Posts Tagged ‘music hall’

Amber the cross-dressing actor

November 25, 2019
PHOTO-BITS-1911-3MAR4_AMBER-THE-ACTOR

Amber the Actor is a man who has adventures dressed as a woman

The Victorians are often regarded as a frigid lot, but some their magazines took on topics such as cross-dressing and gender fluidity, though they were very niche areas.

These themes developed in magazines such as Photo-Bits, with Amber the Actor by Derk Fortescue being one example. The hero dresses as a woman and has a series of adventures in stories that ran in 1910 and 1911. .

PHOTO-BITS-1911-AMBER-THE-ACTOR-dressed-as-a-maid

Amber, left, dressed as a maid

And there were real-life precedents. Vesta Tilley was one of the most famous male impersonators of her era and a star in both Britain and the United States for 30 years. Her real name was Matilda Alice Powles (1864-1952) who had taken Vesta Tilley as her stage name at the age of just 11.

In 1912 she performed as ‘The Piccadilly Johnny with the Little Glass Eye’ at the first Royal Variety Performance. A Victoria and Albert Museum article about the music halls describes how the Queen reacted:

The only embarrassment occurred when Queen Mary saw the male impersonator act by Vesta Tilley appear on stage in trousers and apparently buried her face in her programme. At that time it would have been considered most immodest for a woman to be seen in public wearing trousers. It was only with the onset of the First World War that women ‘were allowed’ to wear them.

Her fame led her to take part in recruiting drives in the First World War, singing the patriotic song, ‘In Dear Old England’s Name‘.

A Home Chat about ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’

December 17, 2014
'It's a Long Way to Tipperary' is identified as the Tommies' favourite in this September 1914 article from Home Chat

‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ is identified as the Tommies’ favourite in this September 1914 article from Home Chat

The first world war soldier’s song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ has been much heard in the commemorations for the 1914-18 war. What’s a surprise to me is how quickly the song became established as the forces’ favourite.

This page is from the weekly women’s magazine Home Chat from September 19 – just weeks after the war had broken out. It’s already ‘The song our soldiers sing’.

Of course, the war changed the content and feel of magazines and the article here gives the music and words to the 1912 music hall song over three pages, with a credit to B Feldman & Co, of 2-3 Arthur Street, London WC.

The introduction contrasts the Tommies’ choice of marching song with the Germans’ choice of ‘Da Wacht am Rhein’ and ‘Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles’ and the marching songs of the French ‘Piou-Piou’. The French ‘were mystified’ at the choice of a song that seemed ‘sad’ and held no reference to ‘flag or country, or war or military glory’. For ‘Tommy Atkins likes to swing along to a music-hall song with a good rousing chorus’ and ‘Tipperary’ comes out on top.

There’s no mention of Ivor Novello’s ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, which was written in 1914 and is referred to in several later Punch cartoons.

Home Chat cover from 19 September 1914 with a front cover story about supporting the Queen's Guild, which had been set up as a way for women to back the war effort

Home Chat cover from 19 September 1914 with a front cover story about supporting the Queen’s Guild, which had been set up as a way for women to back the war effort

Home Chat was printed and published by Northcliffe’s Amalgamated Press in Farringdon Street, which runs across the eastern end of Fleet Street, on which the Tipperary pub is located.  But the pub was not aways the Tipperary, or ‘the Tipp’ as regulars call it.

The building is on a site that was a monastery in 1300, on an island between the Thames and the Fleet rivers that fed into the Thames. The Fleet still runs under the pub. The Boar’s Head pub was built there in 1605 and survived the Fire of London in 1666 because it was built of stone and brick. In  about 1700, the Dublin-based SG Mooney bought the Boar’s Head, making it the first Irish pub outside Ireland and it was fitted out in an Irish style. It claims to be the first pub in England to stock bottled Guinness and later draught – and could also lay claim to being the narrowest in London.

In 1918, the printers who came back from the war had the pub’s name changed to The Tipperary, after their marching song. Today, the Boar’s Head is kept as the name of the upstairs bar. The pub has been owned by Suffolk-based Abbott brewer Greene King since the 1960s.

Home Chat was founded in 1895 and was one of the magazines that made a fortune for Alfred Harmsworth and enabled him to become the newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe.