Sir George Robey, CBE (20 September 1869 - 29 November 1954), born George Edward Wade, was an English music hall comedian, singer and musical theatre actor. As a comedian, Robey mixed everyday situations and observations with comic absurdity, which formed a basis for his humour. Aside from his music hall acts, he was a popular Christmas pantomime performer in the English provinces, where he excelled as a dame. As a singer he scored a success in 1916 with "If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)", a song he had earlier performed in the revue The Bing Boys Are Here in which he duetted with Violet Lorraine.
Born in London, Robey came from a fairly affluent family. After adequate schooling in England and Germany, and a series of menial jobs, he made his debut on the London stage when he was 21 at the Royal Aquarium where he acted as the on-stage assistant to an already established comedian. From there, he developed his own act and appeared the same year at the Oxford Music Hall where he earned success singing "The Simple Pimple" and "He'll Get It Where He's Gone to Now". In 1892, Robey appeared in his first pantomime, Whittington Up-to-date in Brighton, which brought him to a wider audience. More provincial engagements followed in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool and he soon became a mainstay of the popular Christmas pantomime scene.
Robey's act matured in the 1900s, during which time he undertook a tour of the United States. Upon his return, he starred in the first Royal Command Performance in 1912 and secured many private bookings for royalty. After the First World War, he established the "Prime Minister of Mirth" and used the costume he had designed in the 1890s as a basis for the character's attire. After the success of The Bing Boys Are Here in 1916, he made the successful transition from music hall to variety theatre and starred in Round in Fifty, which earned him much success. With the exception of his performances in revue and pantomime, he used the Prime Minister of Mirth in all the other entertainment mediums including variety, music hall and radio as well as for public appearances.
Robey was born at 334 Kennington Road, Kennington, London. His father Charles Wade was a civil engineer who spent much of his career on tramline design and construction. Robey's mother Elizabeth Mary Wade née Keene was a housewife; he also had two sisters. Robey's paternal ancestors originated from Hampshire; his uncle, George Wade, married into aristocracy in 1848, a link which provided a proud topic of conversation for future generations of the Wade family. When Robey was five, Charles Wade moved his family to Birkenhead where he helped in the construction of the Mersey Tunnels. Robey began his schooling in nearby Hoylake where he attended a dame school. Three years later the family moved back to London and set up home on the borders of Camberwell and Peckham. At around this time, trams were being introduced to the area, providing Charles with a regular, well-paid job.
In the later months of 1880, the Wade family moved to Germany and Robey attended a school in the city of Dresden. He devoted his leisure hours to visiting the city's museums, art galleries and opera houses, which he held in great affection. He gained a reasonable fluency in German by the time he was 12. He enjoyed life in Germany and was impressed with the many operatic productions held in the city and the way the locals treated the arts as an integral part of their ordinary daily lives. When he was 14, Robey moved in with a clergyman's family in the German countryside, which he used as a base while waiting to enrol at Leipzig University. To earn money, he taught English to his landlord's children and minded them while their parents were at work. Having successfully enrolled at the university, Robey studied art and music and stayed with the family for a further 18 months so he could complete his studies before returning to England in 1885. It is a little unclear what education he had there; he later claimed to have studied at the University of Cambridge.
At the age of 18 Robey travelled to Birmingham where he worked in a civil engineer's office. It was here that he became interested in a career on the stage and often dreamed of starring in his own circus. He learnt to play the mandolin and became a skilled performer on the instrument. This drew interest from a group of local musicians and, together with a friend from the group who played the guitar, Robey travelled the local area in search of engagements. Soon, they were hired to play at a charity concert at the local church, St Mary and St Ambrose in Edgbaston. The performance was a success and they secured more local bookings. For the next appearance, Robey performed an impromptu version of "Killaloo", a comic ditty taken from the burlesque Miss Esmeralda. The positive response from the audience encouraged him to abandon the mandolin and to concentrate instead on singing comic songs.
Early career and London debut:
By 1890 Robey had become homesick and returned to South London. He took employment in a civil engineering company and joined a local branch of the Thirteen Club, whose members, many of whom were amateur musicians, performed in small venues across London. Hearing of his talent, the founder of the club W.H. Branch invited Robey to appear at Anderton's Hotel in Fleet Street, where he performed "Where Did You Get That Hat", a comic song by J.C. Heffron which had been released earlier that year. Robey's performance was a success and he secured a number of private engagements for which he was paid a guinea a night. By the early months of 1891, Robey was much in demand and he decided to change his stage name. He swapped "Wade" for "Robey" after working for a company in Birmingham which bore the latter name. It was at around this time that he met E.W. Rogers, an established music hall composer who wrote songs for Marie Lloyd and Jenny Hill. For Robey, Rogers wrote three songs; "My Hat's a Brown 'Un", "The Simple Pimple" and "It Suddenly Dawned Upon Me".
Robey gave his first major performance in 1891 at the Royal Aquarium, where he was employed as the stooge to "Professor Kennedy", a burlesque mesmerist from America. At rehearsals, Robey negotiated a deal with his co-star who allowed the young performer to sing one of the comic songs that had been written for him by Rogers. Robey's turn was a huge success and as a result, he secured a permanent theatrical residency at the venue. Later that year, he appeared as a solo turn at the Oxford Music Hall where he performed "The Simple Pimple" and "He'll Get It Where He's Gone to Now". The theatrical press soon became aware of his act with The Stage calling him a "comedian with a pretty sense of humour who delivers his songs with considerable point and meets with all success". The year 1892 was busy for the young comedian. Together with his performances at the Royal Aquarium and the Oxford Music Hall, he starred alongside Jenny Hill, Bessie Bonehill and Harriet Vernon at the Paragon Theatre of Varieties in Mile End, where, according to his biographer Peter Cotes, he "stole the notices from experienced troupers".
In the summer of 1892 Robey conducted a tour of the English provinces starting at Barnard's Music Hall in Chatham. From there he travelled to Liverpool where he appeared at the Parthenon Music Hall, a venue owned by the mother of the influential London impresario Oswald Stoll. The engagement introduced Robey to Stoll and the two became life-long friends. For the first two weeks of December 1892, Robey was much in demand and appeared in five music halls a night including Gatti's Under the Arches, the Tivoli Music Hall and the London Pavilion. In mid-December, he travelled to Brighton where he appeared in his first Christmas pantomime, Whittington Up-to-date at the Alhambra Theatre. Pantomime would become a lucrative and regular source of employment for the comedian. Cotes called Robey's festive performances the "cornerstone of his comic art", and noted further that "some of his greatest successes were made in it."
Music hall characterisations:
During the 1890s Robey invented a number of music hall characters which centred around everyday life. Among them were "The Chinese Laundryman", "Clarence and the Last of the Dandies". "Clarence, the Last of the Dandies" would appear on stage in a top hat, frock coat and malacca cane to depict a stereotypical Victorian gentleman. For his drag pieces, the comedian established "The Lady Dresser", a female tailor who was desperate to out-dress her high class customers, and "Daisy Dillwater, the District Nurse" who arrived on stage with a bicycle to share light-hearted scandal and gossip with the audience before hurriedly cycling off.
With Robey's popularity came an eagerness to differentiate himself from his music hall rivals and so he set about designing a unique, on-stage costume when appearing as himself. For it, he wore an oversized black coat fastened from the neck down with large, wooden buttons; black, unkempt, baggy trousers and a partially bald wig with black, whispery strands of unbrushed, dirty-looking hair which poked below a large, dishevelled top-hat. For his face he applied thick white paint and exaggerated the redness on his cheeks and nose with bright red make-up; his eye line and eyebrows were also enhanced with a generous application of thick, black greasepaint. For a prop, he used a short, misshaped, wooden walking stick, which was curved at the top.
