Paul O’Grady to unveil BMHS Blue Plaque to Fred Barnes on Monday 18th October 2021 at 12 noon.
The British Music Hall Society is delighted to announce that a blue plaque commemorating Fred Barnes, the music hall singer, is to be unveiled on Monday 18th October, 12 noon at 22 Clifton Villas, Maida Vale, London W9 2PH by Paul O’Grady.
Comedian, broadcaster, writer, actor and former drag artiste, Paul O’Grady was announced as the Society’s new President in January 2021, taking on the role previously held by Roy Hudd.
Fred Barnes was hugely popular on the Music Hall stage and was known as ‘the wavy haired, blue-eyed Adonis’, lauded for his looks, talent and charm. He is chiefly remembered for his signature song, The Black Sheep Of The Family which he first performed in 1907 and made him an overnight success. He composed the music and wrote the lyrics for this song, a rarity at the time as music hall performers usually employed songwriters to write for them.
The son of a butcher, Frederick Jester Barnes was born in 1885 in Saltley, a working class area of Birmingham. He became interested in performance when at the age of 10, he saw the male impersonator Vesta Tilley on stage and thereafter was determined not to join the family meat business. His phenomenal success with The Black Sheep Of The Family, led to top billing at all of the major music halls (including the London Palladium). He also played principal boy roles in pantomime every Christmas, an unusual step for the time as these roles were generally taken by popular female music hall stars. Barnes’ other hit songs included Give Me The Moonlight and On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep, later popularised by Frankie Vaughan and Danny La Rue.
Considerable wealth followed for Barnes and he became renowned for his lavish spending and lifestyle as much as for his songs. He was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence and his family found this difficult to digest. Barnes’ father committed suicide in 1913 possibly connected to the shame he felt about his son’s lifestyle choices.
Alcohol proved to be Barnes’ undoing and he became increasingly reliant on it. Having squandered his wealth, he died in Southend-on-Sea in 1938.
Barnes lived in the grand house at 22 Clifton Villas, where the Blue Plaque will be unveiled, during the years 1926-1930 when success and money were flowing and his popularity was undimmed.