Tag Archives: Cissie Loftus

Behind the scenes

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Waiting to go on at the Royal Music Hall

Music hall life was often far from the glamour and glitter we might imagine as this description of a dressing room by singer Lilian Warren shows. She is being interviewed for the trade Paper The Era in 1905 and remembers how artistes would apply their make-up by a ‘small piece of candle’ and a mirror which they supplied themselves. She tells of a music hall in Aberdare where thirteen performers shared one dressing-room where they clubbed together to make the room more acceptable. Lilian bought coal for the fire and the other girls provided the candles. By the time of her interview there had been a marked change with more comfortable, clean dressing-rooms provided.

 

 

 

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill, ‘The Vital Spark’ became a successful and respected serio-comic but started life in poverty. At a young age she was articled for five years to the Bradford Tavern and her life was not her own. She started work cleaning the bars at a very early hour and then was expected to be changed and in the singing room by mid-day  to harmonise with the drinkers. She often worked until 2am and food was scarce. Jenny died in her late forties and her early life took a great toll.

 

 

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Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd was known as being kind-hearted and was well aware of class distinction and the poverty of the working classes. One day she was leaving a music hall at the end of a performance when she found a group of children round the stage door. They had no shoes and generous Marie took them to a local shop and bought them boots. The next day they were at the stage door again but with no boots. This was recounted by another performer who was with Marie Lloyd at the time.

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Vesta Tilley

 

Vesta Tilley encountered a different kind of behind the scenes experience when performing at a dinner for ‘the poor of London’ given by the King. She arrived at a large building in the city wearing her Eton schoolboy costume and found there were several rooms being used for the dinner. She was running up and down the stairs trying to find the right room passing various officials on the way. Vesta heard one of them indignantly comment that the problems were not helped by these boys getting in everyone’s way.

 

 

In her autobiography Vesta Tilley remarks on the rivalry that could exist between performers amid the desire to be top of the bill. There could be appropriation of a successful artiste’s songs or of part of their act and music hall managers were often unsympathetic as they could pay the imitator less money. Vesta felt that in some cases the audience wanted a particular song rather than a particular singer. She mentioned the case of mimics such as Cissie Loftus who was acknowledged as an excellent performer but would have songs lifted from her act by others who made little attempt to portray their subject in a way that was recognisable to the audience.

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Cissie Loftus

 

Music hall performers had their highs and lows on and off the stage but they understood their audiences and their audiences loved them for it.

 

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, Recollections of Vesta Tilley, The Early Doors – Harold Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yvette Guilbert

Yvette Guilbert was born in 1865 and lived her early life in poverty but became the toast of Paris, adored by everyone from the poor of the Marais to artists and the literati. She was tall and thin with hennaed red hair and wore a long dress and long black gloves on stage. Yvette Guilbert said of herself, ‘I was looking for an impression of extreme simplicity, which allied itself harmoniously with the lines of my slim body and my small head —in a repertoire that I had decided would be a ribald one. To assemble an exhibition of humorous sketches in song, depicting all the indecencies, all the excesses, all the vices of my contemporaries and to enable them to laugh at themselves — that was to be my innovation, my big idea.’ 

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Yvette Guilbert

She was said to come on to the stage in a rather distracted manner with her shoulders drooping and her arms hanging limply by her sides and was termed a diseuse as she half sang, half spoke her songs. Yvette Guilbert sang earthy songs about characters polite society would rather forget and some were so filthy they were said to make a Sapper blush. She had perfect diction and not a word of the songs escaped the audience. However Yvette was not universally admired and one British newspaper report states that, ‘Mdlle Guilbert is not specially pretty, dresses very simply, and unlike the majority of her vocalising countrywomen, does not indulge in high kicking.’ Faint praise. The reviewer  was not impressed by the fact that Mdlle Guilbert had turned down an offer of several hundred pounds to sing at Marlborough House at a party for the Prince of Wales. She asked for a much higher amount but received no reply from the royal household.

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Portrait by Toulouse Lautrec

When she first appeared in London in 1892 it was noted that she spoke fluent English but it was suggested she should be careful not to translate her songs too literally in case of action from the Lord Chamberlain and the London County Council. In 1894 she appeared on the same bill as Marie Lloyd which must have given the authorities sleepless nights. In London in 1909 she was appearing at the London Palace Theatre and remarked that the theatre  impresario Sir Alfred Butt ‘neglected my publicity for the sake of my fellow actor, Consul the chimpanzee.’  Consul appeared above her on the bill. Yvette was given the honour of an impersonation by the celebrated music hall mimic Cissie Loftus but Yvette sang one of Cissie’s songs, Linger Longer, Loo copying the mannerisms of it’s original singer.

 

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Cissie Loftus

In 1899 Yvette had an operation to have a kidney removed. She had been in great pain around the waist, said to be caused by excessively tight lacing. The road to recovery was long and she could not avoid thinking about the future. A highly intelligent woman, Yvette Guilbert realised that to remain popular she needed to move on from the crude songs which had made her name. She had researched old French chanson and sung them to small audiences on occasion. She determined this would be her new path. She was interested in mediaeval songs as well as those from later centuries and set about studying Latin grammar and collecting old manuscripts. For her first public performance after her illness she had Baudelaire’s poems set to music and sang dramatic songs by Maurice Rollinat. She did not wear the black gloves. It was a brilliant performance but in a small theatre with a high class clientele. It took longer to win round her previous audience who perhaps felt she was deserting them for a greater respectability.

