1987, and featured songs selected and sung by Dame Janet Baker. The 37th (and final) disc of the series was released in September 2000, after 15 years in production.

The Schubert Collection

Other artists contributing to the series included baritone Stephen Varcoe on Volume 2, Water Songs, and mezzo soprano Ann Murray on Volume 3, Schubert and His Friends (I), while tenor Philip Langridge was heard on Volume 4, Schubert and His Friends (II). Perry ensured that every release in the series would feature a sampling of Schubert's more treasured songs, in order to enhance the consumer appeal of the entire 37-volume series. Most highly prized among the tracks overall include Martyn Hill's rendition of "Adelwold und Emma" on Volume 10, and the missing poems from "Die Schone Mullerin," spoken by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Volume 25. Volume 26, An 1826 Schubertiad with soprano Christine Schaefer, was named editor's choice for classic Compact Disc Song Record of the Year by Gramophone.

Taking this lengthy project one disc at a time, Perry worked without preconceived notions of which artists would be recording which selections. As a result many of those featured in the series were previously unknown musicians, including Matthias Goerne who is heard on "Winterreise" on Volume 30, which was cited among the best classical compact discs of 1997 by the London Times. Ian Bostridge--then a newcomer--was heard on "Die Schone Mullerin," Volume 25. The series' final release, The Final Year, was honored by a variety of organizations and publications, including Gramophone (Editor's Choice), and the Fonoforum of Germany (Critic's Choice). Likewise this disc received the Echo Klassic 2000 Award, and the German Preis Der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik. A number of the Schubert volumes were cited by BBC Music Magazine, including Volume 34, which was a pick of the month, and Volume 36, which was named a critic's choice. In all, the series was cited nine times by Gramophone.

1999 marked the completion of a similarly comprehensive Liszt project, as Hyperion released the 95th and final disc of The Complete Piano Music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Performed by Leslie Howard, the project encompassed 117 hours of completed performance, beginning with Vol. 1 - The Waltzes, recorded in October 1985 and released the following year. This first release earned recognition from prestigious organizations and publications, including Gramophone, which bestowed the Critics' Choice award on the disc. Volumes 2, 5, 6, 20, and 24 won the Liszt Society Grand Prix in Budapest.

As with the Schubert collection, this project might not have realized completion had Perry realized at the onset that a Herculean effort would be involved. Obstacles to overcome in producing this series included the arrangement of unfinished works, which had been apparently cast aside by the moody composer. Determined to reconstitute the entire repertoire, those involved in the project took great pains and succeeded in completing what others had undertaken but had failed to accomplish.

Also in the 1980s, Perry created a smaller, budget label, called Helios, which experienced slumping sales and was dropped for a time. Reactivated in the 1990s, it became a vehicle for back-catalogue releases.

In 2001, Hyperion supported a catalog of approximately 1,000 discs, adding an estimated 80 new titles annually--significant figures at a time when the breadth of the classical catalogues made it difficult for retailers to stock everything, thus dictating a relatively low selection and limited availability of any particular title. In an interview published in Birmingham Post that year, Perry acknowledged the dire straits of the classical recording industry in the European market. BMG at that point had pulled out of the classical market in Europe, having yanked its RCA label in the process. Perry noted that regardless Hyperion remained profitable slightly more than 20 years after its founding.

Perry was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999. In 2001 he retired from his position as managing director of Hyperion, relinquishing control to his son, Simon. He died on February 9, 2003, in London, England, at age 71 and was buried in Eltham. A likeable man who was devoid of pretense, Perry had a shrewd ear for pleasurable listening, and this trait stood as the cornerstone of his success. He was well-loved by artists and critics alike. "The gleam in his eye was an urge to share good music with anyone who might love it--chaps like himself, without social pretensions or academic qualifications, whose grey horizons could be tinted by an exposure to aural glories," said Norman Lebrecht in an Evening Standard eulogy.

by G. Cooksey

Ted Perry's Career

Sold records, EMB Handmade Gramophones, London, 1949; Heliodor Records, 1956 and Deutsche Gramophon, London office, 1956; Festival Records, Sydney, Australia, 1957-61, director of the artist & repertoire (A&R), Saga Records, London, 1961; established Meridian Records with John Shuttleworh, mid-1970s; established Hyperion Records with wife, Doreen, and Bill Singer, 1980; managing director, Hyperion Records, 1980-2001.

Ted Perry's Awards

Member of the British Empire (MBE), 1999; honored by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, 2002.

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

It was (is?) EMG Handmade Gramophones (not EMB), and the man in charge (owner?) in the 1950s & 60s when I was in the record industry in London was John Job. Incidently, my then stepfather, Hilton Nixon, and I started Nixa records. I moved to Heliodor, probably shortly after Perry left, in 1956/7. I left Heliodor to go to EMI as one of Sir Joseph Lockwood's International Division bright young men, and was head-hunted by The Readers' Digest in about 1960 to take charge of the UK Gramophone Records Division. I left the RDA in 1967 to try develop and sell a new process for making vinyl records. I understand my machine design (only one component of the system) is now used to make CDs.