In this edition of Music Hall Studies you will find these great performers. Click on their names for a short taster.
There were no female ventriloquists in variety. At least, there was none of any note, but there were two male vents dressed as women. One was Bobbie Kimber, who flourished for about 15 years, from just before the Second World War until the early 1950s. Most people thought he was a woman and it was front-page news when the “hoax” was revealed. As time went by, Bobbie began to wear female clothing both on- and offstage. In fact, by the end of his life, he was calling himself Roberta.
During a career lasting 23 years, George Leybourne had a significant influence on the Victorian halls. Leybourne was a man whose songs were sung and whistled on every street corner in the 1860s and 70s, the very first superstar of the halls. For those who know the history of music hall, Leybourne is a name which brings certain information to mind: Lions Comiques; faultless evening dress; a carriage and four; a grand life-style; drink; penury; and, of course, two songs in particular, The Flying Trapeze and Champagne Charlie.
Fred Coyne was a minor music hall singer about whom opinions differ. Arthur Roberts recalls him at Turnham’s, later the Metropolitan, Edgware Road, singing “one of the dullest songs that it has ever been my displeasure to listen to in my life;” Jacqueline Bratton dubs him “a minor Lion Comique and comic vocalist of steady, if not phenomenal, popularity;” Harry Preston remembers him as “very dashing in top-hat and frock coat”; while Charles Coborn lists him among “the leading lights of the music hall stage” and admits to using some of his songs in the early part of his own career.
The Halls’ Unacceptable Face
There is a dark side of popular music today. In rap, for instance, some lyrics are vile. Drugs are a problem too. Many Victorians looked on music hall as the more fastidious regard the pop industry now. For them, it was part of a yobbish culture in which the unwashed masses, along with disreputable members of the upper classes, were allowed to run riot, listened to inane songs and were ruined by drink, partly as a result of imitating their ludicrously unworthy heroes. Substitute drugs for drink and not much has changed.