The new garb, he found, set him apart from his contemporaries and he became instantly recognisable on the London music hall circuit. He next made a start at building his repertoire and bought the rights to comic songs and monologues by several, well-established music hall writers including Sax Rohmer and Bennett Scott. For his routines, Robey developed a characteristic delivery described by his biographer Peter Cotes as being "a kind of machine-gun staccato rattle through each polysyllabic line, ending abruptly, and holding the pause while he fixed his audience with his basilisk stare."
Success in pantomime and the provinces:
At the start of 1894, Robey travelled to Manchester to participate in the pantomime Jack and Jill at the Comedy Theatre, where its proprietor J. Pitt. Hardacre had signed the comedian on a £25-a-week, three-month contract. Robey took a reduced role and did not appear until the third act, but pleased the festive crowds nonetheless. During one evening's performance the scenery mechanism failed, which forced the young comedian to improvise for the first time. Robey fabricated a story that he had just dined with the Lord Mayor before detailing exactly what he had eaten. The joke was such a hit, that it was incorporated into the show as part of the script.
In the final months of 1894, Robey returned to London to honour a contract for Augustus Harris at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the details of which are unknown. In September, he starred in a series of stand-up comedy shows which he would perform every September between 1894 and 1899. These short performances, in English seaside resorts including Scarborough and Bournemouth, were designed chiefly to enhance his name among provincial audiences.
For the 1895-96 pantomime he appeared in Manchester, and then Birmingham the following Christmas where took the title role of Dick Whittington for which he received favourable reviews and praise from audiences. Despite the show's success, Robey and his co-stars disliked the experience; the actress Ada Reeve felt that the production had a bad back-stage atmosphere and was thankful when the season ended, while the comedian Barry Lupino, who played "Miffins" in the production, was dismayed at having his part considerably reduced, perhaps, in part, because of his own theatrical inexperience.
On 29 April 1898, Robey married his first wife, the Australian-born musical theatre actress Ethel Haydon, at St Clement Danes church in the Strand. The congregation was made up of various theatrical colleagues; J. Pitt Hardacre was his best man and Leslie Stuart was the organist. Robey and Ethel set up the marital home in Circus Road, St John's Wood, shortly before the birth of their first child Edward in 1900. A second move to 83 Finchley Road in Camden occurred soon after the birth. Family life suited Robey; his son Edward later recalled many happy experiences with his father, including the evenings when he would accompany him to the half-dozen music halls at which he would be appearing each night.
By the start of the new century, Robey was a big name in pantomime and his position at the top of every theatrical bill allowed him to choose his roles. As an entertainment, pantomime had enjoyed its most successful period in the late 1880s and 1890s, but by the time Robey had reached his peak, interest in it was on the wane. One particular character he enjoyed taking on was the dame, which historically was played by comedians from the music hall. For inspiration, Robey looked upon his peers, Herbert Campbell and Dan Leno, and although post-dating them, he rivalled their eccentricity and popularity, and earned the festive entertainment a new, much needed audience. Writing in Robey's 1972 biography, Neville Cardus thought that the comedian was "...at his fullest as a pantomime Dame."
In 1902 Robey created "The Prehistoric Man", a character who spoke of modern, political issues and who often complained about the government "slapping another pound of rock on his taxes". The character was received favourably by audiences, who found it easy to relate to the character's topical observations. That year he released "The Prehistoric Man" and "Not That I Wish to Say Anything" onto shellac discs using the early acoustic recording process.
In June 1904 Robey signed a six-year contract to appear annually at, amongst others, the Oxford Music Hall in London, for a fee of £120 per week. The contract also required him to perform during the spring and autumn seasons between 1910 and 1912. However, Robey disputed this part of the contract and stated that he only agreed on this as a personal favour to the music hall manager George Adney Payne and that it should have become void on Payne's death in 1907. The management of the Oxford counter-claimed and forbade Robey from appearing in any other music hall during this period. The matter went to court and after a lengthy hearing, the judge found in Robey's favour, awarding him a weekly fee of £200 a week, and the case was dismissed.
In 1905 Robey was engaged to play the title role in the pantomime Queen of Hearts. The show was considered risqué by the theatrical press owing to some of the jokes. In one scene Robey accidentally sat on his crown before bellowing "Assistance! Methinks I have sat upon a hedgehog"; in another sketch, the comedian mused "Then there's Mrs Simkins, the swank! Many's the squeeze she's had of my blue bag on washing day." Robey scored a further hit with the show the following year, this time in Birmingham, which Cotes described as "the most famous of all famous Birmingham Theatre Royal pantomimes". Robey incorporated "The Dresser", a music hall sketch taken from his own repertoire, into the show.
Career peak years:
Off-stage, Robey led an active lifestyle and was a keen amateur sportsman. He was proud of his healthy physique and maintained it by performing frequent exercise and careful eating. By the time he was in his mid-thirties, he had played, albeit as an amateur, against Millwall, Chelsea and Fulham football clubs. He organised and played in many charity football matches throughout England, which were known by the sporting press as being of a very high standard; he remained an active football player well into his fifties. In September 1902, while appearing in Hull, Robey was asked by the English cricketer Harry Wrathall to take part in a charity match at the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Robey played so well that Wrathall asked him to return the following weekend to take part in a professional game. That weekend, while waiting in the pavilion before the game, Robey was approached by an agent for Hull City Football Club who asked the comedian to sign to the club as an amateur player. Robey agreed and that day, played with the team against Nottingham Forrest.
By 1903 Robey had become enthused with vigoro, an Australian sport, derived from both cricket and baseball. Vigoro was short-lived in England, but it introduced the comedian to cricket, a sport in which he displayed a good level of ability. That year, and as a semi-professional player, he was signed as an inside forward by the secretary of Millwall Football Club John Beveridge and scored many goals for the club at national level. Two years later he became a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club and remained an active club player for the rest of his life. He gained a reputation at the club for his comic antics on the field; one trick was to raise his eyebrows as the approaching bowler so as to put him off. The writer Neville Cardus was complimentary of the comedian's cricket prowess and called him "an elegant player" whose performances on the cricket field were as entertaining as they were on the stage. Although a versatile player, Robey thought of himself as a "medium-paced, right-handed bowler".
In 1907 Robey was asked to help organise a charity football match by friends of the Scottish football trainer James Miller, who had died the previous year. Robey compiled a team of amateur footballers from the theatrical profession and met Miller's former team Chelsea Football Club at their home ground in the early months of 1907. The match was hugely successful and all proceeds went to Miller's widow. Robey was proud of the match and joked "I just wanted to make sure that Chelsea stay in the first division." Over the next few years Robey continued to tour the music hall circuit both in London and the English provinces and recorded two songs, "What Are You Looking at Me For?" and "The Mayor of Mudcumdyke", which were released by the Gramophone and Typewriter Company.
