British actress Marie Lloyd (Queen of the Music Hall), on a postcard
Marie Lloyd (Queen of the Music Hall) c 1890 by The Hana Studios Ltd, published by J. Beagles & Co © National Portrait Gallery, London

I’ve been living in the 1950s (researching) for most of the last couple of weeks – it’s not a bad place, but I wouldn’t want to live there! There were still homes that didn’t have plumbed water to the house though most had electric lighting and cooking, which was fortunate given most homes had televisions.

I took some small detours during my trip, in the 1930s, I discovered that Amelia Earhart financed some of her flights with her own line of clothing, and in the 1900s that Australian Annette Kellerman is responsible for women having the opportunity to wear a bathing suit to swim in the ocean.

And then I followed a link from here to there to somewhere else entirely and found myself in the land of the Victorian English Music Hall, hot on the heels of larger than life Marie Lloyd, the “Queen of the Music Hall” (1870 – 1922). Here is a recording of her (starts when you open it) singing When I Take My Morning Promenade, (wearing her little dress and encouraging the boys to stare hard) though I don’t have any detail on the circumstances of the recording.

And this is Norah Blaney (another music hall star) singing Oh! Mr Porter (also starts when you open it),  a song Marie was very famous for. It seems at first listen a very innocent story about a young woman who stays on the train a little further than she had intended to…

Interestingly, I seem to have some kind of genetic race memory of the words of some of her most famous songs. Like The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery (this is rather a sweet rendition) (another self-starter). Or more realistically I heard them at a party as a child.

I can’t help feeling that given Lloyd’s reputation for innuendo and general naughtiness she would have given the song more oomph. One of the stories that contributed to her reputation concerns a time when her song I Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas was targeted by moralists who claimed it referred to urination, so she changed the lyrics to refer to cabbages and leeks. I suppose we’d find her very tame.

She went through three husbands – divorced the first (Percy Charles Courtenay), was widowed by her second (Alexander Hurley) and was survived by her third (Bernard Dillon). She was refused entry to the US for “Moral Turpitude” when she arrived as Mrs Dillon before Mr Hurley had died. Towards the end of her life, she was drinking regularly, becoming unreliable and losing the strength of her voice. She fell during her last performance and died three days later. More than one hundred thousand mourners attended her funeral witnessing her ebony cane and sparkling top hat lying on her hearse, and her cortege inclusive of twelve cars of flowers [1].

But it wasn’t all fun and innuendo – she had her serious side too, picketing for fair pay for music hall performers, and supporting WWI recruitment efforts [2].

According to her obituary, she retained the original music-hall (pub) humour she grew up with – no matter how far she travelled she always took Hackney with her. It seems that while she became very rich, she never lost touch with those roots despite the opinions of those with more delicate sensibilities. She died in debt having shared her wealth with “her friends, among lame dogs, among the orchestra that helped her through with her songs…  She was the philosopher of urban London’s Saturday night. “The boy that I love sits up in the gallery,” she used to sing; and she meant it. The gallery had borne her and brought her up, and she knew no other gods”.

So in case you wondered, the whole point of this post is that I have had another of Marie Lloyd’s famous songs stuck in my head since Friday and I have to share it. I do in fact remember the song My Old Man (Said Follow the Van) (self-starter) from my childhood (and the dance that went with it – not the one from this clip but the one my Dad used to do). Happy Times.


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