Music Hall entertainer Fred Barnes finally gets a blue plaque

On 18th October, a very special Blue Plaque unveiling ceremony occurred . Even rock star Chrissie Hynde turned up!

Organised by The British Music Hall Society, the event honoured Fred Barnes, an unjustly-forgotten star of Music Hall. In honour of the event, actor Christopher Green, who has played Fred Barnes in a recent tribute, sang a few songs connected with Barnes.

You can still listen to a lovely tribute to Barnes, HOW SUCCESS RUINED ME, with Christopher Green and the late Roy Hudd , here and read my earlier piece about it here .

The BHMS event information is listed below, needing no titivation from me. Enjoy!

L to R, Alison Young, Paul O’Grady, Christopher Green, Adam Borzone, John Orchard

“The British Music Hall Society is delighted to announce that today at 12 noon a blue plaque commemorating Fred Barnes, the music hall singer, was unveiled at 22 Clifton Villas, Maida Vale, London W9 2PH by President of the Society Mr Paul O’Grady.

This event was organised by Alison Young & John Orchard.

Fred Barnes was hugely popular on the Music Hall stage and was known as ‘the wavy haired, blue-eyed Adonis’, lauded for his looks, talent and charm. He is chiefly remembered for his signature song, ‘The Black Sheep of the Family’ which he first performed in 1907 and made him an overnight success. He composed the music and wrote the lyrics for this song, a rarity at the time as music hall performers usually employed songwriters to write for them.

The son of a butcher, Frederick Jester Barnes was born in 1885 in Saltley, a working class area of Birmingham. He became interested in performance when at the age of 10, he saw the male impersonator Vesta Tilley on stage and thereafter was determined not to join the family meat business. His phenomenal success with ‘The Black Sheep of the Family,’ led to top billing at all of the major music halls (including the London Palladium). He also played principal boy roles in pantomime every Christmas, an unusual step for the time as these roles were generally taken by popular female music hall stars. Barnes’ other hit songs included ‘Give Me the Moonlight’ and ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep,’ later popularised by Frankie Vaughan and Danny La Rue.

Considerable wealth followed for Barnes and he became renowned for his lavish spending and lifestyle as much as for his songs. He was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence and his family found this difficult to digest. Barnes’ father committed suicide in 1913 possibly connected to the shame he felt about his son’s lifestyle choices.

Alcohol proved to be Barnes’ undoing and he became increasingly reliant on it. Having squandered his wealth, he died in Southend-on-Sea in 1938.

Barnes lived in the grand house at 22 Clifton Villas, where the Blue Plaque was unveiled, during the years 1926-1930 when success and money were flowing and his popularity was undimmed.”


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