Hiss & Boo are indebted to Michael Kilgarriff for this comprehensive guide.


The first step when searching for information on any subject, whether it be how to boil an egg or how often great-aunt Nellie played the Glasgow Empire, is to surf Google.

An excellent on-line site is Gale which has digitised forty-nine British newspapers up to 1900, though only two of these, The Graphic and The Penny Illustrated Paper, permit free downloading. All the others, including The Era, require payment of a fee for full access to citations. See newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/ for details.  

Gale’s run of The Times from 1785-1985 may also be accessible at your local reference library; if you intend to use the facility regularly you can sign up at the library which will give you free access from your home computer. If your local library is not a subscriber you can register via Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin’s Street, just off Leicester Square, London W1.

The catalogues of local libraries, including reference holdings, should be scoured for books on Music Hall and Variety (Dewey Classification 792.7); their indexes will offer a useful starting point for uncovering your subject.  My own books Sing Us One of the Old Songs (OUP 1999) and Grace, Beauty & Banjos (Oberon 1999), for instance,  give birth and death years for hundreds of performers; these can lead you to obituaries in local and national newspapers, and especially in trade papers such as The Era (1838-1939), The Stage (1880-) and The Performer (1906-1957). If you live within easy reach of London full runs of these publications (not The Era 1911-1912) are kept on microfilm at Westminster Reference Library. 

The Era from 1838 to 1900 together with dozens of local newspapers (many running from the 18th until well into the 20th centuries) may be searched free of charge through The British Newspapers Archive http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

Full runs of these and all other national and provincial newspapers are also viewable at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DV.  Ring 0330 333 1144 for information on obtaining a reader's ticket.

The Stage Archive is a complete run of the publication 1880-2007.  You may search online for citation headings free of charge but a payment is required to download.  See http://archive.thestage.co.uk for details.  Requests for information may be sent to The Editor, The Stage, 43 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XT (email: newsdesk@thestage.co.uk) and to the editor of Call Boy, the quarterly magazine of the British Music Hall Society, at 6 New River Crescent, London N13 5RF (email: geoff.bowden1@btinternet.com). The official historian of the British Music Hall Society, Max Tyler, is always willing to help in these matters; his email address is max@maxtyler.orangehome.co.uk.

A site which, uniquely, takes queries is http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/ArthurLloydForum.htm

The collections of books, programmes, reviews and memorabilia belonging to the Theatre Museum are now located in the Victoria & Albert Museum's study centre at Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, London W14 0QX. The collection is strongest on theatre, opera and ballet, though there is a substantial amount of Music Hall/Variety including posters and songsheets. Appointments must be made in advance, so email the Enquiries service (Mon-Fri 10-5): tmenquiries@vam.ac.uk or ring  020 7942 2697 to check whether the collection has any material likely to be significant for your purposes and book an appointment.  The Study Room is open Tuesday-Friday only. Visit the Music Hall & Variety Theatre web pages  http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/m/music-hall/ for more information about the Collections.

The Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson Theatre Collection has a much greater concentration on the ‘illegitimate’ stage; this magnificent archive is now housed in the University of Bristol.  Email your query to theatre-collection@bristol.ac.uk or ring 0117 331 5086.

The Family Records Centre registers of  births, marriages and deaths are now on microfiche and may be searched at centres in Birmingham, Bridgend, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Westminster, and at the British Library.  Telephone 0300 123 1837 for further details.

Registers may also be searched on line at www.freebmd.org.uk. The entries date from 1837 and certificates may be ordered online from the General Register Office on www.gro.gov.uk/. The postal address is General Register Office, PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside PR8 2JD.  Telephone 0300 123 1837.

A difficulty which very often arises when searching is that the professional names of artistes were not their legal ones, and you will only find the legal name in the registers. A further complication is that married women were – and still are – registered at death under their husbands’ surnames.

Colin Charman’s Music Hall database covers the years 1838-1944, though the great majority of entries is for 1911 to 1918. This archive includes local press advertisements, previews and reviews from The Era, The Stage, and The Music Hall and Theatre Review, plus rehearsal calls from The Era and The Stage. Colin is always happy to run a name-check, and may be emailed on charmancolin@hotmail.com.

The London Music Hall Database

Jacky Bratton is the custodian of a database at the Royal Holloway in Egham, Surrey, which includes all London Music Hall advertisements in The Era for the first week of each month of every fifth year from 1865 to 1890. Some data for 1866/7 are also included. Details of artistes by name and type, also managers,  prices, times, and practices of one hundred and twenty-three Halls are included. Drawbacks are that only London venues are covered, and that ‘the five-yearly snapshot must miss many short-lived but possibly significant performances, and does not offer enough information about the trajectories of either acts or halls in a volatile and rapidly changing industry’.  Nevertheless Prof Bratton tells me that one query in three makes a hit. Visit    www.rhul.ac.uk/drama/music-hall or email j.bratton@rhul.ac.uk.



British Library shelf-marks in brackets, but try your local reference library.

BROWN, JAM ES D. & STRATTON, STEPHEN S. British Musical Biographies (10804 k 23)
BRYAN, GEORGE D. Stage Deaths 1850-1990 2 vols (on open shelves 791.0922)
BRYAN, GEORGE D. Stage Lives 1985                                      “                “
BOASE, FREDERICK Modern English Biography (on open shelves 920.041)
BUSBY, ROY British Music Hall: An Illustrated Who's Who from 1850 to the Present Day              (792.7/028/0922)
ERA ALMANAC and ANNUAL, THE From 1868 includes an annual necrology (on open   shelves 791.0922)
GAMMOND, PETER The Oxford Companion to Popular Music 1991 (YM 1991 b186 - on          open shelves 781.63)
GRAY, ANDREW Illustrated Who's Who in Va riety (British Year Books ) (YC 1996 b 4504)
HERBERT, S. & McKERNAN, L. Who's Who of Victorian Cinema 1996 (YC 1996 b 4504)
PERRY, JEB H. Variety Obits 1980 (X809/47928)
PRATT, ALFRED T. CAMDEN People of the Period 1897 (010608 m 25)
VARIETY OBITUARIES Eds. Chuck Bartelt & Barbara Bergeron many vols. (ZC 9D 365)
WEARING, J. P.  American and British Theatrical Biography (792/.092/2)
SIBMAS  The International Directory of Performing Arts Collections and Institutions, may be        found on: http://ww w.sibmas.org/idpac/europ e/ukl011.html

Artistes from the 1930s and 1940s may be seen performing in www.britishpathe.com from which DVD purchases made be made. Free downloads are also available.

NOTE: If you are seeking information by post it is always advisable to enclose a stamped addressed envelope, or, if you are writing from outside the UK, International Reply Coupons to the value of £4. Do not send unsolicited material (photographs, original documents, etc) without obtaining prior agreement.

Michael Kilgarriff
Revised September 2015
© Michael  Kilgarriff 2015

PS: If you find any of the above information incorrect or out-of-date please let me know on michael@kilgarriff.org.uk



For more information contact:
Ian Liston, The Hiss & Boo Company
1 Nyes Hill, Wineham Lane, Bolney, West Sussex, RH17 5SD
Tel : +44 (0)1444 881707 / Fax : +44 (0)1444 882057
Email : ian@hissboo.co.uk