He is best known for the Carol Symphony, from which, the third movement was used for the title music of the 1943 Children's Hour and 1984 BBC children's television adaptation of John Masefield's The Box of Delights, in particular the variation on the theme of The First Nowell. He is also well known for his settings of various nursery rhymes and children's poems. His setting of Old Mother Hubbard is famous for being composed in the manner of Handel. His song setting of Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat was notably recorded by Elton Hayes and featured on the BBC's Children's Favourites radio show.
His father, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, was the governor of Cape Colony from 1901 to 1910 during the Boer War. He initially lived in Kent, then moved back to South Africa in 1907. He was taught the piano by Dr Thomas Barrow Dowling (1861 - 1926), the organist of Cape Town cathedral. Victor was a child prodigy, composing many pieces before the age of ten. In England in 1910, he was taught piano by Donald Tovey, and was initially educated at Heatherdown School, near Ascot in Berkshire. In 1914, his father died. Victor was then educated at Eton College (also in Berkshire), followed by Balliol College at the University of Oxford. At the Royal College of Music, he studied conducting under Adrian Boult. In 1922, he returned to Cape Town, to teach at the South African College of Music, which was later incorporated into the University of Cape Town. Here, he married Marjorie Hugo.
He joined the BBC at Savoy Hill in 1926, becoming a conductor, pianist and accompanist. He moved to Hampstead, where his two sons were born. In 1933, he moved to Birmingham to become Midland Regional Director of Music for the BBC, where he formed and conducted the Midland Studio Orchestra. In 1934, he left the BBC to become Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham, taking over from Sir Granville Bantock. In 1938, he saw signs of war, and moved his family out of Birmingham to a nearby village. During the war he became an ARP warden. He became a D.Mus from Oxford University in 1941. He also joined the university's officer cadet force. In 1944, he returned to the BBC to become Director of Music. He moved to St John's Wood. He never purchased a car, always using his bicycle.
The winter of 1947 was very long-lasting and to save fuel (which was still rationed), Hely-Hutchinson refused to switch on the radiators in his office. He developed a cold, which became pneumonia. He died on 11 March 1947 at the premature age of 45. Marjorie died in 1988. Astra Desmond sang at his memorial service.
- Carol Symphony (1927)
- Overture to a Pantomime (1947)
- Solemn Prelude, in G
- Three Fugal Fancies, for strings (1932)
- South African Suite
- Variations, Intermezzo and Finale (1927)
- Symphony for Small Orchestra (1942)
- Three Nonsense Songs, words by Edward Lear (1927)