Thursday, May 17, 2007

Elegantly Dressed Divas

This is Marie Lloyd, England’s most famous musical hall artiste of Edwardian times, or ever really. She was born in Hoxton in 1870 and spent her early years right here in Hackney. There’s a blue plaque on her old house in Graham Road. Lately, one’s beloved BBC has been showing a bio-pic of her life starring EastEnders strumpet Jessie Wallace in a highly credible performance.

Lloyd’s is the ample bosom from which all bawdy theatrical double entendre springs. Her winks and obscene gestures transformed innocent ditties such as A Little of What You Fancy (Does You Good) into aural bodice rippers that frequently ran the gantlet between popularity and decency. She became the target of Vigilance Committees set up to monitor decorum in the music hall. When the moral moaning minnies objected to the lyric ‘I sits among the cabbages and peas’, her idea of an appeasement was to alter it to ‘I sits among the cabbages and leeks’, to the great amusement of her devoted audience.

Offstage Lloyd was equally controversial with a car crash private life that would make Kate Moss’s look prim. Although the most popular star of the London stage, she was excluded from the bill of the King’s first Variety Command Performance because of her racy reputation. She retaliated by staging a rival performance on the same night and selling out. Her backing of the 1907 variety artists’ strike was hugely important. Although a massive star by then, she went out in support of her fellow artists, famously heckling rival Belle Elmore as she crossed a picket line with, ‘Let her through girls, she'll close the music hall faster than we can.’

After a career spanning nearly forty years, Lloyd collapsed on stage half way through I'm One of the Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About a Bit. At first the audience thought it was all part of the act as the song is about an old gin soak but she died shortly afterwards. Over 100,000 people attended her funeral in 1922 and some of the songs she popularised like My Old Man (Said Follow The Van) are still musical hall staples.

In Lloyd's day, one’s hallowed Hackney Empire which opened at the height of her fame in 1901 was the music hall venue and Lloyd performed there many times. Although variety has remained popular amongst East Enders, the Empire suffered a long period of gross inelegance as a bingo hall. Thanks to the conscientious efforts of local people and influential luvvies, it reopened as a theatre in 1984 and underwent a full and wonderful restoration a few years ago. The old flea pit pub abutting it became the classy new Marie Lloyd bar.

And this is Ms Pants in the days when she used to comb her hair and occasionally adorn it with gardenias. It is impossible to see this because I am bathed in (thoroughly deserved I might add) spotlight, but there is an entire orchestra of tuxedoed musicians behind me and I am on the stage of none other than the Hackney Empire. It’s January 1989 and the occasion is one of the first variety events of the music hall revival of the eighties after the Empire had undergone its initial refurbishment. It was hosted by Hackney’s king of variety Brian Walker who later went on to co-found the Brick Lane Music Hall. I believe Dockyard Doris was also on the bill along with jugglers, tumblers, people who played the spoons and a very clever lady who cut out long choruses of paper dollies. I sang a thirties ballad called Deep Purple and later joined Brian on Bye Bye Blackbird.

I shudder when I think that the Hackney Empire, which now has probably the most diverse entertainment programme in the whole country, was very nearly lost to our community when certain very determined political interests considered it not ‘multicultural’ enough because of its variety history, which they misinterpreted as ethnically ‘white’. The word ‘variety’ should have been a hint to its true nature. There was powerful support for a brand new venue, which eventually became the sickeningly expensive Ocean Music Venue. Although quite stunning, the scale of it was far in excess of what a place like Hackney could support. It died in infancy at the age of three and the centenarian Empire is still going strong and serving the whole community at prices we can all afford.

Is everybody happy? You bet your life we are…

Photo of Marie Lloyd from

Photo of Pants by Peter Loveday


nmj said...

Hey Pants, that is a splendid photo of you, I love it!

Quink said...

Fascinating. I knew nothing about Marie Lloyd, but that gag about peas and leeks has converted me to being an ardent supporter.

And I must say, you look pretty darned fine in that costume. Elegance par excellence, indeed.

By the way, do you know where Champagne Charlie's grave is? It's somewhere in Abney Park Cemetery, but can I find it...?

That's so pants said...



Hi Quinkie

Look for George Leybourne - Champagne Charlie was a nickname. and he's definitely buried in Abney Park.

Quink said...

No use, I've been looking for ruddy Leybourne everywhere... Even to the extent of following some directions.

That's so pants said...


And before anyone else points it out - yes that does look like a duck on my head but it is, in fact, a fabric gardenia headband from the props cupboard of the Hackney Empire. I don't know what's worse really.

That's so pants said...

Hi Quinkie

Sorry, bum steer. I should have known you would have dug deeper.

Wisewebwoman said...

You look might fine, Ms Pants, in them gardenias!

Great story on Marie.....

And thanks for the correction for me - I always sang:
"My old man sang follow the band".

And I now see it is van.


I sang it very loudly too.

Oops again.

But then, I prefer following the band.

For a while.

Not all the time.

What's in the van?

