Professionally known as Marie Lloyd was an English music hall singer, comedian and musical theatre actress during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was best known for her performances of songs such as “The Boy I Love Is Up In the Gallery”, “My Old Man(said follow the van)” and “Oh Mr Porter What Shall I Do”. She received both criticism and praise for her use of inuendo and double entendre during her performances, and enjoyed a long and prosperous career, during which she was affectionately called the “Queen of the Music Hall”.
Born in London, on 12 February 1870 in Hoxton, London. Her father John Wood (1847–1940), was an artificial flower arranger and waiter, and his wife Matilda Mary Caroline, was a dressmaker and costume designer. Lloyd was the eldest of nine children and became known within the family circle as Tilley. The Wood family were respectable, hard-working, and financially comfortable. Lloyd often took career advice from her mother, whose influence was strong in the family. Lloyd attended a school in Bath Street, London, but disliked formal education and often played truant; with both her parents working, she adopted a maternal role over her siblings, helping to keep them entertained, clean and well cared-for
Eager to show off his daughter’s obvious talent, John secured her unpaid employment as a table singer at the Eagle Tavern in Hoxton, where he worked as a waiter. In 1884, she made her professional début there as Bella Delmere; she changed her stage name to Marie Lloyd the following year. In 1885, she had success with her song “The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery”, and she frequently topped the bill at prestigious theatres in London’s West end. In 1891, she was recruited by the impresario Augustus Harris to appear in that year’s spectacular Theatre Royal Drury Lane Christmas pantomime Humpty Dumpty. She starred in a further two productions at the theatre, Little Bo Peep (1892) and Robinson Crusoe (1893). She was earning £100 a week. By the mid-1890s, Lloyd was in frequent dispute with Britain’s theatre censors due to the risqué content of her songs such as “She’d never had her ticket punched before”. As a result, Lloyd was summoned to perform some of her songs in front of a council committee. She sang “Oh! Mr Porter” , “A Little of What You Fancy” and “She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas”, which she retitled “I Sits Amongst the Cabbages and Leeks” after some protest. The numbers were sung in such a way that the committee had no reason to find anything amiss. Feeling disgruntled at the council’s interference, she then rendered Tennyson’s ballad “Come into the Garden, Maud” and displayed leers and nudges, to illustrate each innuendo. The committee were left stunned at the performance, but Lloyd argued afterwards that the rudeness was “all in the mind”.
Between 1894 and 1900, she became an international success when she toured France, America, Australia and Belgium with her solo music hall act. In 1907, she assisted other performers during the music hall war and took part in demonstrations outside theatres, protesting for better pay and conditions for performers. During the First World War, in common with most other music hall artists, she supported recruitment into the armed services to help the war effort, touring hospitals and industrial institutions to help boost morale. In 1915, she performed her only wartime song “Now You’ve Got Your Khaki On”, which became a favourite among front-line troops.
Lloyd had a turbulent private life that was often the subject of press attention: she was married three times, divorced twice, and frequently found herself giving court testimony against two of her husbands who had physically abused her. In 1913 she was refused entry into the USA because she had shared a cabin with her new boyfriend on the voyage, despite still being married to her first husband.
In later life, she was still in demand at music halls and had a late success in 1919 with her performance of “My Old Man (Said Follow the Van)”, which earned her an extended audience. Privately, she suffered from bouts of ill-health and became alcohol-dependent, both of which imposed restrictions on her performing career by the 1920s.
In early 1922, Lloyd moved in with her sister Daisy to save money. On 4 October, against her doctor’s advice, she appeared at the Empire Music Hall in , North London, where she sang “I’m One of the Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About a Bit”. Her performance was weak, and she was unsteady on her feet, eventually falling over on stage. Her erratic and brief performance proved hilarious for the audience, who thought that it was all part of the act. A week later, while appearing at the Alhambra Theatre, she was taken ill on stage and was found later in her dressing room crippled with pain, complaining of stomach cramps. She returned home later that evening, where she died of heart and kidney failure three days later, aged 52.
More than 50,000 people attended her funeral at Hampstead Cemetery on 12 October 1922. Lloyd was penniless at the time of her death and her estate, which was worth £7,334, helped to pay off debts that she and Dillon (her third husband) had incurred over the years. Despite the high earnings, she had lived beyond her means, with a reckless tendency to spend money. She was famous for her generosity, but was unable to differentiate between those in need and those who simply exploited her kindness. Her extravagant tastes, an accumulation of writs from disgruntled theatre managers, an inability to save money, and generous hand-outs to friends and family had resulted in severe money troubles during the final years of her life.
Sources DNB, V & A, Wikiepedia.