Florrie Forde’s lost Blue Plaque

By Roger Neil

In 2006 I proposed to English Heritage that they put up one of their Blue Plaques in London to the music hall legend, Florrie Forde. They were enthused and started the apparently long and arduous task of researching her life and work and homes.

Florrie was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1876 and ran away from home at sixteen to Sydney to go on the stage. There she was seen by a British star of the day who was touring Australia, GH Chirgwin and, encouraged by him, moved to London, where she made her debut at three separate halls on the same evening.

Her inexhaustible vocal power and engaging personality equipped her ideally to become queen of the music hall chorus-song – amongst them “Down at the Old Bull and Bush”, “Hold your hand out, naughty boy”, “She’s a lassie from Lancashire”, “Oh!Oh! Antonio”, “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag”, “Daisy Bell” (Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…), “I do like to be beside the seaside”, “Fair, Fat and Forty” and many more. She was also a famous Principal Boy in panto and starred in the first Royal Variety Performance in 1912.
Florrie Forde died in Aberdeen in April 1940 after entertaining wounded sailors. What a trouper. In his curmudgeonly poem, “Death of an Actress”, Louis MacNeice recalled her “elephantine shimmy” and “sugared wink”.
Here she is, very movingly, in the flesh:

http://youtu.be/oYWygJSetbA

Now, six years on from my original proposal, English Heritage has just dropped her from their shortlist, with the explanation that their budget has been cut and that anyway she lived mostly at Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex. While she was working? I don’t think so.

And what took them six years to discover this? No wonder their budget has been slashed.

Love this article and want to read more by Roger – go to  http://rogerneill.blogspot.co.uk/

Peachy. Dame Nellie Melba was born 150 years ago today.

Today marks the 150th birthday of Helen Porter Mitchell. She was born in Melbourne, Australia, on May 19th 1861 and was destined to become the leading opera singer in the world during the “Golden Age of Opera”. She also became a household name – Dame Nellie Melba.

There were a number of special qualities that separated Nellie from her contemporaries:

With the help of three teachers – Ellen Christian, Pietro Cecchi and Mathilde Marchesi – and the requisite “10,000 hours”, she developed a technique that enabled her to perform at the highest level over four full decades. “Salvatore, viens,” Marchesi called to her husband on first hearing the girl, “j’ai trouvé une étoile.”

In an age when married women were expected to give up work, she decided that instead the husband should do.

She had a wonderful sense of pitch and always sang in tune.

She learned many of her greatest roles with the composers themselves – Verdi, Massenet, Gounod, Puccini among them. And she promoted avant-garde songs by Debussy, Duparc, Chausson and others.

She took responsibility at all stages for managing her own career, bringing in a series of helpers, but never delegating the authority.

She was a brilliant entrepreneur, always ready to do what was necessary to maintain her profile and fill houses. “There are plenty of duchesses, but only one Melba,” she said.

“If you wish to understand me, you must understand first and foremost that I am an Australian,” she wrote. This attitude enabled her to break through the rigid barriers of British society of her day, speaking plainly with everyone at every level.

She was a catalyst in building the newly-emerging recording industry, negotiating a pioneering royalty arrangement.

When she died in Sydney in 1931, her coffin was carried by special train to Melbourne, stopping at towns and villages on the way so that crowds of people could pay their respects. Her grave at Lilydale carries a brief phrase from her most famous role, Mimì in La bohème: “Addio, senza rancor.” Farewell, no hard feelings.

Here she is at 65, singing that very aria , recorded live at her Farewell from Covent Garden in 1926:

This is our first guest blog. It’s by Roger Neil and you can see his blog here.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO DO A GUEST BLOG – GET IN TOUCH! Excuse the capitalised shouting…

Nellie Melba. Born 150 years ago, buried 70 years ago.

Nellie Melba is one of those huge musical stars from the turn of the last century whose name remains very familiar today – although sadly her music is less well known. She died just over 80 years go on February 23rd 1931 and you can see how significant she was at the time from this clip of film taken at her state funeral in Melbourne. The service was mobbed by thousands of fans and the motorcade that took her from service to burial was almost a mile long. Her death made front page headlines around the globe as billboards simply announced “Melba is dead”.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Melba is this endpoint. She was an Australian girl born Helen Porter Mitchell who rose from relatively humble beginnings to be granted a state funeral.

En route to the magificent send off her life blazed. Like many stars before and since she reinvented herself (as Nellie Melba; her new surname was a shortening of her home city of Melbourne). Unlike most other stars she was made a Dame of the Order Of The British Empire. Bizarrely she is probably now best known for the pudding she had named after her called a “Peach Melba ” and also thin toasts for pate called Melba toast ” that were created in her honour by the celebrity chef of the 1890’s and and Nellie-fan Auguste Escoffier.

She could also sing a little…..