Success under Oswald Stoll:
On 1 July 1912, and under the instruction of the impresario Oswald Stoll, Robey took part for the first time in the Royal Command Performance, which according to his biographer Peter Cotes was "one of the prime factors in his continuing popularity".George V and his wife were the royal attendees who were "delighted" with Robey's turn, for which he introduced the new character "Mayor of Mudcumdyke". Robey found the royal show to be a less daunting experience than performing in the numerous private commands which he received during his career. The earliest high-profile invitation was from Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale, who hired Robey as entertainment for a party he was hosting at Carlton House Terrace. Robey performed a series of songs and monologues as the "Mayor of Mudcumdyke", which was met with much praise and admiration from the royal audience that included Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. A later royal who booked Robey for several private functions during the 1900s was Edward VII, who enjoyed the comedian's character-based stories. Robey was later hired by Edward's son George V, who arranged a performance at Carlton House Terrace for his friend Lord Curzon.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Robey decided to enlist in the army, but was deemed too old for active service. Instead, he volunteered for the Special Constabulary and raised money for charity through his performances as a comedian. It was not uncommon for him to finish at the theatre at 1am and then to patrol as a special constable until 6am, where he would frequently help out during zeppelin raids. He continued in his civilian duties and worked for the Volunteer Motor Transport Corps towards the end of the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He committed three nights a week to the corps and, during the day, organised charity events in aid of the war effort. Robey was fond of the Merchant Navy and thought that they were often overlooked when it came to charitable donations. He raised £22,000 at a benefit held at the London Coliseum, which he donated in the navy's favour.
Film debut and The Bing Boys Are Here:
The Theatre Royal in Birmingham was the venue of Robey's 1914 Christmas pantomime. For the first time in many years, Robey was to appear in a pantomime as a male when he was engaged to play the title role by Phillip Rodway who had decided, against advice, to stage a comical version of Sinbad the Sailor. The comedian Fred Emney was instead hired to play the dame role; the show's casting proved controversial with critics. Despite this, the production was highly successful and the scenes featuring Robey and Emney together were the most memorable of the run. By the first few years of the war, the demand for light entertainment in the English provences guaranteed Robey frequent bookings and a regular income. He experienced equal success in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow, where he would appear in between his performances in Birmingham. His wife Ethel accompanied him on these tours and frequently starred alongside him.
Robey's first steps into cinema came in 1914 when he tried to emulate the success of his music hall colleagues Billy Merson and Charlie Austin. The duo had set up Homeland Films a few years before and were experiencing some success with the Squibs series of films starring Betty Balfour. Robey met with film makers from the Burns Film Company who engaged him in his first silent film, a short entitled George Robey Turns Anarchist, in which he played a character who fails to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
By the outbreak of the First World War music hall entertainment had fallen out of favour with audiences and the need for a more mature and respectable alternative was required. Theatrical historians blamed the music hall's decline on the increasing salaries of performers and the hall's inability to cater for the twenty or thirty acts that the audiences expected to see. Revue had become popular during the Second World War and Robey decided to capitalise on the medium's popularity. The thought of dividing his time between three or four music halls a night was also unappealing to the comedian and he relished in being able to appear in one theatre at a time at separate times in the year.
Aside from pantomime, Robey had never before taken part in a long-running production and was only used to the one-off, one-man, impromptu performances. Another first was the art of learning lines and keeping to strict schedules which were often enforced by strict directors and theatre managers. Stoll offered Robey a lucrative contract in 1916 to appear in the new revue The Bing Boys Are Here at the Alhambra Theatre, London. Robey was cast as Lucius Bing opposite Violet Loraine, who played his love interest Emma, and the couple duetted in the show's signature song "If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)", which became an international success. The London engagement was a new experience for the comedian, who prior to this had only been familiar with provincial pantomimes and brief, week-long, one-man comedy shows.The Bing Boys are Here ran for 378 sell-out performances and occupied the Alhambra for over a year. His success led the theatrical press to describe him as "the first actor of the halls" owing to his fluent ability to assert his paramount position in whichever production he appeared. Another film followed in 1916 called The Anti-frivolity League, followed the year after by Doing His Bit.
Success under Albert de Courville and CBE:
Half-way through the run, Robey appeared at the Hippodrome theatre in Albert de Courville's revue Zig-Zag on 17 January 1917. Robey starred and duetted alongside Shirley Kellogg and Daphne Pollard in the piece and, as with earlier productions, he decided to incorporate a music hall sketch into the show; "The Prehistoric Man" was chosen, with Pollard playing the role of "She of the Tireless Tongue". For Zig-Zag Robey was cast as a drunken gentleman who had accidentally secured the box at the Savoy Theatre instead of an intended hotel room. The audience appeared unresponsive to the character so he changed it mid-performance to that of a naive Yorkshire man. The change caused much amusement to the audience and it became one of the most popular scenes of the show. Courville's shows were known in the theatrical business for their lavish sets and distinguished casts; Zig-Zag was no different, and ran for 648 performances.
Following the rave reviews of The Bing Boys are Here, Stoll again secured Robey in 1918 for The Bing Boys on Broadway, which was written to mark America's entry into the war. The show, again co-starring Violet Loraine, matched the popularity of its predecessor but failed to equal the success of "If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)" with its own song, "The First Love". The Bing Boys on Broadway beat the original show's run with a total of 562 performances and was so popular that it was still being staged on Armistice Day. Although the show was largely successful, there was a sense that its popularity owed more to the association with The Bing Boys are Here rather than as a show itself.
In 1919 Robey returned to the London Hippodrome where he took a leading role in the revue Joy Bells. Kellogg and Pollard were again cast with Phyllis Bedells and a group of supporting dancers including Anita Elson and Leon Errol. Robey played the role of an old-fashioned father who is mystified over the changing traditions after the First World War. For his by now customary added sketch, the comedian decided to incorporate two pieces: the first, "No, No, No", centred on turning innocent, everyday sayings into suggestive and provocative maxims, and the second, "The Rest Cure", told the story of a pre-op hospital patient who hears worrying stories of malpractice from his visiting and well-meaning friends. Overall, the show received favourable reviews from the press; the Italian writer Emilio Cecchi gave Robey a glowing review in the Italian newspaper La Tribuna: "Robey, just by being Robey, makes us laugh until we weep. We do not want to see either Figaro or Othello; it is quite enough for Robey to appear in travelling costume and to turn his eyes in crab-like fashion from one side of the auditorium to another. Robey's aspect in dealing with his audience is paternal and, one might say, apostolic."Joy Bells completed a run of 723 performances.
In the early months of 1919, Robey completed his memoirs, and compiled them into a book, My Rest Cure, which was published later that year. During the run of Joy Bells Robey was awarded the Legion of Honour for raising £14,000 for the French Red Cross and, having declined a knighthood, received the CBE from George V at Buckingham Palace. On the morning of the penultimate Joy Bells show, Robey was invited to Stoll's London office where he was offered a role in a new revue at the Alhambra Theatre. On the journey, Robey met the British theatre impresario Sir Alfred Butt who agreed to pay the comedian £100 more, but out of loyalty to Stoll, he declined the offer and resumed his £600 a week contract at the Alhambra.
Films and revues of the early 1920s:
A gap in the Alhambra's schedule allowed Stoll to take full advantage of his new signing and he decided to showcase Robey in a new short film, made by the impresario's new film production company.George Robey's Day Off (1919) showed the comedian acting out his daily domestic routines to comic effect: the picture was unsuccessful. Unlike his stage performances, Robey's films were not doing good business. The British film maker John Baxter refused to compare Robey to other film comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Fernandel and thought film producers were guilty of not knowing how to correctly apply Robey's talents to film. Robey admitted that the main difficulty was his inability to differentiate between the business of film and variety theatre, with the former providing very little room for his by now customary improvisational humour.
By 1920 variety theatre had become extremely popular and Robey completed the successful transition from music hall to variety star. Pantomime, which relied on its stars to make up the majority of the script through ad lib, was also beginning to fall out of favour and Robey's contemporaries were finding the demand to create fresh material for every performance too great a feat to achieve. Robey, however, continued to appear in pantomime and Emile Littler, who produced over two hundred and fifty such productions in London, often called on the comedian to appear in his shows.
Robey's first revue of the 1920s was Johnny Jones, which opened on 1 June 1920 at the Alhambra Theatre in London. The show also featured Ivy St. Helier, Lupino Lane and Eric Blore and carried the advertisement "A Robey salad with musical dressing". One of the show's more popular gags was a scene in which Robey picked and ate cherries off St. Helier's hat, before tossing the seeds into the orchestra pit which were then met by loud bangs from the bass drum. A sign that his popularity was increasing came in August 1920 when he was depicted in scouting costume for a series of 12 Royal Mail stamps in aid of both the Printers Pension Corporation War Orphans and the Prince of Wales Boy Scout Funds. In the later months of 1921 he travelled to Norfolk to appear at the Cromer Pier theatre where he was supported by the Beecham Opera Company.
"I think Robey's Mother Goose was, as far as I know, the greatest piece of acting of what is called the 'Dame' that I have ever seen. But then again his Dame Trot in Jack and the Beanstalk was great comic acting. It was incredible. Really a piece of wonderful acting in a few minutes--acting you would put on the same plane as you would any great actor of the time."
Neville Cardus writing in The Darling of the Halls (1972)
The revue Robey en Casserole (1921) was next for the comedian, during which he led a troupe of dancers in a musical piece called the "Policemen Ballet". Each dancer was dressed in a mock policeman's uniform on the top half and a tutu down below. The show briefly ended a successful five-year period under the managership of Stoll. That December Robey appeared in his only London pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hippodrome Theatre, where among the audience was Robey's future biographer Peter Cotes. Cotes remembered the production well and described the comedian's interpretation of Dame Trot as "enormously funny: a bucolic caricature of a woman, sturdy and fruity, leathery and forbidding" and thought that Robey's comic timing was "in a class of its own." In March 1922 Robey remained at the Hippodrome but returned to revue in Round in Fifty, a modernised version of Round the World in Eighty Days, which proved to be one of the Hippodrome's most successful revues, and a personal favourite of Robey.
Marriage breakdown and foreign success:
Oswald Stoll brought Robey to cinema audiences a further four times during 1923. The first two films were written with the intention of showcasing Robey's pantomime talents: One Arabian Night was a reworking of Alladin and co-starred Lionelle Howard and Edward O'Neill, while Harlequinade visited the roots of pantomime and the days when Joseph Grimaldi ruled the festive London stage. Robey's more notable roles under Stoll were Sancho Panza in the 1923 film version of Don Quixote for which he received a fee of £700 a week. That year, Robey had become estranged from his wife Ethel owing to the amount of time he was spending away from home working. As a result he had a brief affair with one of his leading ladies and walked out of the family home.
Robey made a return to the Hippodrome theatre in 1924 in the revue Leap Year in which he co-starred with Laddie Cliff, Betty Chester and Vera Pearce. Leap Year was set in South Africa, Australia and Canada, and was written intentionally to appeal to the tourists who were visiting London from the Commonwealth countries. Robey was much to their tastes and his rendition of "My Old Dutch" helped the show score a record run and personal best for the comedian at 421 performances. Sky High was next and opened at the London Palladium in March 1925. The chorus dancer Marie Blanche was his co-star, a partnership which caused much talk among the gossip columnists of the theatrical press owing to the performers' alleged romance two years previously. Despite the rumours Blanche continued as his leading lady for the next four years and Sky High lasted for 309 performances on the West End stage.
The year 1926 was lacking in variety entertainment, a fact largely attributed to the general strike which was occurring in the United Kingdom at that time. The strike was unexpected by Robey who had signed to star in a series of variety dates for Moss Empires the previous year. The contract was lucrative, made more so by the comedian's willingness to manage his own bookings. He took the show to the provinces under the title of Bits and Pieces and employed a company of 25 artists, and many engineers and support staff. Despite the economic hardships of Britain in 1926, audiences turned out to see the show in droves. He returned to Birmingham, a city where he was held in great affection and where he was sure the audiences would embrace his new show. However, censors demanded that he omit the provocative song "I Stopped, I Looked, I Listened" and that he heavily edit the sketch "The Cheat". The restrictions failed to dampen the audiences' enthusiasm and Bits and Pieces enjoyed rave reviews. It ran until Christmas and earned a six-month extension, this time at Birmingham's Palace Theatre.
Robey was a great advocate of the British Empire and when the opportunity arose to tour abroad, he embraced it fully. In the spring of 1927 he and his company took Bits and Pieces to South Africa where it was received favourably. By the time he had left Capetown, he had played to over 60,000 people and had travelled in excess of 15,000 miles. Upon his return to England in October, he appeared in Bradford where he resumed Bits and Pieces. In August 1928, Robey and his company travelled to Canada where they played to packed audiences for three months. It was there that he produced a new revue, Between Ourselves, at the Empress Theatre in Vancouver, which was staged especially for the country's armed forces. The Canadians were in awe of the touring comedian; he was awarded the freedom of the city in London, Ontario, made a chieftain of the Sarcee tribe, and was an honorary guest at a cricket match in Edmonton, Alberta. Robey enjoyed his time in Canada, describing the tour as "one of unbroken happiness."
By the early months of 1929, Robey returned to South Africa and then Canada for another tour with Bits and Pieces. With the tour completed by the late spring, he started another series of English variety dates. Among the towns he visited was Woolwich where he performed to packed audiences over the course of a week. It was here that the comedian met Mr and Mrs Littler who were the lessees of the Royal Artillery Theatre and Mrs Littler briefly became Robey's manager. In 1932 he appeared in his first sound film, The Temperance Fête, and followed this with Marry Me which was, according to Robey's biographer A.E. Wilson, one of the most successful musical films of the comedian's career. Produced by Gainsborough Studios in 1932, the film tells the story of a sound recordist in a gramophone company who romances a colleague when she becomes the family housekeeper.
By the later months of 1932, Robey had formed a romantic relationship with the Littler's daughter Blanche who also took over as his manager. The couple had grown close during the filming of Don Quixote, a remake of Robey's earlier 1923 success. Unlike its predecessor, Don Quixote had an ambitious script, big budget and perhaps more fitting to its title, an authentic foreign setting. The improvements were not without their hardships for Robey who resented having to grow a beard for the role and despised the foreign climate and the gruelling 12-week filming schedule. Controversy also blighted the production when Robey refused to act out his character's death scene in a farcical way. He also objected to the lateness of the "dreadfully banal" scripts which were often written the night before filming.
Venture into legitimate theatre:
Until 1932 Robey had never played in legitimate theatre, although he had frequently read Shakespeare from an early age. That year he took the part of King Menelaus in Helen! Adapted for the West End stage by A. P. Herbert, this was a comic variation of Offenbach's La belle Hélène. The show's producer C.B. Cochran, a longstanding admirer of Robey, engaged a prestigious cast for the production including Evelyn Laye and W.H. Berry, with choreography by Léonide Massine and sets by Oliver Messel. The operetta, which opened on 30 January 1932, was the Adelphi Theatre's most successful show of the year. The London theatre critic Harold Conway thought that Robey had reached the pinnacle of his career as a variety star which only required him to rely on his "breezy, cheeky personality", but had reservations about Robey's ability to "integrate himself with the other stars, ... to learn many pages of dialogue, and to remember countless cues."