Liz said...

Wow, Pants! What an interesting life you have lead. And what fascinating posts you write.

I blogged about the weather today - how dull!

That's so pants said...


It would hardly be worth my while having lived half my life in Hackney, if I didn't know the odd music hall number. Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner....

Hey Liz

We have weather in Hackney too, don't worry.

GoAwayPlease said...

Thanks for the wonderful history and GREAT photoS and god I love Torch Songs.
I bet you do Cry Me A River, One Of These Days, Now That You're Gone ...

goes off singing "when the deep purple falls ... over sleepy garden walls.
and the stars begi-i-in to twinkle in the ni-i-i-ight ..."

That's so pants said...

Hi Gappie

Yep. Done em all at some time. Cry me A River was a favourite song as a child, that and Sometimes I feel Like A Motherless Child - although Mum wasn't too keen on me singing that one.

You know the words to Deep Purple! I'm impressed. I still have the sheet music kicking around somewhere.

Kris said...

I was just telling me missus the other day (when we were watching Jesse Wallace as Marie Lloyd as it happens) that I wish I could time-travel back to the old days and see the Hackney Empire in its heyday. What a laugh!

Ms Baroque said...

Dear God. It's all so splendidly splendiforous, I can barely stand it Ms P!

It's true - music hall is one of the best things about the East End, and the Hackney Empire's restoration is one of the best things about Hackney. (The Ocean in my view never did more than ruin a perfectly nice old building. It was never run well, either, it was seedy. The gigs were all wrong - far from making us feel like a cosmopolitan centre, they merely imported long queues of dodgy-looking people and their copious litter into the neighbourhood.)

But why is the Marie Lloyd barmatt black!? It's depressing and a bit studenty. What would Marie Lloyd herself think if she came back and saw a place all black and plain, with a chain-mail wall, with her name on it!? Surely there should be some exuberance there, some nod to the music-hall tradition it purports to celebrate.

I know you like it, though.

Now, Marie Lloyd herself is wonderful. They certainly don't make parasols like that any more, either.

As to that wonderful picture of you, I think you should put it right next to the one of Marie Lloyd, so both of you can look beautiful right next to each other.


That's so pants said...

Hey Kris

Well - I think you pretty much can these days. I have to say the only hi-tech embellishment is that lovely carpet of stars ceiling which I love.

Ms B

I think you are right about the Marie Lloyd bar - it does look nondescript and would be much more suitable done in Edwardian decor.

MrZhisou said...

You have quite a showbiz hinterland Pants, what with being on iTunes with your indie band and doing high camp music hall in Hackney.

I was once on TV you know.

Reading the Signs said...

Pants! I used to go to shows there at that time - I was probably very nearly in the audience (but couldn't get a babysitter). It's true, you look fab, god what a cool and glamorous person you are and, you know, it's this kind of thing that makes me think perhaps my life has been a bit humdrum compared to some, and I never had much of a waist. Yeah, and I've been blogging about the weather too.

Ad said...

Lovely frockage, Pants

BTW, 'ope you don't marnd, burarv tagged ya ova at mi blog.

That's so pants said...

Mr Zhisou

Your are my media hero with your wonderful Yorkshire tales.

Signs - Get out here Ms Runner Up of the prestigious Moon Topples story comp.

Hi Ad

Heel toe and wheel clamp 2 U 2. Grade II hava nagila U errand.

Quink said...

Two more comments and you've hit twenty... Happy to supply the nineteenth.

That's so pants said...

Quinkie - wonderful one. You just keep putting up those gorgeous videos of your amazing child laughing. I haven't learned how to do links on the comments yet but EVERYONE, GO OVER TO QUINK'S AND SEEN HIS AMAZINGLY GORGEOUS CHILD LAUGHING AT SOMETHING AND

I'm not conscientiously a comment collector, I think the most I've had is 26 and only half of them were my replies, or maybe three quarters - you see how little it means to me Quinkie but thanks so much for the thought and I obviously wouldn't mind if you think it again.

I think I might have to do a post on how brilliant seeing Baby Quink laughing like that makes me feel...

Janejill said...

Hi Pants - loved your pic - you look very chic and relaxed. do you have a utube recording? what a story you can tell .
I used to go to Hackney Empire 15 -17 years ago - amongst Peter Pan and the usual kid stuff I saw a wonderful russian mime/clown - unforgettable; ( well I suppose it was kids' stuff too but just my type of thing )it was very run down but I loved all the old red plush velour and the atmosphere; it is incredible that it got rescued as so few places did then.

Quink said...

Hey, I hope I haven't misled you. It's not baby Quink - it's another baby completely. Baby Quink laughs at the baby on YouTube....

That's so pants said...

Hi Jane Jill

Hope the Grenada trip is going well. Actually Mr T is in the process of getting our videos transferred to DVD because a very cool 13 year old has set up a MySpace page for us. (The pop band rather than the canary act). Mr T, although obviously adorable, is not the fastest thing on two legs so it could take a while.