Yvette Guilbert was admired by George Bernard Shaw, became a friend of Sigmund Freud and was painted by the leading artists of her time, although she rebuked Toulouse Lautrec for his depictions of her on stage. She wrote novels, lectured on chanson, appeared in  operetta, was a suffragette and was elected to the French Société des ancients textes. She died in Aix en Provence during the Second World War in 1944, having moved there from Paris with her husband Max Schiller who was Jewish.

Thanks to the britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, and That was Yvette by Bettina Knapp and Myra Chipman

In the courts

Music hall artistes, stars or unknowns, were no strangers to the courts and the newspapers had a field day reporting drunken escapades, thefts, adultery, assaults and disputes between managers and performers. Not quite respectable but still a good source of entertainment on and off the stage. In London, March 1897, Lily and Ellen Brown were charged with being disorderly and using obscene language. Shrieks and cries were heard around two in the morning in the Regent’s Park area where two young men accused the women of robbing them in a cab. The men refused to bring charges and the Misses Brown used ‘filthy and most disgraceful language — creating so great a disturbance that the whole neighbourhood was roused’. They said they had been taking part in a ballet at the Empire Theatre and were on their way home. The magistrate felt that dancing in the Empire ballet should have been sufficiently exciting for them and that they seemed to have an exuberance of artistic talent. They were fined ten shillings.

May Levey

May Levey

The Sisters Levey were a popular song and dance act but were subjected to ‘clowning’ by a cellist in the orchestra at the the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool. ‘Clowning’ was the term used for purposely substituting the wrong music during a music hall act. The cellist, Frank Richardson, also absented himself from the orchestra during the performance. He was sacked and went to court to claim £4 10s (£4.50) for wrongful dismissal. He claimed it was customary for a musician to leave the performance for a few minutes if not needed for the piece but the theatre management responded that he was absent during the playing of two numbers, in one of which he was a soloist. The conductor appreciated that Frank Richardson was an excellent cello player but he had frequently been reprimanded for ‘clowning’ which took place when the Sisters Levey were on the stage and they had complained. The judge found against the cellist remarking that he had been properly dismissed, considering his conduct.

Marie Lloyd seems to have spent quite a lot of time in court on her own behalf or connected to other cases. In January 1893 her husband, Percy Courtenay, summoned Bessie Bellwood for assaulting him at the Trocadero Music Hall. Bessie Bellwood, a former rabbit skinner from Bermondsey, was a fiery character who gave hecklers a hard time. Although a devout Roman Catholic she was known for her strong language on and off stage. Like many music hall performers she was a heavy drinker which might explain her tendency to lash out when riled. This case was adjourned and all parties seemed to have calmed down as it wasn’t pursued.

Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd  took her coachman to court in 1896 for stealing a gold watch and diamond ring from her. Herbert Norton, aged twenty-four, had worked for Marie Lloyd for two years and disappeared one Saturday without notice. The ring was missing and found at a local pawnbroker’s along with the gold watch. Marie Lloyd was notoriously soft-hearted and generous and rather than prosecute Herbert she sent a telegram to his address saying if he returned the items by six o’clock she would not go to the police. She heard nothing but on Monday a parcel arrived containing Herbert’s uniform breeches, a tie and two pawn tickets. She sent the parcel back and went to the police. At the trial Marie Lloyd said, ‘Herbert, if you had asked me to forgive you I would have done so’. Apparently Herbert had robbed her before but she had forgiven him. The magistrate asked Marie if she desired to recommend him to mercy now to which she replied, ‘Oh, yes, please’. Herbert was sentenced to two months’ hard labour.

Cissie Loftus

Cissie Loftus

Next, the sad case of Cissie (Cecilia) Loftus who was a popular and gifted mimic on the music hall stage. In 1922 she was arrested for the possession of drugs and also had blank prescriptions in her bag. She told the arresting detective that she was undergoing a cure and a court case would ruin her. It was said in her defence that that she had had a long period of ill-health through which she had to work as her husband had left her with large debts. Drugs were administered to her during a serious operation and during childbirth and she became unable to resist them. Cissie said she had become almost afraid to appear on the stage and drugs helped her. She said her friends knew she was trying to free herself from the drugs habit. The judge ruled that she be placed on probation for a year on the condition that she went into a home for six to twelve months where she would be under strict medical supervision. Two of Cissie’s friends undertook to see that she complied with the terms of the judgement.

Less seriously, but still worthy of a court case, a waiter at the Tivoli Music Hall in London was charged with unlawfully offering cigar ends for sale. There was said to be a thriving trade between the music halls and cigar makers in the East End who used the ends to make cheap cigars. An attendant at the Pavilion Music Hall was prosecuted on behalf of the Inland Revenue with selling cigar ends without a licence. One line of defence was that in Paris and New York this was considered an acceptable business but the Inland Revenue wanted to stop the collection of cigar ends in large places of entertainment. Do you think they succeeded? The case was adjourned.

Thanks to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk