Saturday, 21 November 2015

McBride siblings- Greasepaint in their veins ( Music Hall Story part 3)

Cornelius wasn’t the only McBride to “tread the boards” .  Along the way he would see many of his family joining the stage with their own variety acts. In fact some married others they met in the theatre.   Their was certianly greasepaint flowing through the veins of the McBrides.

Sadly the youngest sister died just as she was in her prime. Jeannie  McBride was born in 1904. She was mentioned in the April 13, 1916 Stage archive as appearing with others at the Olympia and was described as “is a smart dancer”. Apparently she did impersonations of the “Great Vesta Tilly” a popular and famous male impersonator. Unfortunately, not long after this article was printed she succumbed to meningitis and died in August 1916. Her oldest brother Neil was the informant. It must have broken all their hearts.

Michael McBride born 1889 married Glasgow girl  Margaret (Mary) Kerr  in 1916. At the time of her marriage, Mary described herself as a music hall artiste. She had been shown as a professional singer in the families 1911 census return. Later, Michael, an engineer’s machine man, joined with “Mary Oliver” to become part of the comedy routine “Oliver and Mack”.

By 1920 they had had two children Sarah known as Sally McBride and Cornelius. As tradition has it Sally was a tap dancer who performed with her parents before leaving for Canada.

1924 saw them play at the Tivoli in Aberdeen, in the popular “Hop Scotch” which was a lively show full of amusing burlesques, catchy songs and smart dances. Here Oliver and Mack played beside his younger brother, James in the partnership of Carr and Finch.

Oliver and Mack were in popular demand in the late 1920s playing at Bernstein theatres, East Ham and West Ham and  Gaumont Canterbury Music Hall to name a few. They are playing together in 1940 at the Olympia in Dublin. In another show “Scotland Calling” the comedy elements were much appreciated in this “bright show “. At another time it was reported that they sailed from Southhampton via the RMS “Edinburgh Castle” to fulfil an engagement with African Theatres booked by IVTA Ltd.

Not a lot is known about James McBride b 1894 who worked under the name of "Jimmy Finch". He lived with his wife Madge (Margaret) E Reynolds who he married in 1921 at the age of 26. At this time he must have been gainfully employed in the theatre as he describes himself as a Music Hall artiste in his wedding documentation.  Madge’s stage name was "Mrs Finch" and she was still living at 28 Osborne Street in Glasgow in the 1970s. Jimmy was known to have performed with Billy Adams at the Palladium, Edinburgh and was described as a clever comedian. At another time he teamed up with Jack Carr and a gang of singing youngsters in 1927.

Of course, "Finch and Carr" worked with "Oliver and Mack" as fellow comedians in “Hop Scotch” which toured the UK.  One report has Jimmy Finch still working in September 1946 with John Walker where they were again described as clever comedians. It is also noted that his partner left him to work with Mary Oliver’s brother as part of Hayes and Austin who was born  Augustine Kerr and performed under the stage name "Jimmie Austin".

Arthur McBride b 1903 followed in his older sibling’s footsteps. In a tribute to “The 60 Glory Years of the Glasgow Pavilion” in 1964 he was mentioned as being associated with this theatre through performances in the Tommy Morgan Show. Arthur was a 22 year old singer who performed under his own name and as a variety artiste at the time of his marriage to Jemima Barclay McNeill in 1925. Jemima McBride worked under the name of "Mima McBride" and was possibly Mima McNeill, a dancer and  variety artist who later went on to work as a wardrobe mistress. In 1934 Arthur appeared at the Edinburgh Royal in Tommy Morgan’s “Laughter in the Roar” alongside Tommy Morgan, Tommy Yorke , Jerome and Kay, 12 Morganettes etc.  He continued to live in the family home at 10 Roslea Avenue, Glasgow  died in 1972.

Neil Power - Cornelius McBride's Scottish Comedy duo (Music Hall story part 2 )

Cornelius McBride  k/a Neil Power (photo courtesy
Cornelius McBride was the oldest of the McBride clan. He was born in Glasgow in 1887. .At the time of 1911 census  he was listed as an unemployed 25-year-old living at home with mum, Elizabeth (Lizzy), dad. Cornelius (Neil) and the family.

Such was the fortunes of this ex spirit merchant salesman/ performer who chased openings on the Scottish theatre circuit. He performed under the stage name of Neil Power and worked with Hillier and Hayes. He  was also the long-time partner of Bert Benton in the comedy duo Power and Benton.

 His comedy act with Bert Benton was a “nationwide bill topper” in the days when variety was hard-working and sincere. Neil married Louisa Stout of Lambeth in 1923. It is quite possible he met her through the theatre as music hall artists Mary and Ernest Silly were boarding with her mother at the time of the 1911 Census.  They are both described as “Artistes” in their travel documentation.  There is a record of Louisa and Cornelius travelling back from New York in 1924 and back from South Africa in 1928.

