Nearly a century since his heyday, music hall legend Fred Barnes takes to the stage again at one of the capital’s best-known variety addresses, Wilton’s Music Hall, in Olivier Award winner Christopher Green’s new show Music Hall Monster. Who was the man himself? Why did his life and career end so sadly? Why is he largely forgotten? We’ve rounded up some background articles to fill you in before the show…
Fred Barnes (21 May 1885-23 October 1938) was a famous, openly gay music hall singer, whose most enduring hit, the 1907 self-penned ditty The Black Sheep of The Family, remarked upon the “a queer, queer world we live in”.
Barnes escaped from Birmingham and his butcher father to live more freely and find stage success in London. But the capital’s lifestyle also took its toll. He fell from grace, brought down by a familiar, modern range of addictions: sex, shopping, alcohol, and a need for celebrity. At the pinnacle of his fame in the 1920s, he was fabulously wealthy and sported the height of extravagant fashion with a marmoset monkey on his shoulder. By the mid-1930s, he was singing for pennies in Southend pubs with a pet chicken.
Penniless and ill with tuberculosis, Barnes ended up committing suicide, as his father had twenty-five years earlier. He was 53.
Music Hall Monster: The Insatiable Fred Barnes, starring Christopher Green, runs from 2 to 12 May 2018 at Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London E1 8JB, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets are priced £5.50 to £12.50. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!