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Florrie Forde - John James O'Hara, 1911

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Published on Jan 19, 2015

Florrie Forde (August 16, 1875 – April 18, 1940), born Flora May Augusta Flannagan, was an Australian popular singer and entertainer. She was one of the greatest stars of the early 20th century music hall. Forde was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia. She was the sixth of the eight children of Lott Flannagan and Phoebe, who also had two children from a prior marriage. At the age of sixteen, she ran away from home to appear on the Sydney music hall stage, adopting the surname of her stepfather. At the age of 21, in 1897, she left for London, and on August Bank Holiday 1897, she made her first appearances in London at three music halls – the South London Palace, the Pavilion and the Oxford – in the course of one evening. She became an immediate star, making the first of her many sound recordings in 1903 and making 700 individual recordings by 1936.

Forde had a powerful stage presence, and specialised in songs that had powerful and memorable choruses in which the audience was encouraged to join. She married in 1909 and was soon drawing top billing, singing songs such as "Down at the Old Bull and Bush" and "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?". She appeared in the very first Royal Command Performance in 1912. During World War I, her most famous songs were some of the best known of the period, including "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag", "It's A Long Way To Tipperary" and "Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty". Florrie Forde formed her own travelling revue in the 1920s. It provided a platform for new rising stars, the most famous being the singing duo of Flanagan and Allen. She collapsed and died from a cerebral haemorrhage after singing for troops in Aberdeen, Scotland on 18 April 1940. She is buried in Streatham Park Cemetery, London.

The Anglo-Irish poet Louis MacNeice left a tribute to her in a poem, 'Death of An Actress', recalling how:

With an elephantine shimmy and a sugared wink
She threw a trellis of Dorothy Perkins roses
Around an audience come from slum and suburb
And weary of the tea-leaves in the sink.

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