In 1925 Neil Power and Bert Benton, performing at the Hippodrome in Leeds received high praise as “a couple of talented laughter makers” in a review entitled “Star Struck”. This seems to be where they introduced their famous skit  “Mend the Door”. Bert’s catch phrase of “I’m only an apprentice!” made thousands laugh. (I can hear him saying it with all the gravity and timing it required for the effect.) The skit goes along the lines of attempting to mend some sort of door. They performed this act regularly amongst much audience mirth and laughter. It was described in the Variety Stage on 11 August 1921 as “admirably conceived and played in capital fashion by the artists concerned”.

The production, which had opened to acclaim, had had a large amount of money spent on the staging. It was said to have “a considerable amount of brainwork, much time and pain, good taste and a flair for heating the public fancy”. Although it had no semblance of a story Power and Benton and their fellow artists contributed to the general scheme of things doing several skits.

The review opens with Power and Benton doing a Railway Station Scene followed later by a Hospital Scene with Power and Benton as the doctor and patient and Carrie Kasric as a nurse. The scene goes along these lines. The patient is recalling stories of the instruments left in bodies after a procedure when the absent-minded doctor returns and asks for his misplaced umbrella. It was described as “cleverly done and highly amusing”.

This was followed by a Waxworks Exhibition Scene and a Recording Room Scene has Power and Benton giving an old and new version of “Annie Lawrie”  to much laughter. The scenes are interspersed by dancing and singing acts so the boys were pretty busy on stage.  On another occasion at the Bedford, Camden Town they play a great part of the 14 scene revue called “Show Life”. One scene has them as a couple of gas fitters in a Factory Scene but other humerous  scenes include  a Customs Office Scene and  a Rich Aunt sketch set in  a bullfight !

In 1927 they were the principal comedians in “Yes Yes Princess” at the Hippodrome, Brighton.  “The Romance of the Navy “ played all over the UK and was described as “an enormous success” in the trade journal “The Stage”.  In 1929 they announced their new routine which was described as “as good as anything they have ever done, packed with good fun on beginning to end”. By 1931 they were still playing together at Sheffield Empire in a lively sparkling show called “Good Bye Blues”.

The partnership ended. Bert went on to work with Billy Hayes as residents of the Edinburgh Palladium. Billy Hayes was the brother of Mary Oliver  (Margaret Kerr) who had married Neil’s brother, Michael.

A short  2 minute silent film on SCRAN  can be found at
(Search Power and Bendon)

This clip called “Buying a Horse” is a silent film black and white comedy sketch of the two music hall comedians where they go to buy a horse  out of a line up they decide upon a pantomine horse who creates mischief.

The website  has details, scripts  and photos of Power and Bendon from their Mother Goose Days.
Neil Power and his comedy partner Bert Bendon (photo courtesy of

After the death of Bendon in 1964 it was reported that Power was also deceased. However, this was retracted when he let journalists know  that he was alive and living in 14 Clenerow Road Clapham, London at age 78. “I’m living here in happy retirement in Clapham” he told Gordon Irving of The Stage.

Electoral records show that Neil and Louisa had left Glasgow quite early on  and based themselves around London. Neil died in 1967 in Lambeth Surrey 8 years after Louisa’s death.

Treading the Boards- Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre

Vaudeville or Music Hall theatre was a popular form of entertainment from the 1880s. Several nights a week people from the more “polite society” used to crowd to theatres across UK and Scotland to be entertained by performances from music hall artistes who toured the country with acts and shows which sometimes toured the show circuit for several years. Theatres included the Hippodrome, Palladiam, Orpheum, Glasgow Pavillion etc. In Glasgow city alone around 1900 there were 26 theatres alone but not much is written about Scottish Music Hall and Variety Theatre.

A night at the theatre usually saw people enjoying a series of separate acts of dance, singing,comedy skits, impersonators and musicians. Sometimes the acts included magicians, jugglers, animal acts and acrobats. People would return week after week to hear their favourite songs and artists.

Often the circuit included extended family members- sisters, brothers, spouses, children. Imagine family members performing nightly with their small children sleeping in the props box. It wouldn’t be long before the kids were conscripted to perform an act of their own or tag along as back stage helpers.

These live performances declined with the growth of the silent movie and talking pictures and further still with the advent of free broadcast television in people’s own homes. Some vaudevillians found a home in variety television.

My vaudevillian family history came to life from a chance letter found in a box of papers collected at the family home. While the letter was essentially trying to find the legal recipients of an inheritance the solicitors had asked the right person - my aging Great Uncle Alf who was able to detail all his vaudevillian cousins, their Scottish address and their stage names.

Greasepaint must have been running through the McBride’s veins. Cornelius McBride was possibly the most famous of the McBride clan. 

Next blog  Cornelius McBride as Neil Power