Remembering Marie Lloyd

Friday 7th October, 2022 marks 100 years since the death of Marie Lloyd, one of the most famous and popular music hall stars of the late 19th and early 20th century and “Queen of Comediennes”.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent

Early years

Born Matilda Alice Victoria Wood on the 12th February 1870, Marie was the eldest of nine children. All of the Wood children would take their turn on the stage, performing together as early as 1879 as a minstrel act called the ‘Fairy Bell troupe’, with a number of her siblings going on to have successful careers in their own right.

In 1885 Lloyd made her first professional solo performance, performing as ‘Bella Delmere’ at the Royal Eagle Music Hall on 9th May, aged just 15. However, this name was quickly changed and by June of that year she was performing as ‘Marie Lloyd’. Despite not having the best of singing voices, Marie oozed charm and was a natural comedian, making her an instant hit. Her popularity continued to grow, and she continued to get bookings at halls across London, performing songs such as “The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery”, “She Has a Sailor for a Lover” and “Wink the Other Eye”. By 1891 Lloyd was a household name, pulling in large crowds at halls across Britain, and starring in the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane’s Christmas pantomimes alongisde stars such as Dan Leno. As her star continued to rise, her agent reported that Lloyd was fully booked up for years at the best houses across the UK, and that her salary ran from £250-£300 a week, sometimes as much as £700 a week at the height of her career. 

Reputation, charity, and controversy

Part of Lloyd’s appeal was that she did not appear on stage to be bound by the moral constraints of the time – her songs were cheeky and risqué, and she would play with the audience. However, this cheekiness did give her somewhat of a reputation. In 1895, Lloyd added the song ‘What’s that for, eh?’ to her act. The song tells the tale of a schoolchild who, when she asks her parents awkward questions, gets unsatisfactory answers. So she goes to her friend ‘Johnny Jones’ for help, and he teaches her the facts of life. And while the lyrics were not indecent, when Marie performed the song she was suggestive, winking to the audience and gesturing.

“What’s that for, eh? Tell me Ma
If you don’t tell me I’ll ask Pa”
But Ma said, “Oh its no thing shut your row”
Well, I’ve asked Johnny Jones, see
So I know now.”

The song and it’s performance was so controversial that it was cited as evidence in a hearing of 1896, when the Oxford Music Hall was threatened with having its licence withheld.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent

In October 1906 Lloyd was elected the first president of the Music Hall Ladies Guild. The organisation helped the wives of artists who were unable to perform and make money, providing food and resources to them and their families. They also supported young people, helping boys find work as messengers or call-boys. Some members of the Guild would use it as an opportunity to network and improve their social standing, however Lloyd did not have time for this pretentious self-promotion. She was well-known for her incredibly generosity and charitable giving, and preferred to have fun and entertain at Guild events.

Lloyd also petitioned for Music Hall artistes to have more rights and fair contracts. She used her clout as a well-known and celebrated artist to stand up for the community, and in 1899 she took a manager to court over a dispute with her contract, and won. This accomplishment was recognised by her peers, who presented her with gifts to mark her generosity in defending artist’s rights. She wrote in The Era “I am, and always have been ready and willing to help my brother and sister artists by every means in my power in anything that is for their good”. She was integral in developing the National Alliance, a group that wrote a charter that was sent out to theatre managers outlining the terms by which performers wished to work. The refusal by some to sign this charter led to a number of theatres being “blacklisted” by artists, and over two thousand performers taking to the streets to protest contract conditions.

