Leno was the greatest comedian of the Victorian Music Hall. His real name was George Galvin, and he was born in 1860. From 1886 to his death in 1904 he was immensely popular, pioneering the style of stand-up comedy which held sway until the gag-men of the 1930s took over. Each of his acts was a little character study, usually starting with a snatch of song and then going into a character monologue as, for example, a recruiting sergeant, a beefeater showing visitors round the Tower of London (with constant returns to the refreshment room), or, in this script extract, a lady talking about the absent Mrs. Kelly:

"You know Mrs. Kelly?... You know Mrs. Kelly?... don't you know Mrs. Kelly? Her husband's that little stout man, always at the corner of the street in a greasy waistcoat... good life, don't look so stupid, don't - you must know Mrs. Kelly!... Don't you know Mrs. Kelly?... Well of course, if you don't, you don't - but I thought you did, because I thought everybody knew Mrs. Kelly. Oh, and what a woman - perhaps it's just as well you don't know her... oh, she's a mean woman. Greedy. I know for a fact - her little boy, who's got the sore eyes, he came over and told me - she had half a dozen oysters, and she ate them in front of the looking-glass, to make them look a dozen. Now that'll give you an idea what she is."

Here are two recordings of Leno. Inevitably they are only a shadow of what he was really like, but something of his skill in projecting a character comes over the years. In the first one he is an incompetent huntsman. I have two recordings of this, and although the later one is more complete and better quality I thought it would be more interesting to have the earlier (particularly as on the later one he is beginning to sound less effective - he suffered a mental breakdown only a couple of months later). Don't expect too much of the quality - note the recording date.

'The Huntsman' (Gramophone and Typewriter GC-2-2515)
rec. London, c. November 19, 1901.

The second recording was made just before his mental breakdown, and there are a few audible signs of strain: even so the character comes over well. His humour is gentler than we expect from music hall, but still fairly effective. Here he is a common music-hall type - the innocent in a strange situation, in this case the race-track.

'Going To The Races' (HMV C-545 [G&T 02001])
rec. London, late March 1903.

If you would like to download these recordings you can do so from this page.

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