You are not logged in. Signup to contribute or login! Not recieved your activation email? Click here to send it again.

Fred Barnes, Birmingham born music hall star, dies

July 1938

(1885-1938) was an English music hall artist.
Barnes was born in a bedroom above his father's butcher's shop at number 219 Great Lister Street, Saltley, Birmingham, England. He experienced extremes of success and failure, and as a young gay man escaped to London from his father and his father's lifestyle.

He became interested in the stage aged ten. His first notable performance was playing the Duke of Solihull in Cinderella at the, in 1906. It was while starring in the pantomime that Fred acquired his first agent and attracted the attention of another Birmingham-born music hall artist, George Lashwood, who, in Fred's own words, 'took me in hand.

Following Cinderella's fourteen week run Fred first performed in London, where he found himself playing the hated first slot on the bills. However, this was to change when he decided to try out a new song, 'The Black Sheep of the Family', at the Hackney Empire in 1907. It was a huge success and was to remain Fred's most popular song. As Fred says in his account of his life ('How success ruined me'), his name was 'made in a single night'. With this impressive start to his career he spent the next few years establishing himself. By 1911 he was top of the bill on all of the major circuits and principle boy in a number of pantomimes.

In 1913 his father committed suicide. Two weeks later, Barnes performed at the Birmingham , 'a place full of memories of my father. To this day I don't know how I got through that week'. The of August 30 1913 commented, 'Fred Barnes has this week proved the hollowness of the old saying that an artiste is never appreciated in his own town. He has gone a long way towards packing the house at every performance at the Hippodrome'.

Following his father's death Fred's career continued to improve but his personal problems, namely spending and drinking too much, began. He attributed these to dealing with both the death of his father and his new found success and popularity but it was drinking which was to ruin Fred's career. He missed performances, went on stage incapable of singing or dancing and generally put less and less care into his performances. This led to his being moved down the bills until he was finally back at first turn. Managers grew wary of him and soon his outstanding contracts were paid off and he was without work altogether.

During the twenties Fred was arrested (and later sentenced to one month in jail) for driving while drunk, in a dangerous manner and without a license. Following the arrest, Fred, deemed a "menace to His Majesty's fighting forces" (almost certainly because of the topless sailor who had been travelling with him at the time of the accident), was banned from attending the Royal Tournament, an annual military tattoo; he returned each year and each year successfully evaded discovery.

He was also open about his sexuality, and was one of the well-known 'twanks' of his period, unsurprisingly since he was known to pick up sailors and guardsmen in his Rolls-Royce.
It is for these reasons rather than his musical achievements (he only made ten recordings during his career), that only two biographies exist. He was free with facts in interviews and in his own account of his life; his numerous publicity stunts which included announcements of his 'near-death' in a fire and a fake marriage. His appearance, he was known to walk around London at the height of his success with a marmoset perched on his shoulder (later, playing the pubs in Southend-on-Sea, he made do with a chicken).

By the mid 30s Fred was suffering from tuberculosis. His failing health led him and his lover and manager John Senior to move to Southend-on-Sea. A past manager, Charles Ashmead Watson, paid their rent, lighting and clothing costs, as well as giving them a weekly allowance of 30 shillings. Fred had made a number of attempts to return to the stage, most of which were unsuccessful; and by the winter of 1938 he could no longer live with the pain he constantly suffered; Two and a half years after he was told he had only three months to live, Fred Barnes committed suicide. Fred's funeral on the second of July 1938, was attended by hundreds of mourners.

Based on Wikipedia article

Have a memory of this? Signup today and tell us about it! or login!