1912 saw the first ever Royal Command Performance (later known as the Royal Variety Show) at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, with acts performing on stage in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. To some amazement, Marie Lloyd was left off of the bill. According to Graeme Cruickshank in the Spring 2012 volume of The Call Boy, this was possibly at the direction of Alfred Butt, Oswald Stoll and George Ashton (producers of the show) in their attempt to make the show “family friendly”. Some thought it may also have been due to her association with the music hall strike, or that it was simply a case of balancing the bill and not oversaturating it with female comedic performers. In public, Lloyd took the slight professionally and with dignity, but there is evidence that she was furious – Alfred Butt even wrote to the palace warning that Marie Lloyd was to write to the King regarding her omission (although there is no evidence of her ever doing this). Possibly telling of her feelings on the matter, on the night of the performance Lloyd put on her own show at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly, and left for Paris immediately after that performance. Albert Chevalier (who was also left off of the billing) said of it “The whole arrangement as it stands is really extraordinary. Who is there more representative of the variety profession? Miss Lloyd is a great genius, she is an artist from the crown of her head to the sole of her foot…”.

Marie continued to perform throughout World War I, performing new songs, including some with a military theme. She also frequently visited hospitals to visit wounded servicemen, and toured munition factories to boost morale.

“Now, I do feel so proud of you, I do honour bright
I’m going to give you an extra cuddle tonight
I didn’t like yer much before yer join’d the army, John
But I do like yer, cocky, now you’ve got yer Khaki on.”

Despite all her charitable efforts throughout her career and during the war, Marie was never officially recognised in the way her colleagues, such as George Robey CBE, were. This had an impact on her bitterness in later life, which was only exacerbated when she was overlooked again for the 1919 Command Performance.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent

Off stage life

Despite her successes, Lloyd had a troubled personal life. She was married three times, and experienced domestic abuse during two of them. She married Percy Charles Courtenay in 1887, but the marriage was unhappy, and filled with violence, drunkeness and jealousy. The couple divorced in 1894, after Courtenay discovered that Lloyd had started an affair with fellow performer Alec Hurley. Hurley and Lloyd married in 1906, however the pair were effectively seperated by 1910 after they had consistent marital probems. Lloyd began an open and passionate affair with Bernard Dillon, a jockey. Hurley initiated divorce proceedings in 1911. Sadly the relationship between Lloyd and Dillon was not a happy one, marred by Dillon’s jealousy, drunkeness, and gambling addiction. Despite this they married in 1914. He was violent and abusive throught the rest of Lloyd’s life.

Sadly, Lloyd was also a heavy drinker, particularly in later life, perhaps a consequence of her troubled personal life. She would often have violent fights with Dillon, with Lloyd sometimes needing to apply make up to cover the bruises. As she moved in to her 50s she fell in to a depression, and would no longer hide her feelings of bitterness and anger. In July of 1920 she took Dillon to court over his violence, making their private life very much a topic of public record. This resulted in him being ordered by the court to “keep the peace” for the next twelve months, a sentence that was apparently requested by Lloyd.

In the later years of her life, Lloyd was in financial trouble (in part due to Dillon’s gambling debts) and needed to work in order to get by. Her drinking and ill health made her less and less reliable, sometimes only performing for a fraction of the time that she was scheduled. She began to forget her lines and would sometimes stumble on the stage, so much so that stagehands would be asked to be on call to help her if she became unsteady. In order to save money, in early 1922 she moved in with her sister Daisy, and by the time of her death Lloyd was virtually penniless.

Death

Lloyd worked right up until days before her death, having been on tour for much of 1922 despite being unwell. Her last performance at the Edmonton Empire was the Tuesday before her death. Prior to the performance, she complained to Sidney Bernstein (the owner of the theatre) of a stomach ache and was shivering. Bernstein tried to persuade her to go home, but to no avail. Her doctor was called and he gave her some medication, before staying to watch her performance from the side of the stage. During the performance Lloyd staggered and fell, making the audience laugh thinking it was part of her act. After the show Lloyd collapsed and was taken home in a taxi, unconscious. She did not regain consciousness and died at her residence in Golder’s Green, 7th October 1922 at the age of 52.