After the run of Helen!, Robey briefly resumed his commitments to the variety stage, before signing a contract to appear at the Savoy Theatre in his next legitimate theatre role as Bold Ben Blister in the operetta Jolly Roger. The production, which premiered in March 1933, received a fair amount of bad luck, the worst of all coming in the form of an actors' strike which was caused by Robey's refusal to join the actors' union Equity. The dispute was settled when Robey was included alongside the theatre's manager Rita John in producing the show, thus excluding him as a full-time actor and making him a co-producer. A substantial donation was made by Robey to the union and the production went ahead. Despite its troubles, the show was a success and received much praise from the press; the Daily Mail journalist Harold Conway called the piece "one of the outstanding triumphs of personality witnessed in a London theatre".
A Midsummer Night's Dream:
The theatre director Sydney Carroll offered Robey the chance to appear as Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park in 1934, but the offer was initially declined by Robey who cited a hectic schedule and a nervousness at not being taken seriously by legitimate theatre critics. The comedian was also put off at not by being able to include a comic sketch within the piece and a restriction on his own resourceful gagging. According to his biographer A.E. Wilson in 1954, Robey had a proper reverence for Shakespeare even though he had never seen a Shakespearian play. Despite that, Wilson confirmed that Robey had an "excellent reading knowledge of the Bard" and would frequently correct misquotations. One such act was the "ghost" scene in Hamlet, the dialogue of which Robey had committed to memory as a child. Littler eventually persuaded him to take Carroll up on his offer and Robey cancelled three weeks' worth of dates. The press were complimentary of his performance and Robey later attributed his Shakespearian success to Blanche and her insistence on him accepting the role. Speaking in 1934, the theatrical manager Charles B. Cochran thought that Robey was a victim of a largely conservative and "snobbish" attitude from theatre managers and that the comedian was "cut out for Shakespeare" and had he been frequently employed then "Shakespeare would probably have been popular."
At the start 1935 Robey accepted his second Shakespearian role. The signing generated much speculation within the press with critics guessing in which show Robey would appear; they inevitably chose Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream but were incorrect. The role was finally announced as Falstaff in Henry IV, Part I, which caused much surprise in the press and a certain amount of worry to his audiences who thought that Robey was about to retire the Prime Minister of Mirth. The theatrical press, however, were sceptical of a music hall performer taking on such a distinguished role, a criticism Carroll vehemently defended.
Robey took up the role on 28 February at Her Majesty's Theatre in London and proved himself as a capable Shakespearian actor. Such was his popularity that the German theatre and film producer Max Reinhardt declared that should the opportunity to stage a film version ever arise, then Robey would be his perfect choice as Falstaff. Peter Cotes described the comedian as having "a great vitality and immense command of the role. He never faltered, he had to take his audience by the throat and make them attentive at once because he couldn't play himself in." Although he was eager to be taken seriously as a legitimate actor, he provided a subtle nod in the direction of his comic career, when he used the wooden cane intended for the Prime Minister of Mirth for the majority of his scenes as Falstaff.
Henry IV (Part I)'s manager Sydney Carroll admitted taking a gamble on employing Robey but was more than satisfied with the comedian's performance. "George Robey", he wrote, "has unlimited courage in challenging criticism and risking his reputation on a venture of this kind he takes both his past and his future in both hands and is faced with the alternative of dashing them into the depths or lifting them to a height hitherto undreamt of." Carroll further opined that "Robey has never failed in anything he has undertaken. He is one of the most intelligent and capable of actors."
The poet John Betjeman responded to the critics reservations of having a music hall artiste perform in Shakespearean theatre: "It is possible for variety artists to appear in ballet, opera and musical comedy. Indeed, no one who saw will ever forget the superb pathos and humour of George Robey's Falstaff". The comedian Richard Hearne, whose father had starred with Robey years earlier, declared Robey as his "inspiration" and attributed his own venture into legitimate theatre as coming from Robey. Inevitably, Carroll asked Robey to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but the comedian declined owing to other commitments.
Later career 1936-50:
Radio and television debut:
Robey made his radio debut in 1936 when he was interviewed for "The Spice of Life" programme for the BBC. In it, he spoke openly about his private life and his time spent on the music hall circuit which he described as being the "most enjoyable experience" of his life. The normally reserved Robey admitted that privately, he was not a sociable person and that he often grew tired of of his audiences while performing on stage. He declared a love for the outdoors and that he got his biggest kick from making others laugh. The frank interview was popular with listeners and programme makers alike. His biographer A. E. Wilson thought that Robey's "perfect diction and intimate manner made him an ideal broadcast speaker" and as a result, the comedian received over a thousand letters from listeners. The press were equally impressed with one reporter from Variety Life saying: "I doubt whether any speaker other than a stage idol could have used, as Robey did, the first person singular almost incessantly for half an hour without causing something akin to resentment....The comedians talk was brilliantly conceived and written."
In the later months of 1936, Robey repeated his radio success with a thirty-minute programme entitled "Music-Hall" which he recorded especially for his American audiences to honour the tenth birthday celebrations of the National Broadcasting Corporation. In it, he presented a montage of his characterisations as well as impressions of other famous acts of the day. A second programme, which he recorded the following year, featured the comedian speaking fondly of cricket and of the many well-known players whom he had met on his frequent visits to the Oval and Lord's cricket grounds over his fifty-year membership.
In the summer of 1938 Robey appeared for Carol Reed in the film A Girl Must Live in which he played the role of Horace Blount. Gossip among film critics surrounding the ageing comedians ability to appear in such a demanding medium was prevalent. A reporter for the Kinematograph Weekly thought that the sixty-nine year old comedian was more than capable to "stand up to the screen by day and variety by night." A journalist for The Times further opined that Robey's performance as an elderly furrier, the love interest of both Margaret Lockwood and Lili Palmer, was "a perfect study in bewildered embarrassment". A reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "George Robey represents a wholesale of fun, not equal to the lord in personal and social appeal but looked on as an acceptable alternative."
Robey made his television debut in August 1938 but was largely unenthused with the medium and only made rare appearances. The BBC producer Grace Wyndham Goldie thought that it was "extraordinarily interesting" to see him on television and was dismayed at how little of his "comic quality" was conveyed on the small screen. Goldie thought that Robey's comic abilities were not limited to his voice and depended largely on the relation between his facial expressions and his witty words. She admitted that he should "be forbidden, by his own angel, if nobody else, to approach the ordinary microphone". Nonetheless, Goldie remained optimistic about Robey's future television career and thought that he should be "kept for television". The Journalist L. Marsland Gander disagreed and thought that Robey's methods were "really too slow for television".
That September Robey appeared as the Prime Minister of Mirth at the Portsmouth Hippodrome in a successful one-man show. That year, and with his divorce from Ethel finalised, he married Littler in November at Marylebone Town Hall. At Christmas, Robey fractured three ribs and bruised his spine when he accidental fell into the orchestra pit whilst appearing in the 1938-39 pantomime Robinson Crusoe at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Robey attributed the fall to his face mask which gave him a limited view of the stage. The theatre critic Harold Conway was less forgiving and blamed the accident on the comedian's "lost self-confidence" and opined that the accident was the start of Robey's professional decline.
