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.”


“I was stabbed at the Adelphi Theatre. I cannot rest.”: Nineteenth-Century Theatre Ghosts, an online talk

Southport’s THE ATKINSON arts centre presents an interesting-sounding talk via Zoom which is just right for the Halloween season.

At 7.00pm GMT on Wednesday 3rd November, learn about theatre ghosts from Dr Catherine Quirk, Lecturer in Drama, Creative Arts Department, Edge Hill University.

To many historians, the Victorians invented the theatre ghost. Innovations in theatre technology over the first half of the nineteenth century meant that ghosts, vampires, fairies—all things supernatural—were an expected part of the business of the stage. But what happens when those who play the ghosts refuse to exit on cue?

This talk will explore the technologies that allowed ghosts to appear on the nineteenth century stage, and will tell the stories of some ghostly figures who keep the nineteenth-century stage with us to this day. Why were the Victorians so fascinated by the spectacle of a spectre? And why won’t their spirits leave the theatre?

Tickets for the hour-long event are free to members of The Atkinson and £5 for others. You can find details here and book tickets here

BOOKING AND JOINING NOTES: Booking is required before 4pm on Wednesday 3 November. The talk will be presented using Zoom. You will receive an email invitation to join a Zoom meeting just after 4pm on Wednesday 3 November.


Mirth, Mayhem and Marvel: A Brief Introduction to Music Halls – from the Historic England blog

Wilton’s Music Hall. London

England’s long history of building grand indoor spaces for socialising and entertainment began with the music halls of the early Victorian era. Originating as an extension of the saloon bars of local pubs and taverns, music halls developed their own style of variety performance, producing a number of big name acts who frequented the circuit, which was widespread across the UK and enjoyed a formidable longevity of popularity.

Now sadly very rare to find, some notable survivors are discussed in this Historic England blog which is an entertaining read in itself.

Find the blog here


Immersive entertainment started when? 2010? 1990?Try 1793……

What was Panoramania? Find out how London pioneered immersive entertainment, and how it became the world panorama capital in an online talk given via the City of Westminster Libraries & Archives on Friday 17 September at 6.30pm BST.

Join Professor Ian Christie, an excellent and well-read speaker, to explore Panoramania!

When Robert Barker’s Panorama opened on the corner of Leicester Square in 1793, it launched a vogue for immersive spectacle that would spread around the world, boosted by Louis Daguerre’s Diorama, which arrived in London from Paris in 1823.

But despite having boasted more ‘new media’ displays than any other city throughout the 19th century, the history of London’s love affair with visual novelty remained little known before Ralph Hyde’s landmark Barbican exhibition Panoramania! in 1988.

The only surviving records are playbills and prints, such as those held by Westminster Archives Centre and the British Library. And now, thanks to digitization and online access, it’s increasingly possible to reimagine the immersive splendours that entranced fashionable London and its international visitors.

Professor Ian Christie

Ian Christie is Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck College, and has long been fascinated by these anticipations of cinematic spectacle. He is also an excellent, authoritative and engaging speaker. (For those interested, he has also recently published an excellent and highly-detailed appreciation of film pioneer Robert W Paul which reasserts his major place in film history)

And if this illustrated talk whets your appetite, you can view Professor Christie’s Gresham College lecture further exploring some of these media here and find out more about him you can visit www.ianchristie.org and https://paulsanimatographworks.wordpress.com

How to join the event

All those who book will receive the link to join via email 48hrs before the event, and on the day of the event.

The talk will be 40 – 50 minutes long, followed by a Q & A. You will have the opportunity to submit questions in writing via the Q & A live chat. You won’t need a camera or microphone for this talk, as audience members won’t be seen or heard.

For a taste of a moving panorama, watch this video – the Grand Panorama of London – for an historic trip down the river Thames circa 1844 -1850.

This colossal 18 foot concertina-folded panorama in the Westminster archives collection covers a stretch running from Western Stone Wharf to Deptford Dockyard.

Book tickets for the talk here


Discovering local history through performance – an online talk

On Wednesday 15 September at 4.00pm BST the University of Wolverhampton presents an interesting talk on the importance of drama in communities

In “Applying Heritage Theatre: Discovering local history through performance” Dr Darren Daly will examine the use of theatre to engage with and reveal local history. In the course of the talk, he will identify some of the main principles and theatrical forms for communicating history through performance and illustrate how they can reveal hidden histories and narratives.

The lecture will use examples from the University of Wolverhampton’s partnership work with the Black Country Living Museum and Black Country Studies Centre, and a recent project called Hush Now by Feral Productions which investigated the historic Mother and Baby Homes located in the Black Country and the surrounding areas.

The talk is scheduled to last 60 minutes.

Book your free tickets here