This is Marie Lloyd,
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
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
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 www.musicals101.com
Photo of Pants by Peter Loveday