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Miss Florrie Ford (Christmas pantomime with toy cat)
, 1930

by Fielding, Leeds

gelatin silver photograph (support: 13.9 cm x 8.8 cm)

Florrie Forde (1875-1940), music hall performer, was born in Melbourne to a woman named Phoebe Simmons, who had sixteen children by three different fathers before dying at the age of 46. Florrie (Flora) was her eighth, and spent time in a convent before running away to Sydney with her sister. She first sang publicly at the Polytechnic Hall in the Imperial Arcade, Pitt Street, at the age of sixteen. For the next five years she sang and acted in vaudeville and music hall in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. By 1897 she was making her debut in London. Henceforth she was never out of work, remaining a star until her death through songs in which her audiences joined enthusiastically, including ‘Down at the Old Bull and Bush’, ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’, ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, ‘Oh! Oh! Antonio’ and ‘Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy’. In 1912 she appeared in the very first Royal Command Variety Performance. At the apogee of her career during World War I, the ‘Melba of the Music Hall’ continued to perform, mentor up-and-coming stars and record songs in her strong Australian accent through the 1930s, in which she also appeared as herself in two films. She performed as one of the ‘Veterans of Variety’ in another Command Performance in 1935. She died a few hours after entertaining patients in a naval hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2017
Accession number: 2017.115