LOCATING MUSIC HALL & VARIETY ARTISTES

Hiss & Boo are indebted to Michael Kilgarriff for this comprehensive guide.

LOCATING ARTISTES

The first step when searching for information on any subject, whether it be how to boil an egg or how often great-aunt Nellie played the Glasgow Empire, is to surf the net. At present I would recommend Google, though if you draw a blank try other Search Engines, especially Altavista's UK button.

An excellent on-line resource is Gale which has digitised forty-nine British newspapers up to 1900, though only two of these, The Graphic and The Penny Illustrated Paper, can be downloaded free; all the others, including The Era, may be searched without payment but require a fee for full access and downloading. See http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/ for details. Currently the minimum charge is £6.99 for up to 100 articles over a period of twenty-four hours. It is possible that your local reference library may be a subscriber.

Gale's run of The Times from 1785-1985 may also be accessible at your local reference library; if you intend to use the facility regularly you can sign up at the library which will give you free access from your home computer. If your local library is not a subscriber you can register via Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin's Street, just off the south side of Leicester Square, London W1.

The catalogues of local libraries, including reference holdings , should be scoured for books on Music Hall and Variety (Dewey Classification 792.7); their indexes will offer a useful starting point for uncovering the life and career of your subject. My own books Sing Us One of the Old Songs (OUP 1999) and Grace, Beauty & Banjos (Oberon 1999), for instance, give birth and death years for hundreds of performers; these can lead you to obituaries in local and national new spapers, and especially in trade papers such as The Era (1838-1939), The Stage (1880-) and The Performer (1906-1957). If you live within easy contact of London full runs of these publications (not The Era 1911-1912) are kept on microfilm at Westminster Reference Library.

There is also a full run of these and all other national and provincial newspapers at the British Library's Newspaper Library in north London's Colindale Avenue opposite Colindale Underground station. If you do not have a British Library reader's pass a temporary pass may be obtained on arrival but two kinds of identification such as a driving licence, credit card or passport and a recent utility bill must be shown.

The Stage Archive is a complete run of the publication 1880-2007. You may search for citation headings free of charge but a payment is required to download. See http://archive.thestage.co.uk for details. Requests for information may be sent to The Editor, The Stage, 43 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XT (email: newsdesk@thestage.co.uk) and to the editor of Call Boy, the quarterly magazine of the British Music Hall Society, at 6 New River Crescent, London N13 5RF (email: geoff.bowden1@btinternet.com ). The official historian of the British Music Hall Society, Max Tyler, is always willing to help in these matters; his email address is max@maxtyler.orangehome.co.uk.

A Forum for posting your queries is on: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/ArthurLloydForum.htm

The collections of books, programmes, reviews and memorabilia belonging to the Theatre Museum are now located in the Victoria & Albert Museum's premises at Blythe House, Blythe Road, London W14 0QX. The collection concentrates on theatre, opera and ballet though there is a substantial amount of Music Hall/Variety material available, including posters and songsheets. Appointments must be made well in advance, so ring The Study Room on (020) 7943 4727 (Wednesday-Friday mornings only) to check whether the collection has any material likely to be significant for your purposes. Catalogues of the collections may be consulted here (search for "music hall" ) and there is much online material at http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/m/music-hall/

The Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson Theatre Collection has a much greater concentration on the 'illegitimate' stage; this magnificent archive is now housed in the University of Bristol. At the time of writing the catalogue is not yet online so email your query to theatre-collection@bristol.ac.uk or ring 0117 331 5086.

The Family Records Centre registers of births, marriages and deaths are now on microfiche and may be searched at centres in Manchester, Birmingham, Bridgend, Plymouth, Westminster, Newcastle and The British Library, phone 0300 123 1837 for further details.

Registers may also be searched on line at www.freebmd.org.uk. The entries date from 1837 and certificates may be ordered online from the General Register Office on www.gro.gov.uk. The postal address is General Register Office, PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside PR8 2JD. Tel: 0300 123 1837 .

A difficulty which very often arises when searching is that the professional names of artistes were not their legal ones, and you will only find the legal name in the registers. A further complication is that married women were – and still are – registered at death under their husbands' surnames.

Colin Charman's Music Hall database covers the years 1838-1944, though the great majority of entries is for 1911 to 1918. This archive includes local press advertisements, previews and reviews from The Era, The Stage, and The Music Ha ll and Theatre Review, plus rehearsal calls from The Era and The Stage. Colin is always happy to run a name-check, and may be emailed on charmancolin@hotmail.com.

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera

This huge collection at the Bodleian Library in Oxford is currently being put on-line; although not completed the website is worth a visit. The URL is: http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/johnson/. Click on 'acceptance of conditions' at the bottom of the Home Page; on the left of the screen click on Catalogue, then on required Category (i.e. 2 - Names). For details of each display click on the Tagged button at the end of the page. If the page is very long use the Find and Replace facility under Edit on your Toolbar.

The London Music Hall Database

Jacky Bratton is the custodian of a database at the Royal Holloway which includes all London Music Hall advertisem ents in The Era for the first week of each month of every fifth year from 1865 to 1890. Some data for 1866/7 are also included. Details of artistes by name and type, also managers, prices, times, and practices of one hundred and twenty-three Halls are included. Drawbacks are that only London venues are covered, and that 'the five-yearly snapshot must miss many short-lived but possibly significant performances, anddoes not offer enough information about the trajectories of either acts or halls in a volatile and rapidly changing industry'. Nevertheless Prof Bratton tells me that one query in three makes a hit. Write to her at Drama and Theatre, RHUL, Egham, Surrey TW20 OEX, or preferably email her on j.bratton@rhul.ac.uk.

Useful books (British Library shelf marks in brackets, but try your local reference library):
BROWN, JAMES D. & STRATTON, STEPHEN S. British Musical Biographies (10804 k 23)
BRYAN, GEORGE D. Stage Deaths 1850-1990 2 vols (on open shelves 791.0922)
BRYAN, GEORGE D. Stage Lives 1985                             " "
BOASE, FREDERICK Modern English Biography (on open shelves 920.041)
ERA ALMANAC and ANNUAL, THE From 1868 includes an annual necrology (on open shelves 791.0922)
GAMMOND, PETER The Oxford Companion to Popular Music 1991 (YM 1991 b186 - on
open shelves 781.63))
GRAY, ANDREW Illustrated Who's Who in Variety (British Year Books ) (YC 1996 b 4504)
HERBERT, S. & McKERNAN, L. Who's Who of Victorian Cinema 1996 (YC 1996 b 4504)
PERRY, JEB H. Variety Obits 1980 (X809/47928)
PRATT, ALFRED T. CAMDEN People of the Period 1897 (010608 m 25)
VARIETY OBITUARIES Eds. Chuck Bartelt & Barbara Bergeron many vols. (ZC 9D 365)
WEARING, J. P. American and British Theatrical Biography (1979)
SIBMAS, The International Directory of Performing Arts Collections and Institutions, may be found on: http://www.sibmas.org/idpac/europ e/ukl011.html

Artistes from the 1930s and 1940s may be seen performing in www.britishpathe.com from which DVD purchases made be made. Free downloads are also available.

NOTE: If you are seeking information by post it is always advisable to enclose a stamped addres sed envelope, or, if you are writing from outside the UK, International Reply coupons to the value of approximately £3. Do not send unsolicited material (photographs, documents, letters, etc) without obtaining prior agreement.

Michael Kilgarriff
Revised October 2011

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