Leno was the greatest comedian of the Victorian Music Hall. His
real name was George Galvin, and he was born in 1860. From 1886 to
his death in 1904 he was immensely popular, pioneering the style of
stand-up comedy which held sway until the gag-men of the 1930s took
over. Each of his acts was a little character study, usually starting
with a snatch of song and then going into a character monologue as,
for example, a recruiting sergeant, a beefeater showing visitors
round the Tower of London (with constant returns to the refreshment
room), or, in this script extract, a lady talking about the absent
"You know Mrs. Kelly?...
You know Mrs. Kelly?... don't you know Mrs. Kelly? Her
husband's that little stout man, always at the corner of the
street in a greasy waistcoat... good life, don't look so stupid,
don't - you must know Mrs. Kelly!... Don't you know Mrs.
Kelly?... Well of course, if you don't, you don't - but I
thought you did, because I thought everybody knew Mrs.
Kelly. Oh, and what a woman - perhaps it's just as well you
don't know her... oh, she's a mean woman. Greedy. I know
for a fact - her little boy, who's got the sore eyes, he came over
and told me - she had half a dozen oysters, and she ate them in
front of the looking-glass, to make them look a dozen. Now that'll
give you an idea what she is."
Here are two recordings of Leno. Inevitably they are only a shadow
of what he was really like, but something of his skill in projecting
a character comes over the years (and the encoding). In the first one
he is an incompetent huntsman. I have two recordings of this, and
although the later one is more complete and better quality I thought
it would be more interesting to have the earlier (particularly as on
the later one he is beginning to sound less effective - he suffered a
mental breakdown only a couple of months later). Don't expect too
much of the quality - note the recording date.
'The Huntsman' (Gramophone and Typewriter
rec. London, c. November 19, 1901.
mp3 file (1.35MB)
The second recording was made just before his mental
breakdown, and there are a few audible signs of strain: even
so the character comes over well. His humour is gentler than
we expect from music hall, but still fairly effective. Here
he is a common music-hall type - the innocent in a strange
situation, in this case the race-track.
'Going To The Races' (HMV C-545
rec. London, late March 1903.
mp3 file (2.25MB)
click on the picture for a larger version
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