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Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd was born on February 12th 1870 in Hoxton, London, the eldest of nine children, and christened Matilda Victoria Wood. Her father, John Wood, an amiable easy-going man was a maker of artificial flowers, with a part-time job as a waiter at the Royal Eagle Tavern. Her mother, Matilda, was a shrewd, capable woman and a very good dressmaker.

Like her sisters, Daisy, Alice and Rose, Marie had from childhood the ambition to be a music hall singer. All girls were successful - Daisy, Alice and Rosie became pantomime principal boys but

Marie became the Queen of the Music Hall - 'Our Marie' to thousands of admirers - and a legend in her own lifetime.

As soon as she was old enough Marie began helping her mother with the dress-making and organized her sisters and friends into a sort of concert party called the Fairy Bells Minstrels - 'minstrel' groups being all the rage at that time. The Fairy Bells toured the local mission halls with a programme on the evils of drink - an ironic beginning to a career which ended with Marie staggering in simulated drunkeness on the stage singing "IT'S A BIT OF A RUIN THAT CROMWELL KNOCKED ABOUT A BIT".

After working at one or two jobs which did not interest her and at which she only lasted a few days, Marie announced that she was going on the stage. There was no opposition from her parents - indeed her father probably helped her to get her first unpaid appearance at "The Grecian". Under the fanciful name of Bella Delamare she sang two songs, a ballad by Herold called "TIME IS FLYING" and "MY SOLDIER LASSIE" and then she danced an Irish jig which she herself said 'went down immense'.

From this came a trial performance at Belmonts Sebright Hall in Hackney Road and then a week's engagement there at the magnificent sum of 15/od per week. She began appearing at small halls, two or three in a night, rushing from one to the other carrying her stage costume. Almost immediately she was a success and changed her name from Bella Delamare to Marie Lloyd, the 'Marie' being chosen because it was thought to be 'classy'. Nobody is quite sure where the 'Lloyd' came from but eventually most of her sisters adopted it for their stage appearances too.
Her first 'hit' song was "THE BOY I LOVE IS UP IN THE GALLERY" - a song which she cheekily 'borrowed' from Nelly Power. When Marie appeared on stage to sing this she wore the costume which she eventually used for all the naive schoolgirl type of songs she featured at the beginning of her career, which was a short-sleeved frock with a large pinafore over it in which she was photographed so many times.

Within a year Marie was earning good money and had met Percy Courtenay, who became her first husband. They married on November 12th 1887. Percy was 25 and Marie 17, although she gave herself another year and stated on the certificate that she was 18. They began living in very grand style in Lewisham, although Percy had no regular job and spent most of his time at race-tracks acting as a tout. The marriage was not a success, although a baby daughter was born and named after her mother. Percy began drinking heavily and treating Marie badly and by 1893 they were living apart. But Percy did not let her go easily, he constantly made trouble at stage doors, threatening to harm her, and eventually she issued a warrant against him saying she was in fear of her life. The Magistrates found against him and by 1894 the marriage was ended.

Whilst her private life suffered Marie's career went from triumph to triumph. She was quite a short woman with neat features and very pretty tiny hands and feet and always dressed beautifully on stage and from the beginning enjoyed great rapport with her audiences. From 1891 to '93 she played in pantomime at Drury Lane with Dan Leno and was a great success, but she always preferred the halls where she could play to her audience and was not restricted to a set script. Her saucy winks, with which she could say volumes, became famous and eventually her friends were forced to remonstrate with her about her 'vulgarity' and her 'rude' songs were frequently mentioned in the Press. Marie became furious but the scandal grew and trouble finally appeared in the shape of Mrs. Ormiston Chant of the Purity Party, who was opposing the renewal of Music Hall Licenses at the Magistrates Sessions. Mrs. Chant made a public protest against Marie from the stalls of the Empire during her act and eventually Marie had to appear before the Vigilance Committee.

There she sang her songs without any of her usual winks and gestures and naturally the effect was one of complete innocence and the Committee had to let her go. There then follows the famous story of Marie singing to the Committee the lovely drawing-room ballad "COME INTO THE GARDEN MAUDE" with such a wealth of gesture that it became quite obscene.

So the Halls obtained the renewal of their Licenses in October 1896 and that same year Marie went to South Africa, taking with her little Marie and putting her into the act as 'Little Maudie Courtenay'. The tour was a great success - particular favourite songs being "TWIGGY VOO" and one she had just introduced called "OH MR. PORTER".