Funeral and legacy

Lloyd’s funeral was held at Hampstead Cemetery on 12 October, 1922. More than 50,000 people turned out on the streets of Hampstead to watch her funeral cortege. It was estimated that 120,000 people visited her grave in the following weeks, with queues stretching out from the gates of Hampstead Cemetary. Many newspapers and fellow performers paid tribute to Lloyd in the days after her death. T.S. Eliot wrote a moving tribute to her in The Criterion of January 1923. He said of Lloyd…

“Marie Lloyd was the greatest music hall artist in England: she was also the most popular… It is evidence of the extent to which she represented and expressed that part of the english nation which has perhaps the greatest vitality and interest… Whereas other comedians amuse their audiences as much and sometimes more than Marie Lloyd, no other comedian succeded so well in giving expression to the life of that audience, in raising it to kind of art.” 

Many of the songs sung by Lloyd are still known today, including “My Old Man Said Follow the Van”, “A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good”, and “Don’t Dilly Dally On The Way”. A memorial tablet to Lloyd was installed in the vestibule at Tivoli cinema (what was the Tivoli Theatre) in the Strand in 1944, on the 21st anniversary of her death. Lloyd was also commemorated in 1977 with a blue plaque at her previous residence, 55 Graham Road in Dalston. In media, a stage show and BBC drama have been created depicting the life of Marie Lloyd.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent

Sources

Note

As with many acts at the time, Lloyd performed some songs that contained offensive and racist terminology, and we can not with good conscience speak of her success and popularity without mention of this. Music Hall song and performance was in many ways a reflection of social attitudes at the time, and this does not exclude those parts of white, British history that are offensive and repellent. We can see this in our collection of music hall songsheets, with some containing racist slurs and offensive depictions, imperialistic attitude, and that make light of marital violence, misogyny, and the class divide. Music Hall rose in a time of expansion of the British Empire and popular imperialism. Songs performed by both male and female artists played with notions of power, or leaned on stereotypes to connect with the audience.

Dame Stephanie Shirley – STEM pioneer

11th February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which celebrates the vital role that women and girls play in science and technology. To mark this important day we are showcasing some of the material from the collection of Dame Stephanie Shirley CH.

Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley is an IT entrepreneur, successful businesswoman, and philanthropist. After arriving in the UK as an unaccompanied child refugee on the Kindertransport in 1939, Dame Stephanie developed a remarkable drive and energy that led her to follow a career in mathematics and computing at a time that was unusual for girls and women. She went on to lead a hugely successful software and programming company that focussed on providing employment opportunities for women, especially those with dependents.

Dame Stephanie then dedicated her time and resources to projects that she passionately believed in – advocating for women in the workplace and in technology, researching autism and supporting families of autistic children, and developing projects in computing and information technology.

In 2019 she donated the archive of her charitable foundation – The Shirley Foundation – to the University of Kent to establish the UK Philanthropy Archive.

Dame Stephanie is a STEM pioneer – and an inspirational figure to girls and women who are passionate about STEM subjects. This blog provides some information about Dame Stephanie, her early life and career and her many lifetime achievements, illustrated by items from the Shirley Foundation archive collection in the UK Philanthropy Archive.

Arrival in the UK

Dame Stephanie was born in Germany in 1933 as Vera Buchthal. At the beginning of the Second World War, her parents sent her and her sister to safety in Britain on the Kindertransport. They arrived in 1939 as unaccompanied child refugees and were placed in foster care in Sutton Coldfield. She adopted the surname of her foster parents and became Stephanie Brook.

Dame Stephanie received this commemorative cover (collectable envelope) after it was released in 1999 on the 60th Anniversary of the Kindertransport. It was designed by Stanley Kacher and has a special Liverpool Street postmark.

Decorated commemorative cover (decorated envelope) with a sketch of a train with children arriving on the platform, and 4 stamps, and special postmark stamp. Text reads Operation Kindertransports 60th Anniversary 1939-1999

Commemorative Cover produced for the 60th Anniversary of the Kindertransport in 1999

Career in mathematics and computing

At school, Dame Stephanie began to show a talent for mathematics and took some extra lessons a local boy’s grammar school. She decided not to go to University, instead taking a role at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, north-west London, in 1957. She worked as part of the team that developed ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) an early computer which selected the Premium Bond numbers. She took extra evening classes to achieve an honours degree in mathematics. She then worked at CDL Ltd, the designers of the ICT-1301 computer.

