A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good…..

Tonight, I am going to flop on the sofa and watch a programme about one of my local heroines, the delectably bawdy Miss Marie Lloyd.

Yes, one of my unplumbed passions is the Victorian and Edwardian Music Hall, and for a variety of reasons. I did grow up in the heartland of this art form, Hackney in London. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother singing things like ‘Daisy, Daisy’ and ‘One of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit’. My great-grandmother on the other side was a corsetiere and theatrical costumiere in Hoxton, and she made corsets for Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley, and even Ivor Novello.

I spent a large part of my teenage years (er- lots more than I should have really or I’d have great qualifications..) in a drama group based at one of London’s few surviving Music Halls, Hoxton Hall in London. And what did we do for fun (apart from sex, drugs, rock and roll and drama?). We did music hall shows. In between our controversial prize winning social-commentary epics, and to raise money to keep the place going, we put on music hall shows. I always got to do the naughty songs.

We had an amazing resource- a pocket Victorian music hall, complete with costume store…. you’ll have seen the theatre, it has been in countless films and documentaries, from Sherlock Holmes to The Missionary, Scandal to documentaries about Merle Oberon. One night I tried on a corset for a performance…only to find that it had been made by my own great grandmother.

Marie Lloyd (and that’s pronounced Maaaarie, not Marry) really was a local girl. Her house still stands in Dalston, where I grew up.

Even when I lived in Hebden Bridge years later, I directed (and starred in, it was a cheapskate production…) a Victorian Music Hall. As the only Londoner there, I nearly fell over when the compere introduced me as ‘The one and only cockney sparrow Miss Marie Lloyd’. So I’ve always had a sneaky love for those bawdy, double-entendre filled songs and the naughty lady in the nice corsets…..

To top it all, I heard a piece on Radio 4 the other night about this production- it was filmed in Hoxton Hall. I can sit there smugly saying ‘I’ve done that song on that stage’. Just hope it lives up to its promise and pedigree. BBC 4, 9pm tonight.

Marie Lloyd

The East End of the late 19th and early 20th century was the birthplace and home of music hall – and nobody personified the energy, bawdiness and vigour of the halls more than Marie Lloyd. The cockney chanteuse sang of a life of drunkeness, lewd behaviour and moonlight flits. But musical fiction paled next to the facts of her outrageous life. It was a lifestyle that was to scandalise staid English society and would, ultimately, lead to her early death.

Matilda Victoria Wood was born on 12 February 1870 in Hoxton, the eldest of nine. All the sisters, Daisy, Alice, Rose and Marie would hang around at the Eagle music hall round the corner, and all wanted to go on the stage.

The young Matilda had a taste for hard work and a flair for organisation. She cajoled her sisters and friends into group called the Fairy Bells Minstrels, who toured the mission halls with a programme on the evils of drink – ironic given Marie’s later taste for the stuff.

Although she was only 16, the determined Matilda announced she would go on the stage. Promoters were always scouting the halls for fresh talent and she soon got a try-out at Belmont’s Sebright Hall in Hackney Road, and was then retained for a fee of 15/- (75p) a week.

Soon she was appearing at small halls around the East End, doing two or three shows a night, rushing from one to the other carrying her costume. Enormous success wasn’t far away and it resulted from a potent mix of talent, ambition, relentless hard work … and a ruthless and mercenary streak. Now dubbed Marie Lloyd she needed a signature song, and found it in The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery. She pinched the song from fellow performer Nelly Power and it quickly became her own, while Nelly faded from view.

Success came and with it the first of a string of disastrous romances. Marie was earning a fortune, which no doubt made her doubly attractive to Percy Courtenay. He became Marie’s first husband in 1887, when Percy was 25 and Marie just 17. She was working as hard as ever, but her husband had no regular job. Marie Jr was born but the marriage was over by 1893. The drunken Percy began following Marie, hanging around at the stage door and abusing her.

Marie’s career went into orbit. The audiences loved her and she loved the East End halls where she constantly pushed the limits with her saucy winks, vulgarity and risque songs. Marie was such a huge star by now that she couldn’t avoid the stories appearing about her in the papers. Eventually Marie had to appear before the Vigilance Committee.

She sang her songs without the usual winks and gestures and the committee let her go. Marie then gave a rendition of the chaste drawing-room ballad Come into the Garden Maud, so laden down with innuendo and gesture that it became quite obscene.

In 1901 she began living with singer Alec Hurley. It was another shock for puritanical England – she wasn’t to be divorced by Percy Courtenay till 1906. Soon after came the Music Hall Strike, which had its first meeting at the Hampstead house of Marie and Alec. It was called by the smaller artists who were being asked to do extra performances for no extra cash. The artists won, the managers gave in, but Marie had made powerful enemies.

In 1910 Marie was 40, but sedate middle age didn’t beckon. Instead she left Alec and moved in with Derby-winning Irish jockey Bernard Dillon, 18 years her junior. Dillon was to lose his jockey’s licence within months. His career over at 22, he began drinking heavily.

Her career began to falter too. The first Royal Command Performance was held in 1912 specially for the Music Hall, but Marie was omitted by the vengeful managers. Then in 1913 Marie and Bernard arrived in New York for a six-month tour. They were arrested at the quayside – their crime was to be unmarried. Charged with moral turpitude, they were deported straight back to Britain.

Marie began to drink. She often arrived late on stage, her voice became weaker and her act shorter. In October 1922 she was appearing at Edmonton and the last song in her act was the famous It’s a bit of a ruin that Cromwell knocked about. The delighted audience howled at her staggering about on the stage, thinking she was acting the drunk. But Marie was desperately ill. The crowd laughed when she fell, thinking it was part of the act. But it was Marie’s final call.. Three days later, on 7 October, she died.


2 Responses to “A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good…..”

  1. ‘ello London calling(0:

    Found your smaquesmagical bloggin’s whilst doing a search for Marie Lloyd.
    I wondered if you had any more info on her daughter Marie Lloyd jr? I can’t seem to find any?


  2. I’m glad that I’ve found your musingsofkhlari.wordpress.com blog. Oh, this was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I prolong alot and never seem to get something done.

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