b. Matilda Alice Victoria Wood, 12 February 1870, London, England, d. 7 October 1922, London, England. With four sisters, Daisy, Grace, Alice and Rose, and friends, Wood formed the Fairy Bells Minstrels. Deciding on a stage career, she adopted the name Bella Delamare and was quickly successful. With a change of name to Marie Lloyd, she attracted music hall audiences with her singing, especially the already popular ‘The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery’. Lloyd’s presentation, innocently girlish, which she sent up with suggestive facial and bodily movements, proved irresistible. Lloyd married at 17 but her husband, Percy Courtenay, drank heavily and abused her physically. At 24, and with a daughter, Lloyd ended her relationship with Courtenay although they were not divorced.
During the early 1890s, Lloyd’s career soared; even so, the perceived vulgarity of her songs made her a target of bluestocking organizations. In 1896, Lloyd visited halls in South Africa and the following year went to New York. Back in England, she began a stage and personal relationship with singer Alexander Hurley. They toured together, including a 1901 trip to Australia. Following her 1905 divorce from Courtenay, she and Hurley were married. A strike called by lesser and poorly paid music hall artists had Lloyd’s vociferous approval and financial backing, actions that alienated her from management. Among songs Lloyd performed were ‘Oh! Mr Porter’, ‘Every Little Movement (Has A Meaning Of Its Own)’, ‘That’s How This Little Girl Got On’, ‘A Little Of What You Fancy (Does You Good)’, ‘My Old Man Said ‘Follow The Van’’ and, especially popular, ‘One Of The Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About A Bit’.
Still hugely successful, Lloyd, separated from Hurley and began an affair with Derby-winning jockey Bernard Dillon who was many years her junior. He too drank heavily and abused her. The 1912 Royal Command Performance featured leading music hall artists of the day – excepting Lloyd. It remains unclear whether this was because of the nature of Lloyd’s material, or revenge from management for her earlier espousal of the strikers’ cause. Lloyd staged her own rival show but this barely hid the detrimental effect the slight had upon her. Contrastingly, she attracted followers among the literati, including James Agate, T.S. Eliot, Compton Mackenzie, George Bernard Shaw and Edmund Wilson. A 1913 tour of America suffered when she and Dillon were refused admission by immigration officials, because they were not married, and threatened with deportation. This was avoided by promises to live separately while on tour. Midway through the six-month tour, Lloyd and Dillon learned that Hurley had died, and the couple married in Portland, Oregon. This was shortly before World War I and on her return to England, Lloyd began a busy round of touring hospitals and factories as well as music halls. Meanwhile, Dillon’s behaviour towards Lloyd worsened and during this same period she too drank heavily and by the early 20s her drunkenness made her unreliable. After collapsing on stage, she died three days later. Indicating the popularity of the performer, thousands of people lined the route of her funeral procession.