British Comedy Guide

Music hall and variety Page 17


Born on last Thursday's date (31 May) in 1885 in Saltley, a working class area of Birmingham, Fred Barnes was hugely popular on the Music Hall stage and was known as 'the wavy haired, blue-eyed Adonis', lauded for his looks, talent and charm. He is chiefly remembered for his signature song, The Black Sheep of the Family, which he first performed in 1907 and which made him an overnight success. He composed the music and wrote the lyrics himself, unusual at the time as music hall performers usually used songwriters to write for them. He was also the first person to perform Give Me the Moonlight, which, in later years, became Frankie Vaughan's signature tune:

The son of a butcher, he became interested in performance when, at the age of 10, he saw the male impersonator Vesta Tilley on stage and thereafter was determined not to join the family meat business. His phenomenal success with The Black Sheep of the Family led to top billing at all of the major music halls (including the London Palladium). He also played principal boy roles in pantomime every Christmas, also unusual for the time as these roles were generally taken by popular female music hall stars.

As a result of his success, he became considerably wealthy and became renowned for his lavish spending and lifestyle as much as for his songs. He was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence and his family found this difficult to digest. His father committed suicide in 1913, which has been attributed to the shame he felt about his son's lifestyle choices.

Alcohol proved to be Barnes' undoing and he became increasingly reliant on it. By the mid 1930s, Barnes was suffering from TB. His failing health led him and his lover (his manager, John Senior) to move to Southend-on-Sea where his work consisted of playing the piano in pubs while Senior collected tips. Following his death on 23 October 1938, an inquest found that the cause of death was from the effects of coal gas poisoning, though the gas tap had been turned off and suicide was ruled out.

On 18th October 2021 a blue plaque commemorating Fred Barnes was erected by the British Music Hall Society and unveiled by their then President Paul O'Grady, at Barnes' former home at 22 Clifton Villas, Maida Vale. Among those in attendance was Pretenders singer, Chrissie Hynde.


L to R, Alison Young (British Music Hall Society Secretary), Paul O'Grady, Christopher Green (actor who had recently portrayed Fred Barnes in a production), Adam Borzone (British Music Hall Chairman), John Orchard (editor of "The Call Boy" magazine).


Gracie Fields wishing for luck as they wave her goodbye:

and Vera Lynn blessing them all:


The Happidrome was a BBC radio comedy programme produced in Britain between 1941 and 1947. It was produced by Ernest Longstaffe and starred Harry Korris as Mr Lovejoy, the harassed manager of a small provincial theatre. Other regular cast members were Cecil Frederick as Ramsbottom, the stage manager, and Robbie Vincent as Enoch, the call boy. The show also featured leading performers of the time as guest stars.

The programme was intended as a showcase for leading variety acts, and, because of the wartime evacuation of the BBC's Variety Department, was broadcast live each week from the Grand Theatre, Llandudno in north Wales, with an audience of war workers and service personnel.[1] Longstaffe had seen Korris, Frederick, and Vincent performing together in a summer show, Arcadian Follies, in Blackpool, and built the show around them.

It was broadcast to troops around the world, and, to the BBC's surprise, the trio themselves became stars. The show started on 9 February 1941 and was originally scheduled to run for six weeks, but proved popular and ran for three lengthy series (1941-42, 1943-44, and 1946-47), with a final episode on Boxing Day 1947. Their catchphrases, such as "Let me tell you..." and "Take him away, Ramsbottom", became popular, as did the closing song, starting: "We three in Happidrome, working for the BBC / Ramsbottom and Enoch and me..".

Many of the top British stars of the day appeared on the show, including Sandy Powell, Charles Penrose, Jack Warner, Beryl Reid, and Vic Oliver, together with earlier music hall stars including Harry Champion, George Robey, Hetty King, and G. H. Elliott. The final episode in 1947 featured Josef Locke and Suzette Tarri

In 1942, the show was presented at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London, with Leslie Hutchinson ("Hutch") guesting. There was also a spin-off film, Happidrome, in 1943.

Opportunity certainly knocked for a few famous (and a few not so famous) faces over the years:

Quote: Billy Bunter @ 10th June 2024, 3:22 PM

Opportunity certainly knocked for a few famous (and a few not so famous) faces over the years:


The Ascot Gavotte from My Fair Lady. Seemed appropriate somehow this week. The keen-eyed will, of course, have noticed that the horses are actually going in the wrong direction but nevertheless.

Quote: Billy Bunter @ 20th June 2024, 7:34 PM

The Ascot Gavotte from My Fair Lady. Seemed appropriate somehow this week. The keen-eyed will, of course, have noticed that the horses are actually going in the wrong direction but nevertheless.