This image shows one of Dame Stephanie’s copies of a research report on the work carried out by the team working on ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment)– note her name Miss VS Brook, on the top right corner.

Front cover of a text report showing the text "Post Office Engineering Department, Research Report no 14108, ERNIE - Mathematical work" with the name Miss VS Brook in the top right hand corner

Research Report on the ERNIE project c1957

 

Dame Stephanie on the far left with two male colleagues look at the screen of a piece of computer equipment in approximately 1957

Dame Stephanie and colleagues with the ERNIE equipment c1957

Freelance Programmers

After experiencing sexism, increasing discrimination against her gender, missed promotions and sometimes dealing with unwanted sexual advances, Dame Stephanie decided to run her own software company. With £6 initial investment, she founded her company Freelance Programmers, initially running from her dining room table. She employed a network of mainly female staff skilled at mathematics and programming. Freelance Programmers focussed on providing flexible working opportunities for women, especially those with dependents. This was especially important for Dame Stephanie and her husband Derek Shirley, after their son Giles was born in 1963.

While fairly successful, the company was still experiencing difficulty in attracting work. Dame Stephanie changed her name to “Steve” Shirley, used this name on her business correspondence, and achieved a vast improvement in success. Dame Stephanie became known as ‘Steve’ from this point onwards.

Freelance Programmers was later known as FI, then Xansa, and was later acquired by Steria now part of the Sopra Steria Group.  In 25 years as the Chief Executive, Dame Stephanie developed the company into a leading business technology group which pioneered new work practices and changed the position of professional women along the way.

The Shirley Foundation archive also contains annual reports and papers from the development of Freelance Programmers and its transition to FI Group Plc – including these distinctive annual reports from FI Group.

Three annual reports showing front covers only for the FI Group Plc. The first has multicoloured letters FI in the centre of the page and the text underneath is The Art of Partnership. The central report has a black background and several regular shapes in different colours . The final report on the right has a blue background and a green sound wave type image and the text "We recognise everyone is individual".

Annual Reports for the FI Group plc

Philanthropy

Dame Stephanie’s philanthropy focussed on her professional and personal interests: IT due to her skills and career in software and computing, and autism research due to her personal experiences after her son Giles was diagnosed with autism in 1966.

She decided early on in her philanthropic career that she wanted to support funding and research during her lifetime, and structured the Shirley Foundation with the aim to spend all of its funds, which was achieved in 2018 having made more than £67million in grants.

This included funding residential care homes and developing schools that more specifically met the needs of children and adults with autism. This focus continued after Giles sadly died in 1998. Dame Stephanie also focussed on funding research into autism, and improvements in practice relating to autism, to benefit autistic people and their communities.

Dame Stephanie also supported many IT and computing projects, and work that supported the role and development of women in STEM subjects.

An avid art collector, Dame Stephanie donated her entire collection of contemporary art and sculpture to the charity Paintings in Hospitals and to Prior’s Court School.

Lectures, Awards and Achievements

Dame Stephanie has delivered thousands of talks and lectures over 50 years about her work in computing and mathematics, the development of her business, her focus on flexible roles for women and motivation for and focus of her philanthropy. One example is this speech on Women in Data Processing – delivered in June 1980 while she was Vice-President of the British Computer Society.

Text page of a speech on Women in Data Processing June 1980

Women in Data Processing – speech delivered by Dame Stephanie Shirley in June 1980

Over her lifetime, she has achieved many awards and public recognitions of her achievements as a leader in the IT sector.

In 1980 she received an OBE – for her services to Industry. In 1992 she was elected as the first women Master of the IT livery company, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, and was also the first women President of the chartered Computer Society. She was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2001. In the millennium honours Dame Stephanie was awarded with a DBE for services to IT, and then in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 2017 she was awarded the prestigious Order of Companions of Honour (CH) for services to IT and to philanthropy.

DBE medal in a boz with silk lining. The medal has a red and grey ribbon, a blue star, and a silver star emblem

DBE awarded to Dame Stephanie in 2000

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