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Marie Lloyd smiling in a feathered headpiece

Marie Lloyd in Leeds

Friday 7 October 2022 marks 100 years since the death of the ‘Queen of the Music Hall’, Marie Lloyd. To commemorate the centenary, The British Music Hall Society is hosting a celebration of her life at St Luke’s Church, Hampstead – the church where her funeral was held and where 50,000 people lined the streets to bid her a final farewell.

Written by Bryony Jameson.

Just a little bit… Well not too much of it!

Born on 12 February 1870 as Matilda Wood, Marie Lloyd began her Music Hall career at the age of 15, adopting the stage name Bella Delamere. A great success from the start, Lloyd would ruffle some feathers along the way by singing other artist’s songs without their permission. Within a year her act would go from strength-to-strength, her new agent George Ware would provide her with original songs to sing and advised a new stage name of Marie Lloyd.

Her first big hit was The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery written by George Ware for another artist, Nelly Power. This song saw her popularity flourish and along with her ‘cheeky’ dancing, winks and smiles for the audience, she quickly became a favourite of the circuit. By the end of 1886, Lloyd was playing multiple Music Halls each night and was earning around £100 per week!

Contemporary theatre historian, W. MacQueen-Pope described Lloyd in his biography of her life: “She was the very essence of Music Hall, and womanhood…she could capture an audience and hold it entranced. She could make it roar with laughter, howl with delight, and bring it very near to tears.”

Marie Lloyd would continue to entertain audiences across London and around the country, before reaching international success between 1893 and 1900, touring Europe, North America, Australia and South Africa. She faced controversy from authorities as a result of her ‘risqué’ lyrics and gestures, even appearing in front of a committee to defend the songs of the Music Hall.  Prof. Derek B Scott  (2019, University of Leeds) said of her innuendo-ridden songs: “The words are absolutely harmless, and she would have argued—she always did—that those who protested about the vulgarity of her songs merely made their own filthy minds known to the public.”

Marie Lloyd smiling on stage

Marie Lloyd on stage, Credit VAM, Guy Little Theatrical Photograph

Lloyd in Leeds

As the centenary of Lloyd’s passing approached, we had a deep-dive into our archive held at West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) to see what we could find.

We’ve heard the stories and legends of Marie Lloyd’s performances, particularly at City Varieties Music Hall, but sadly haven’t been able to find anything certain of which year, or years, she performed there. The Leodis collection (barring two exceptions) for The Varieties starts in 1912 and reveals no clues, while our WYAS collection can be quite vague and sporadic around the turn of the century.

We did however discover a playbill that confirmed Marie Lloyd played her ‘first appearance in Leeds’ on Monday 25 April 1898 at Leeds Grand Theatre, starring in A.B.C. or Flossie the Frivolous, A New Musical Play for ‘one week only’.

A review from the time (26 March 1898, The Era) gives us a great idea of what the show would have been like: “Miss Marie Lloyd’s creation of the principal role of Flossie Furbelow was a pleasing embodiment of vivacious acting, attractive vocalism, and skilful dancing. Her songs included “The A.B.C. Girl” and “The Bicycling Girl,” which were loudly applauded; and she also joined Mr Thompson in a duet wherein they appeared first as a schoolgirl and a schoolboy, then as a stock-broker and his client, and afterwards as ‘Arry and ‘Arriet, and made a big hit.”

Marie Lloyd playbill for ABC or Flossie the Frivolous at Leeds Grand Theatre in 1898

Playbill from 1898 for Marie Lloyd at Leeds Grand Theatre. Credit Leeds Heritage Theatres, WYAS762/103

Our second interesting find from our archives is a stunning signed photograph postcard dated 9 March 1904. We believe this could well be our missing link and confirm when Marie Lloyd took the stage at The Varieties.

However, a signed image on its own does not necessarily indicate which venue she performed at as there are gaps in our programme and playbill archive. The postcard is stored among over 100 other signed photographs of Lloyd’s contemporaries, but with no context of this collection – which venue or who collected them – we do not know for sure that it is connected to The Varieties and its Edwardian heyday.

Leeds was home to several theatres at the turn of the 20th century, and we know from newspaper reports that she was a much sought-after act and very popular with us Loiners. In 1899, the Empire Theatre served an injunction cancelling Lloyd’s performance at the Tivoli as she was “already under contract to appear at [The Empire] later in the season” (15 July 1899, The Era).

As our archive looks after a number of items from past Leeds theatres, there is a possibility this signed photo could be from one of her many performances in the city. We will keep up our research but in the meantime, it’s a truly wonderful piece of treasure in our collection.

Marie Lloyd Signed photograph. She is wearing a feathered hat and rouched dress, smiling. The signature reads: Yours always, Marie Lloyd 9/3/04

Marie Lloyd signed postcard. Credit Leeds Heritage Theatres, WYL762/65

One of the ruins Cromwell knocked about a bit

Although largely successful in her professional career, Marie Lloyd led a very turbulent and sad personal life with three marriages, abuse and ill-health.

On 4 October 1922 she went against her doctor’s advice and performed I’m One of the Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About A Bit at Empire Music Hall in Edmonton. She was unsteady on her feet and collapsed on stage, the audience thought it was hilarious and part of the act. Three days later she was back to perform at the Alhambra Theatre, London, but was too ill to proceed, returning home where she died of heart and kidney failure, aged 52.

If you would like to read more about the life of Marie Lloyd, head to Kate Garner’s brilliant biography on Hidden HerStory.

Watch the Players’ Theatre, led by Georgia Brown, with their tribute to Marie Lloyd and other Music Hall classics as part of BBC’s The Good Old Days in 1976 filmed at The Varieties:

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