The following year she went to America and in New York found that her scandalous reputation had got there before her. Typically she rushed into print to say that her songs were not 'blue'. The New York 'Telegraph' of November 14th 1897 carried an article quoting her as saying ..... 'They don't pay their sixpences and shillings at a music hall to hear the Salvation Army. If I was to try to sing highly moral songs they would fire ginger beer bottles and beer mugs at me. I can't help it if people want to turn and twist my meanings.'

When she returned to England Marie met and fell in love with the Coster singer Alec Hurley and in 1901 went to Australia where they appeared together with tremendous success. She lived with Alec for many years before Percy Courtenay finally divorced her in I905. She married Alec in 1906.

Shortly afterwards came the Music Hall Strike which had its first meeting at the Hampstead house of Marie and Alec. This strike was called by the smaller artists who, owing to changes made in contracts, found themselves giving extra performances for no extra pay. Marie could command her own terms but, as always, intervened on behalf of those less fortunate than herself and contributed generously to the Strike Fund - she was noted for her generosity and had paid nightly for I50 beds for the homeless and destitute of London and for boots for small barefoot children who clustered round the stage door. The Strike was successful and the Managers gave in to the artists - but they did not forget - or forgive - and in later years to take a mean revenge.

By 1910 Marie and Alec were no longer happy together - mainly because Marie had met a young Irish jockey called Bernard Dillon, when he won the Derby on a horse called Lemburg. He was 22 and Marie was 40 and she fell madly in love with him and was soon living with him, leaving Alec to tour alone. A year later Dillon's license was taken from him by the Jockey Club and his career was finished and he began drinking heavily. Marie was indeed unlucky in her choice of men.

Then came a blow to her career as well. The first Royal Command Performance was held in 1912 and was specially for 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 in which 142 artists were to walk on. It seemed as if the Managers were taking their revenge on her for her interference in the Music Hall Strike. She vainly waited for her name to be added to the list and then, on the great day, defiantly staged her own show 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".

But she was deeply wounded, and a further humiliation was in store for her. In 1913 she went with Bernard Dillon to America for a six month tour. They travelled as Mr. and Mrs. Dillon. On the quayside Marie was questioned by an immigration officer and had to admit she was not married to Dillon. The inspector had no alternative but to stop them from landing. Next morning, with several lawyers in attendance they went to an Enquiry where she was told that both she and Dillon would be deported for 'moral turpitude' and interned on Ellis Island until the 'Olympic' sailed back on the following Saturday.

Marie was overcome with rage and humiliation but there was nothing she could do and on the Friday both she and Dillon boarded the boat prepared to return to England, but next morning, just as they were about to sail word came that they would be allowed to stay if Marie gave bail of £300 for each of them and they stayed in separate establishments.

Two months later, in the middle of her tour, Alec Hurley died, and Marie and Dillon were married at the British Consulate in Portland, Oregon, on February 21st 1914 and, as once before, Marie falsified her age on the certificate, this time taking seven years off to make herself 37. Dillon was 29.

She came home to a great welcome and carried on with her touring until the outbreak of the Great War then entertained soldiers in hospitals and theatres and workers in factories all over the country. One of the songs she sang then was "THE GIRL IN THE KHAKI DRESS".

As the years passed Dillon began drinking more and more heavily and ill-treated Marie who, in self-defense began drinking herself. Things gradually became worse until in 1920 Dillon was charged with assaulting Marie's father, John Wood and was bound over in the sum of £100 to be of good behaviour. Other cases followed and eventually a separation was granted.

From then on Marie disintegrated. She still worked but it became more and more difficult to get her on to the stage in time. Her voice became weaker and her act shorter. In October 1922 she was appearing at Edmonton and the last song in her act was the famous "IT'S A BIT OF A RUIN THAT CROMWELL KNOCKED ABOUT A BIT", during which she staggered about on the stage, desperately ill. The audience laughed delightedly when she fell, thinking it was all part of the act. But that was Marie's last appearance on the stage. Three days later, on October 7th, she died.

Her funeral was attended by enormous crowds, many of whom must have felt a personal sorrow for somebody who had given them so much. In the funeral procession there were twelve cars full of flowers and on top of the hearse was the long ebony cane with the sparkling top that she had used in her song about the Directoire Dress. The Queen of the Music Hall was dead and with her died Music Hall itself in its old original robust form.