Second World War:
The founders of the Entertainments National Service Association, Basil Dean (top) and Leslie Henson
After much demand from his Australian audiences, Robey conducted a second tour of the country at the start of 1939. It was while Robey was appearing at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney that Winston Churchill declared war on Germany and upon hearing the news, the comedian decided to abstain from joining the services on health grounds. He returned to England and concentrated his efforts on entertaining and raising money for the war effort. Robey signed up with the Entertainments National Service Association for whom he completed a few shows as well as appearing in his own impromptu engagements. Robey was unspecific in his choice of venues which differed in terms of audience numbers. It was not unusual for the comedian to appear unannounced at large venues including hospitals, munition factories and airfields and then anti-aircraft posts where there was an audience of just a few people.
During the 1940s, Robey appeared predominantly in troop concerts as himself but caused scandal by jokingly supporting the Nazis and belittling black people during his act. His intentions were meant to gently poke fun at the "little-Englanders", but it had the reverse effect and made people think he was sympathising. His jocular view that a defeat for Hitler would mean a a victory for bolshevism was highlighted in a series of controversial interviews which caused him much embarrassment when challenged and which he was to regret afterwards. His outspoken views became known in the press as "Robeyisms" which often dismayed his audience rather than please. Although his edgy humour was becoming tiresome for his audiences, his Prime Minster of Mirth remained popular and he used the character to divert the negative publicity.
Salute John Citizen was a film in which Robey starred in 1942. Directed by Maurice Elvey and co-starring Edward Rigby and Stanley Holloway, the screenplay highlights the effects that the Second World War had on a normal British family. In a review of the film in 1944, Robey was described as being "convincing in an important role" but the film itself had "...dull moments in the simple tale". That Christmas, Robey travelled to Bristol where he starred in the pantomime Robinson Crusoe at the Hippodrome Theatre to much success. A further four films followed in 1943, one of which promoted war propaganda and the other two displaying the popular medium of cine-variety. Cine-variety introduced Robey to the Astoria in Finsbury Park, London, a venue which was used to huge audiences and big-name acts and was described by Robey's biographer Peter Cotes as being "a super-cinema".
During the early months of 1944, Robey returned to the Falstaff role when he appeared in the film version of Henry V, produced by Eagle-Lion Films. The American film critic Bosley Crowther had mixed opinions of the film. Writing in the The New York Times in 1946, he thought that it showcased "a fine group of British film craftsmen and actors" and that collectively they contributed to "a stunningly brilliant and intriguing screen spectacle...." Despite that, he thought that the film's writing was poor and singled out Falstaff's deathbed scene in particular which he called "non-essential and just a bit grotesque." The film was generally well received by audiences but owing to the high production costs and Entertainment Tax, it failed to earn a profit until 1949. That November he appeared at the Palace Theatre in Burnley in a show entitled Vive Paree alongside Janice Hart and Frank O'Brian. In 1945, Robey starred in two minor film roles, as "Old Sam in The Trojan Brothers, a short comedy film in which two actors experience various problems as a pantomime horse and as "Vogel" in the musical romance Waltz Time. He spent 1947 touring England while the following Spring, he undertook a provincial tour of The Windmill Man which he also co-produced with Littler.
Decline in health:
In June 1951, Robey starred in a midnight gala performance at the London Palladium in aid of the family of the Sid Field who had died that year. For the finale, Robey performed "I Stopped, I Looked, I Listened" and "If You Were The Only Girl In The World"; the rest of the three hour performance featured celebrities from the radio, television and film mediums. The American comedian Danny Kaye, who was also engaged for the performance, called Robey a "great, great artist". The same month, Robey returned to Birmingham where he opened a garden party at St. Mary and St. Ambrose church, a venue in which he had appeared at the beginning of his career. On 25 September he appeared for the BBC on an edition of the radio series Desert Island Discs for which he chose amongst others "Mondo ladro", a composition which was used in the comic opera Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi. For the rest of the year Robey made a number of personal appearances opening fetes, and attending charity events.
Robey took part in the Festival of Variety for the BBC towards the end of June 1954 which paid tribute to the British music hall. For his performance, Robey adopted an ad-lib style rather than use accompanying script. Littler, who sat at the side of the stage, provided support should her husband need it. According to his biographer A. E. Wilson, Robey's turn earned the loudest applause of the evening. The following month he undertook a long provincial tour in the variety show Do You Remember? under the managership of Bernard Delfont. After an evening's performance at the Empire Theatre in Sheffield, Robey was asked by a local newspaper reporter if he considered retiring. The comedian quipped "Me retire? Good gracious, I'm too old for that. I could not think of starting a new career at my age!"
In December 1951, Robey opened Lansbury Lodge, a home for retired cricketers in Poplar, East London and considered the ceremony to be one of the "happiest memories of his life." By the early months of 1952, he was becoming noticeably frail and had lost interest in many of his sporting past times. Instead, he would stay at home and draw comic sketches featuring the Prime Minister of Mirth. In March he took part in a variety show in the Olympic Variety Show at the Victoria Palace Theatre in aid of the games fund; two months later he filmed The Pickwick Papers in which he played the role of old Tony Weller, a part which he had initially turned down on health grounds.
Knighthood and death:
In the early months of 1954, and confined to a wheelchair, Robey accepted a knighthood which was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother at Buckingham Palace. During the following weeks, his health declined and he spent the majority of his time at home under the care of Littler. In May he opened a British Red Cross fete in Seaford, East Sussex and made his last public appearance, on television as a panellist in the English version of The Name's the Same a month later. A. E. Wilson called the comedian's performance "pathetic" and thought that he appeared with only "a hint of his old self". By June he had became housebound and quietly celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday surrounded by family; visiting friends were organised into appointments by Littler, but theatrical colleagues were barred in case they caused the comedian too much excitement.
Robey suffered a stroke on 20 November and remained in a semi-coma for just over a week. He died on 29 November 1954 at his home in Saltdean, East Sussex and was cremated at the Downs Crematorium in Brighton. Littler continued to live on the Sussex coast until her death aged 83 in 1981.
News of Robey's death provoked a large amount tributes from the press who included illustrations, anecdotes and reminders of his stage performances and charitable donations. "Knighthood notwithstanding, George Robey long ago made himself a place as an entertainer and artist of the people" declared one reporter from the Daily Worker, while another critic for the Daily Mail wrote: "Personality has become a wildly misused word since his heyday but George Robey breathed it in every pore." Writing Robey's obituary in The Spectator, Compton Mackenzie called the comedian "one of the last great figures of the late Victorian and Edwardian music-hall."
In December 1954, a memorial service for Robey was held at St Paul's Cathedral. The diverse congregation consisted of royalty, actors, hospital workers, stage personnel, students and taxi drivers among others. The Bishop of Stepney, Joost de Blank, began his reading by admitting "We have lost a great English music hall artist, one of the greatest this country has known in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries." Fellow performers gave readings at the service, including the comedian Leslie Henson who called Robey "that great obstinate bullock of variety". Writing in Robey's 1972 biography, the author Peter Cotes noted Robey for his "droll like humour" comparing it in greatness to Chaplin's miming and Grock's clowning. In his lifetime, Robey helped to earn more than £2,000,000 for good causes with £500,000 being raised during the First World War alone. For his efforts, the Merchant Seaman's Convalescent Home in Limpsfield, Surrey, named a ward after him and managerial staff at the Royal Sussex Hospital later bought a new dialysis machine in his memory.
