Miss Marie Lloyd – Queen of the Music Hall
In February 2007, Richard Armitage began filming a one-off drama for the BBC about the life of Marie Lloyd, the ‘Queen of the Music Halls’.
Donning period costume once again, Richard portrayed Percy Courtenay, first husband to Marie, and joined Jessie Wallace in the starring role as they recreated the Edwardian era.
The music halls of the 1870’s, when Marie was born, had evolved from the tavern’s and coffee houses of eighteenth century London, where men used to congregate to eat, drink and discuss business. Entertainment would be laid on which proved extremely popular, and in 1852, the first purpose built music hall appeared called the Canterbury Tavern, in Lambeth, London.
It could accommodate 700, and, as people sat at tables being served throughout the evening, a stage was raised at one end of the hall for the entertainment.
Women were encouraged to attend in the hopes that it would improve the behaviour of the men, and to that end, Ladies’ Thursdays were created, whereby women were allowed to be escorted by a gentleman on that night. Unfortunately, wives were not necessarily taken, and before long ladies of ‘easy virtue’ were to be seen strolling down the aisles peddling for customers, which gave the halls an unsavory reputation.
Despite this, by 1875 there were 375 music halls in greater London alone, and by then it had become more common for women to perform.
Marie Lloyd was born on 12th February 1870, the eldest of 9 children, and christened Matilda Alice Victoria Wood. Her father, John, who worked part-time as a waiter in the nearby Royal Eagle Tavern, encouraged her interest in the theatre and by her teenage years she had formed a group with her sisters and friends called ‘The Fairy Bell Minstrels. Ironically, considering her later career, the Fairy Bells used to tour the local mission halls with a programme on the evils of drink!
From this early beginning, she announced that she was going on the stage and it is likely her father helped with her first unpaid appearance at ‘The Grecian’. Labeling herself Bella Delamare, she only sang 2 songs, but it was the start of her music hall career.
Changing her name to Marie Lloyd to be more ‘classy’, she had her first hit song with ‘The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery’, a number she ‘borrowed’ from Nelly Power.
Not long after, Marie met Percy Courtenay, whom she married in 1887. Though the marriage certificate claimed she was 18, she was only 17 and Percy was 25.
Percy did not have a regular job and seems to have spent most of his time at the race tracks acting as a tout. They lived in style in Lewisham, and had a baby daughter named after her mother, but the marriage was not a happy one. Percy’s drinking and abuse were too much and by 1893, they were living apart.
Percy made such a nuisance of himself during the separation, causing trouble and threats, that she issued a warrant against him saying she was in fear of her life. The courts found against him and the marriage ended in divorce in 1905.
Eventually though, her ‘saucy’ songs and vulgar innuendo were reported so much in the press that a public protest was made against her and she had to appear before the Vigilance Committee. However, she sang to them with such innocence, and without the usual ‘nods and winks,’ that the Music Halls were granted the license renewals which had been held in the balance over the issue.
After visiting South Africa and America, she returned to England and fell in love with singer Alec Hurley, living with him until her divorce from Percy and marrying Alec in 1906. They toured Australia, appearing together very successfully.
The Music Hall Strike of 1907, prompted by the smaller artists whose contracts were changed and required them to perform more for no extra pay, saw Marie’s generosity towards those less fortunate. She supported them and contributed generously, which helped the success of the strike.
However, the Music Hall Managers did not forget her part and took their revenge later.
In 1910, Marie met the Irish jockey, Bernard Dillon and fell madly in love. He was 22 to her 40, and she left Alec to live with him.
The Managers of the Music Halls settled the scores with Marie in 1912. The first Royal Command Performance was to be held dedicated to the Music Hall, and when the list of chosen artists appeared, Marie’s name was not on it. The Queen of the Music Hall was not even invited to the finale for the walk on.
Deeply upset by the snub, she defiantly staged her own show on the same day at the London Pavilion, with printed strips stuck on the posters saying “Every Performance by Marie Lloyd is a Command Performance” and “By Order of the British Public”.
Whilst touring America, Alec Hurley died. Marie then married Bernard Dillon in Portland, Oregon in 1914. On this occasion she took 7 years off her age, claiming to be 37 to Dillon’s 29.
She came back home to a huge welcome, working tirelessly during the First World War.
Sadly, as history repeated itself, Dillon began drinking heavily and mistreating Marie until eventually they separated.
Marie, who had also taken to drink, deteriorated from this point. In October 1922, she staggered around and collapsed on stage during her performance. The audience, thinking it was part of the act, laughed at her supposed antics.
Sadly, that was her last appearance and she died 3 days later on October 7th.
Mari Lloyd’s funeral on October 12th was attended by over 100,000 people, a remarkable tribute to the Queen of the Music Hall. In the funeral procession there were 12 cars full of flowers and on top of the hearse was the long ebony cane with the sparkling top hat that she had used in her act.
Marie Lloyd was buried in Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road.