Quinkie - No you didn't mislead, I'd just had too many glasses of wine. Bad idea to read and drink wine at the same time.

Political Umpire said...

Er, just put a lengthy and pointless rant about this bit:

"the Hackney Empire, which now has probably the most diverse entertainment programme in the whole country, was very nearly lost to our community when certain very determined political interests considered it not ‘multicultural’ enough because of its variety history, which they misinterpreted as ethnically ‘white’. "

which annoyed me (not because you wrote it, but because of those political interests - damn such philistines - but great post and I'm impressed by your stage and blogging talents, you must be a polymath of the web!

Quink said...

Nonsense - it's quite the best way to read!

That's so pants said...

Hi Pumpie

When you read the blurb on the jacket and not the whole book, you're liable to come away with a misguided impression of what the book is about - so concerned were some of these interests with 'appearances', they got the whole ethos of the Empire completely wrong. It worked to the Empire's advantage because it got EVERYONE incensed enough to fight for its survival and that doesn't happen all that often in a community as demoralised as Hackney was at that time. I'd even go as far as to say winning the battle to save the Empire was key in turning around Hackney's self-esteem. It most certainly ensured its long-term future as a genuinely community owned theatre.

swimmer6foot4 said...

I too love the picture of you so elegantly dressed avec duck. And I am glad you are giving a platform for Marie Lloyd - I'd have loved to have seen her perform. She also worked at the Dalston Theatre which, unlike the Hackney Empire, the community was unable to save from the vandals and philistines. It was recently demolished by Hackney Council (in February). Yes, it's great the Empire is alive and well (despite those politicians). But sometimes I think that, regardless of the sickening "I (heart) Hackney" campaign, Hackney's self-esteem is not so much "turning around" as spinning in its grave. But 'cuse me, I'm probably just an old cynic.

That's so pants said...

Hi Swimmer

I agree with you that things are not that brilliant in Hackney but, compared to how it was even a decade ago when punch ups in the Samuel Pepys between senior council officers weren't uncommon, we are on the up. I honestly don't think fuckups on the grand scale of the Ocean Music Venue or Clissold Park Leisure Centre would happen now. I think it's a shame about Dalston Theatre too but the Empire is a Frank Matcham building and the flagship variety venue in London. It really had to be saved - that galvanised people I think.

R.H. said...

I'd consider punch ups between councillors to be on the up, they're normally such grinning poseurs.

They're stooges, slaves to local shopkeepers, that's all.

That's so pants said...


Don't say that - I was hoping life in Australia was going to be much more easy going.

Here in Hackney Wick, we have three of the best councillors I've ever come across. One in particular has helped me solve several administrative problems with officialdom. I have her mobile number and even though I have called her about problems that aren't even remotely council related, she has always helped me and given me good advice. She is the most genuinely civic minded person I've ever met.

swimmer6foot4 said...

I'm glad you have found your experiences with your councillors to be positive. Although, for the massive salaries they are now commanding (it used to be voluntary) I should damn well hope they are being civic. But as for the grand scale projects . . .

"I honestly don't think fuckups on the grand scale of the Ocean Music Venue or Clissold Park Leisure Centre would happen now."

Sorry, Ms Pants, but those fuck ups are happening now, they have just gotten better at hiding what's going on.

"Do you remember the sports centre that should have been built for Hackney Free? Well we bet you definitely haven't heard how much more was being offered to Hackney to create a superb additional set of facilities at the Lido. This would have utilised the adjacent depot and paddling pool area but was rejected so that Jules could claim the full glory for saving the Lido."

Check out the second story down on this link.

Hiding what's going on? Surely never in Hackney!

Think I'd like to join you in Oz, instead. Room in your suitcase?

That's so pants said...

Hi Swimmer

I admit I don't have anything like the depth of knowledge of the internal workings of the present Hackney administration that would be required to properly comment on what you've said. I didn't know anything about the background to the lido revival. It feels a lot different to me than it did ten years ago. I am far more inclined to get a straight answer now. Admittedly the bar started very low.

Councillors don't actually get paid very much. I could be wrong but I thought the retainer was about £5K. Am I behind the times? I do know that it's impossible to have a full time job and carry out the functions of a councillor adequately. That's not to say that all of them ARE adequate by any means. The quality has certainly improved in Hackney Wick though and for that I have often been extremely grateful.

R.H. said...

Councillors are nicely paid here, and hold down day jobs as well, usually in the professions. Some are local business people: estate agents, lawyers and so on; stooges for local commerce who smile, smile, smile. Around the inner suburbs a lot are just yuppies elected by other yuppies to kick out the poor. But many have their own plans as well, seeing it as a first step on their way to becoming a state politician, a federal politician, and then prime minister. They're ambitious alright, my goodness yes, or what's politics for?

That's so pants said...


We have career politician councillors here as well. I have met plenty of lame councillors in my work and a few who were corrupt (and later went to jail) - that's very demoralising. As I said though, I can't fault the ward councillors we have in my neighbourhood.