Robey's comic timing was influential on other comedians but some disagreed about the level of hilarity. The radio personality Robb Wilton admitted learning a lot from him and opined that although Robey "was not very funny", he could time a comic situation perfectly. Wilton's view was shared by the comedian Charlie Chester who described Robey as "a legend" whose Prime Minister of Mirth character used a beautiful make-up design. Despite this, Chester admitted that as a comedian, he "still didn't make me laugh." Robey's author Peter Cotes summed up his subject's characterisations: "His Mayor, Professor of Music, Saracen, Dame Trot, Queen of Hearts, District Nurse, Pro's Landlady, and of course his immortal Prime Minister, were all absurdities: rich, outsize in prim and pride, gloriously disapproving bureaucratic petty officialdom at its worst, best and funniest." Upon his death, Robey's costume for the Prime Minister of Mirth was donated to the London Museum where it is on permanent display. In the 1960s, a public house in Finsbury Park, North London was named "The George Robey" after the comedian. The performer Wee Georgie Wood saw the irony in naming a pub after his teetotal friend and called the honour "the music hall version" of the Sir Henry Irving statue.
Notes and references:
^ Robey would later claim that he was born in the more affluent area of Herne Hill although this was incorrect. His birthplace in Kennington is a three-storey house above a shop, which was then a hardware outlet owned by William Brown. In the 1860s, Kennington Road was mainly inhabited by successful tradesmen and businessmen and laid between tree lined pavements with large, well-kept houses. By the 1880s, the area had fallen into a decline and was considered by locals to be one of the most impoverished areas in London. The comedian Charlie Chaplin, who had a poor and deprived upbringing, was born a few houses down from Robey 18 years later.,
^ Robey's parents both died during the First World War; his father of a heart attack and his mother as a result of an injury she had sustained during an air raid.,
^ Robey's time at Leipzig University was cut short as his father had to return to England to work. There is no evidence to suggest Robey attended the University of Cambridge; university fees in Victorian England were expensive and unaffordable to someone like Charles Wade. However, members of the theatrical community were convinced of Robey's attendance at the University of Cambridge. The theatre critic Max Beerbohm thought that Robey was one of the few distinguished men to emerge from the campus. The English writer Neville Cardus was more sceptical and wondered how someone from the University of Cambridge could end up in the music hall. It is likely that Robey played along with the assumptions that he was a Cambridge graduate in order to fit in with the higher circles of society.,
^ Founded by W.H. Blanch, the Thirteen Club charged members a fee of half a crown a year. The club members, who were made up of both amateur and professional performers, were devoted to the idea of flouting superstition while staging concerts in public houses and halls across London.,
^ The top hat was swapped for a small bowler in 1924.,
^ Ethel Haydon was born in Melbourne in 1877. She arrived in London at an early age and was appearing in The Circus Girl at the Gaiety Theatre at the time of her marriage to Robey. As well as being a star in her own right, Ethel often accompanied her husband on stage in his various pantomimes and music hall sketches.,
^ Edward showed some talent for the stage and appeared in a few minor roles as a child. He gave up acting in his teenage years as Robey wanted his son to become a chartered accountant, a career which Edward shunned. Instead, Edward studied law at the University of Cambridge and after his graduation, became a pupil of the barrister Edward Marshall Hall who sponsored him when he came to the bar in 1925. Edward had a successful career in law: He was the Chief Prosecutor in the John George Haigh case; became a member of the British legal team at the Nuremberg war trials and was appointed a Metropolitan Magistrate in 1954.,
^ The songs were released by the Gramophone and Typewriter Company, one of the early recording companies, which became the parent organisation for the His Master's Voice (HMV) label.,
^ In 1912 Robey wrote a story entitled Football in the Year 2000 for Fulham Football Club's in-house magazine in which he predicted players would be flown to matches and paid in tobacco and would be influential in stopping wars and resolving national rivalries.,
^ In the later months of 1908, while appearing as Dame Trot in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Theatre Royal in Birmingham, Robey performed the quickest time in both the 100 and 220 yard sprint at a track in Small Heath.,
^ The show featured the songs "It Wouldn't Surprise Me a Bit" and "A Little House, A Little Home".,
^ The production also featured Clarice Mayne as Jack and Madge Saunders as the principal girl. Jay Laurier and Tom Walls warmed the audience before the main performance.,
^ Written by Sax Rohmer and Julian and Laurie Wylie, Round in Fifty told the story of Phileas Fogg who travelled the world for a bet. The scenes were complimented from music by James Tate and Herman Finck and was one of the first productions to feature a film sequence which showed Phileas racing an Atlantic liner in a motor boat. Co-stars included Wallace and Barry Lupino and Alec Kellaway. It ran successfully for 471 performances.,
^ During the elaborate ceremony, Robey was presented with an eagle-feathered head-dress and was given the tribal name of "Dit-ony-Chusaw" which translates to "Chief Eagle Plume".,
^ The 1932 version was filmed in Grasse in the south of France. The earlier film was shot in Cumberland.,
^ Robey played the lead role of Sancho Panza.,
^ During the years of the Second World War, Robey raised over £2m for the war effort.,
^ Cine-variety achieved popularity in the 1920s and incorporated the talking motion picture with variety theatre. Many variety theatres were converted into cinemas, and showcased the talents of variety comedians onto a cinema screen which bought them to a wider audience.,
^ Other participants included Vivian Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Tommy Trinder and the The Crazy Gang.,
^ Robey's other choices for the programme were: 1. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Nutcracker Suite: "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy". 2. Noël Coward - "I'll See You Again". 3. Edvard Grieg - "Piano Concerto in A Minor". 4. Gilbert & Sullivan - "The Gondoliers". 5. Fritz Kreisler - "Liebesfreud". 6. Drury Land Theatre Orchestra - "Glamorous Nights". 7. Edward Elgar - "Land of Hope and Glory".,