Yes, I did notice that 🥱

Two comic music hall songs from Fred Gibson:

Buying a Stamp


the World War 1 song The Photo of the Girl I Left Behind


Born Samuel Cowan in London on 30 July 1881 - 31 March 1938, Sam Mayo was an English music hall entertainer, pianist and songwriter.
He first worked in his father's second-hand shop while singing in pubs and clubs with his brothers, Ted and Maurice, and collecting bets. This early involvement in gambling stayed with him, heavy gambling causing him to be declared bankrupt three times. He adopted the stage surname "Mayo" to distinguish himself from his brother Ted Cowan.

Mayo developed a unique comic style as a music hall singer. Dressed in long overcoat, he sat deadpan at the piano and sang in a lugubrious voice and with quirky humour and was billed as "The Immobile One". He holds the record for appearing at the greatest number of music halls in a single evening, appearing at nine London venues on the evening of 21 January 1905.

Mayo mostly wrote his own songs, such as The Trumpeter:

and also provided other entertainers, including Ernie Mayne (see my post on page 11 of this thread), with material such as the song Where Do Flies Go in the Winter Time?

He died of a heart attack whilst playing snooker at Ascot Club, in Charing Cross, on 31 March 1938, a week after attending the funeral of his son, who had died of TB, and was buried at Willesden Jewish Cemetery.


PC Sandy Powell (see my post on page 3 of this thread) has to deal with Herbert falling in the river (in somewhat Robb Wilton fashion I feel):


Born on today's date (4 July) in 1872, Ronald Macdonald Hutchison, known professionally as Harry Tate (taking his stage name from the sugar refiners, Henry Tate & Sons), was an English comedian. who performed in the music halls, variety and films (including as the auctioneer in Keep Your Seats Please - see separate thread -with George Formby & Alastair Sim).

Several catch phrases he used became popular in Britain in the twentieth century, including "Good-bye-ee", which inspired the popular First World War song and "I don't think", used as an ironic postscript, as in "it's a nice day today - I don't think". He wore a false moustache, which he could twitch or move to express all kinds of emotion such as in the sketch "Billiards" below (introduced by Jimmy Perry):

He was a keen motorist in the early days of motoring and was the owner of the earliest known celebrity personalised number plate, T 8 and another of his famous sketches, here with the Western Brothers (see my post on page 8 of this thread), revolves around his failure to get his son to school by car:

He appeared in four Royal Variety Performances - in 1912, 1919, 1925 & 1938 - and was a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats, serving as "King Rat" in 1911. He suffered a stroke and died, aged 67, on 14 February 1940 and was buried at St Mary's Northolt. For a time, his son Ronnie continued the act as "Harry Tate Junior".


Anthony James Donegan ("Lonnie" in homage to blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson), was the son of a Glasgow classical violinist. He bought his first guitar at 14, learning from BBC radio to play songs like Frankie and Johnny and Puttin' on the Style.

In 1952 he formed a band with Chris Barber and Ken Colyer, just deported from the US for playing with black musicians. They did not expect there to be money in it; the motive was commitment. They used to drive from London and Manchester and back the same day, for a £30 fee. While in the band Donegan sang and played guitar and banjo in their Dixieland set and also began playing with two other band members during the intervals to provide what they called a "skiffle break", a name suggested by Ken Colyer's brother, Bill, after the Dan Burley Skiffle Group of the 1930s. In 1954 Colyer left and the band became Chris Barber's Jazz Band.

With a washboard, tea-chest bass, and a cheap Spanish guitar, Donegan played folk and blues songs by artists such as Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie. This proved popular and in July 1954 he recorded a fast version of Lead Belly's Rock Island Line with John Henry on the B-side, which reached # 8 in the UK charts. His next single for Decca, Diggin' My Potatoes, was recorded at a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 30 October 1954 but failed to chart. Decca dropped Donegan thereafter but, within a month, he was at the Abbey Road Studios in London recording for EMI's Columbia label. He had left the Barber band, and by spring 1955, signed a recording contract with Pye. His next single "Lost John" reached # 2. Number one hits Cumberland Gap and Gamblin'Man/Putting on the Style followed.

By the early 60s, he had turned to novelty songs with the likes of Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour and of course My Old Man's A Dustman although this did not go down well with his legion of skiffle fans and, by the mid-60s, his chart career was over and he retreated into comedy and cabaret although he did write the song I'll Never Fall in Love Again, which was a hit for Tom Jones in 1967.

Elton John, Ringo Starr and Brian May paid tribute by playing on Donegan's 1978 LP Puttin' on the Style, and Donegan teamed up with Van Morrison for a 1999 recording Skiffle Sessions. In 1997 Donegan received a lifetime achievement award and in November 2000 collected an MBE from Buckingham Palace. He died, following a series of heart attacks and by-pass surgery, on 3 November 2002, aged 71.

Here is one of his lesser known novelty songs from 1965 Ding Ding:

And here he teams up for two recordings with Max Miller:

Talking of Lonnie Donegan (as we were in the preceding post) and talking of England being in a football final (as much of the country is), here's a memory from 1966 when we all had World Cup Willies:

And here's a double sided record from Roy Hudd, The Day We Won the Cup c/w Ramsey's Men

In honour of the Wimbledon finals this weekend:

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