Florrie Forde was an Australian with an attractive personality and a great stage presence. She was very astute in her choice of material and specialised in songs with rousing choruses which audiences joined in with gusto.
I remember some of the songs from family parties when everyone still sang the choruses and laughed and swayed back and forth in time to the music. My grandmother reminisced how she had found two of her sisters singing and dancing to one of the tunes from a barrel organ outside a pub. She’d dragged them away and they weren’t very happy about it. Down at the Old Bull and Bush, Oh, oh, Antonio and Hold your hand out, you naughty boy were favourites.
At twenty-one, Florrie Forde was an immediate hit when she came to London. She appeared in three music halls on her first night – the South London Palace, the Pavilion and the Oxford. She went down so well she was offered a three year contract on one of the music hall circuits. During the First World War she sang some of the most popular songs of the day – Pack up your troubles, It’s a long way to Tipperary and Goodbye–ee. Music hall stars often played principal boys in pantomime and Florrie Forde was no exception. She continued to perform until 1940 when she suffered a cerebral haemorrhage while entertaining the troops in World War 2.
The poet, Louis MacNeice, wrote of her in his poem Death of an Actress
With an elephantine shimmy and a sugared wink
She threw a trellis of Dorothy Perkins roses
Around an audience come from slum and suburb
And weary of the tea–leaves in the sink.