^ Cotes, p. 42.,
^ Harding, James. "Robey, George", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed October 2013. (subscription required),
^ Cotes, p. 16.,
^ Cotes, pp. 16-17.,
^ Cotes, p. 17.,
^ Cotes, p. 18.,
^ Wilson, p. 38.,
^ Cotes, p. 19.,
^ Cotes, p. 20.,
^ Cotes, pp. 19-20.,
^ Baker, p. 272.,
^ Cotes, p. 21.,
^ Cotes, p. 22.,
^ Cotes, p. 23.,
^ Robey, p. 24.,
^ Cotes, p. 25.,
^ The Royal Aquarium (Arthur Lloyd theatre history) accessed 26 May 2008.,
^ Cotes, pp. 25-26.,
^ Cotes, p. 6.,
^ Cotes, pp. 13-14.,
^ "Mr George Robey", The Stage, 22 October 1891, p. 4.,
^ Cotes, p. 41.,
^ Cotes, p. 51.,
^ Cotes, pp. 52-53.,
^ Cotes, p. 105.,
^ Cotes, p. 14.,
^ Cotes, p. 43.,
^ Cotes, pp. 66-67.,
^ "A Theatre Case", West Gippsland Gazette, 27 January 1903, p. 4.,
^ Cotes, p. 67.,
^ Cotes, p. 70.,
^ Cotes, p. 47.,
^ The author quoting the actress Ada Reeve; Cotes, p. 67.,
^ Opinion of the author; Cotes, p. 67,
^ Cotes, p. 58.,
^ Cotes, p. 59.,
^ Cotes, pp. 58-59.,
^ Cotes, p. 62.,
^ Cotes, p. 63.,
^ Neville Cardus quote; Cotes, p. xi.,
^ Quote taken from the author; Cotes, p. 51.,
^ "George Robey - WINDYCDR17 - The Prime Minister of Mirth", Windyridge Music Hall CDs website, accessed 24 February 2014.,
^ "Columbia Graphophone-H.M.V. Merger In England by Morgan Deal Indicated", The New York Times, 27 April 1930,
^ "Comedian's £200 a week: Mr George Robey Succeeds in the Lawsuit", The Register, 29 March 1910, p. 3.,
^ Cotes, p. 69,
^ Cotes, p. 68.,
^ "Football", Popular Culture in London c. 1890-1914: The Transformation of Entertainment (online edition), by Andrew Horrall, p. 163, accessed 6 December 2013.,
^ Cotes, p. 136.,
^ Wilson, p. 108.,
^ Cotes, p. 139.,
^ Cotes, p. 140.,
^ Wilson, p. 103.,
^ Cotes, p. 138.,
^ Cotes, p. 137.,
^ Cotes, p. 139.,
^ Cotes, p. 192.,
^ Cotes, p. 48.,
^ Quote from the author; Cotes, p. 48.,
^ Cotes, p. 75.,
^ Cotes, p. 80.,
^ Cotes, p. 82.,
^ Cotes, p. 104.,
^ "George Robey Turns Anarchist", British Film Institute (online), accessed 1 February 2014.,
^ Music Hall Mimesis in British Film, 1895-1960: On the Halls on the Screen by Paul Matthew St. Pierre, p. 37, accessed 3 February 2014.,
^ Wilson, p. 109.,
^ Wilson, p. 110.,
^ Cotes, p. 83.,
^ Cotes, pp. 83-85.,
^ Cotes, p. 195.,
^ "The Bing Boys are Here", Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 1 May 1916, p. 2.,
^ "The Chance of a Lifetime", Fiz: And Some Theatre Giants, by Eleanor Fazan, p. 30, accessed 10 December 2013.,
^ "The Anti-frivolity League", British Film Institute (online), accessed 1 February 2014.,
^ "Doing His Bit", British Film Institute (online), accessed 1 February 2014.,
^ Stone, p. 27.,
^ Cotes, p. 85.,
^ Cotes, p. 86.,
^ Stone, p. 28.,
^ Quote from Emilio Cecchi taken from La Tribuna; Wilson, p. 111.,
^ My Rest Cure by George Robey, Archive.org, accessed 14 February 2014.,
^ "George Robey", Hull Daily Mail, 18 September 1942, p. 1.,
^ Cotes, p. 87.,
^ Wilson, p. 111.,
^ Wilson, p. 112.,
^ "Stoll Picture Productions", British Film Institute (screenonline), accessed 5 February 2014.,
^ "George Robey's Day Off", British Film Institute (online), accessed 1 February 2014.,
^ Wilson, p. 151.,
^ "Variety Theatre", Victoria and Albert Museum website, accessed 25 December 2013.,
^ Cotes, p. 71.,
^ Cotes, pp. 71-72.,
^ Cotes, p. 88.,
^ Wilson, p. 112.,
^ Wilson, p. 112.,
^ "George Robey and the Printers", The Devon and Exeter Gazette, 27 August 1920, p. 15.,
^ "The Prince of Wales and the 1937 Coronation", Scouting Milestones website, accessed 27 January 2014.,
^ "George Robey", Norfolk Chronicle, 26 August 1921, p. 7.,
^ Quote from Neville Cardus; Cotes, p. 66.,
^ Cotes, p. 66.,
^ Wilson, p. 114.,
^ Cotes, p. 89.,
^ "One Arabian Night", British Film Institute (online), accessed 2 February 2014.,
^ "Harlequinade", British Film Institute, accessed 2 February 2014.,
^ "Grimaldi the Clown", Victoria and Albert Museum website, accessed 2 February 2014.,
^ "Chaplin-In-Context", British Film Institute, p. 2, accessed 4 January 2014.,
^ Wilson, p. 151.,
^ Cotes, p. 90.,
^ Cotes, p. 91.,
^ Wilson, p. 122.,
^ Wilson, pp. 122-123.,
^ Wilson, p. 123.,
^ Cotes, p. 92.,
^ Wilson, p. 121.,
^ Robey quoted in Wilson, p. 123.,
^ Cotes, p. 193.,
^ Marry Me, British Film Institute (online), accessed 23 February 2014.,
^ Wilson, p. 152.,
^ Wilson, pp. 151-152.,
^ Wilson, p. 155.,
^ Opinion of the author; Wilson, p. 155.,
^ Cotes, p. 119.,
^ "Sir George Robey", Britannica Online Encyclopaedia, accessed 31 January 2014.,
^ Cotes, p. 94.,
^ Cotes, p. 95.,
^ Wilson, p. 129.,
^ Wilson, pp. 129-130.,
^ Harold Conway writing in the Daily Mail in 1933; quoted in Wilson, p. 130.,
^ Opinion of the author; Wilson, pp. 137-138.,
^ Wilson, p. 137.,
^ The theatre manager Charles B. Cochran speaking in 1934; quote given in Cotes, p. 116.,
^ Cotes, p. 118.,
^ Wilson, p. 135.,
^ Cotes, p. 117.,
^ Cotes, p. 123.,
^ The theatre director Sydney Carroll, quoted in Wilson, p. 135.,
^ The theatre director Sydney Carroll, quoted in Wilson, p. 136.,
^ The poet John Betjeman speaking in 1935; quote taken from Cotes, p. 120.,
^ The comedian Richard Hearne speaking in 1954; quoted in Cotes, pp. 119-120.,
^ Wilson, p. 158.,
^ Quote from an anonymous reporter from Variety Life in 1936; Wilson, pp. 158-159.,
^ Wilson, p. 159.,
^ A Girl Must Live, British Film Institute (online), accessed 11 February 2014.,
^ Quote taken from Kinematograph Weekly; Wilson, p. 157.,
^ Quote taken from The Times; Wilson, p. 157.,
^ "Film Reviews: A Girl Must Live", The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 14 August 1939, p. 3.,
^ Cotes, p. 114.,
^ The BBC producer Grace Wyndham Goldie, speaking in 1938; quoted in Cotes, p. 114.,
^ The Journalist L. Marsland Gander speaking in 1938; quote taken from Cotes, p. 114.,
^ "Portsmouth Hippodrome", Portsmouth Evening News, 3 September 1938, p. 2.,
^ Wilson, p. 197.,
^ "George Robey Married", Derby Daily Telegraph, 28 November 1938, p. 1.,
^ "Noted Comedian Weds", Montreal Gazette, 1 December 1938, p. 7.,
^ "George Robey: More Restful Night But Still In Pain", Derby Daily Telegraph, 4 January 1939, p. 1.,
^ Cotes, pp. 159-160.,
^ Cotes, pp. 162-163.,
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^ Cotes, p. 163.,
^ Cotes, p. 193.,
^ Cotes, pp. 163-164.,
^ Salute John Citizen, British Film Institute (online), accessed 18 March 2014.,
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^ "George Robey", British Film Institute (online), accessed 18 March 2014.,
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^ Quote taken from Wilson, p. 224.,
^ Quoted in Wilson, p. 225.,
^ Wilson, p. 226.,
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^ Quoted in Wilson, p. 240; Cecil Wilson writing in the Daily Mail in 1954.,
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