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Florrie Forde
popular entertainer and singer
16th August 1875 - 18th April 1940

This article was first published as 'Flanagan's Pub' in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter, Edition 592 of 23rd August 2013

"Hold your hand out naughty boy
Hold your hand out naughty boy
Last night in the pale moonlight
I saaaaaaw you, I saaaaaw you
With a nice girl in the Park
You were strolling full of joy
And you told her you'd never kissed a girl before
Hold your hand out naughty boy."

“Do you always sing while walking down the street?”
“Only when I’m passing this pub in Fitzroy.”
“That’s not a pub, it’s a house.”
“It is now, but it used to be a pub.”
“What’s so special about that?”
“The publican was not only the father of Australia’s most successful popular singer, he also gave his name to another popular entertainer who became a household name. Do you know the steps and the actions ?- I’ll teach you. Put your hand on my shoulder like we’re doing Greek dancing. Step-2-3-4-Step-2 now-a-little-half-step-in-behind 4. Hold your hand out 2 -3 - you’re getting the hang of it.”
“Who was he?"
“Who?”
“Australia’s most successful popular singer?”
“Not he - she. Flora. Her dad owned the pub here. Her mother later remarried and Flora and her sister ended up being sent to a convent. We’re not sure which but probably the one in Abbotsford down the hill past John Wren’s Tote. Flora and her sister soon ran away to Sydney where as a 16 year old she made some money singing in vaudeville.”

A passing matron looks disapprovingly at our dancing. I tip my white hat and sing

“Goodbye-ee, Goodbye-ee
Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee”

as she disappears up the street.

“That’s hardly a successful career.”
“There was more to come. Do you know the box step? I’ll teach you - just keep your arm on my shoulder and follow me - 2 3 .. She became a favourite as a principal boy in pantomimes.”
“But she was a girl”
“That’s the whole point of panto - the panto dame was a man and the principal boy was an attractive female dressed up as a boy in shorts. At a time when anything more than an ankle in public was looked on as something shocking there was no problem in getting dad along to the pantomime. For years Nellie Stewart was a favourite and our Kylie would have been a natural as a principal boy. OK let’s reverse the box step - 2 3. Flora was starting to get a bit podgy but she seemed to have a special chemistry with the audience. She had adopted her stepfather’s name to become Florrie Ford and later added and e, Florrie Forde, to make it a bit more exotic. In Adelaide she sang for the Founding Fathers at the Australasian Federal Convention ‘She Wore a Little Safety Pin, Behind’ do try to keep in time -
And the words were seen to have veiled innuendo, which was just the ticket for our Founding Fathers - the more thinly veiled the better. Have I told you about the time soon after the opening of Federal Parliament when the appearance of an attractive lady in the public gallery caused much whisperings and passing of notes amongst the members. In the end the bewhiskered Henry Parkes passed around a note stating - ‘Gentlemen, since the woman in question seems unknown to any of us here we can only conclude that she must be a lady of good character’. However, I digress - we do a full circle at this point - 2 -3.

"It was time to head to London and like Nellie Melba before her and Kylie after her she decided to take her career into her own hands rather than rely solely on an agent. She weighed up where her strengths were. She was already past the podgy stage so the days of principal boy were fading. The high formants of her Australian accent meant her words could be understood in the back stalls whereas the plummy English accent became an indeterminate stodge at that range. She was good at involving an audience so she choose songs with a catchy chorus that was easy to learn for audience singalong. She planned her campaign carefully testing out the route between three of the major music halls. She waited for bank holiday when she knew the audience would be at the most relaxed and determined to have a good time. Then on that night she appeared at all three music halls and lead the enthusiastic audience in the choruses. It was the equivalent of appearing on all the free to air TV channels on the one night. The next day everyone was sing Florrie’s choruses and her praises.

And they continued to do so for 40 years.

Pack Up Your Troubles in your 2 - 3 -4

It's a Long Way to Tipperary - everybody!

Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly - once more!

700 recording and countless performances later she died soon after entertaining troops at the start of WWII.”

“But what about the publican - her dad? You said another entertainer was named after him.”

“Ah yes. She took a duo into her show called Chesney Allen and Bud Winthrop. Feeling that the names didn’t have an appropriate stage ‘ring’ she gave one of them her original maiden name - that of her father who owned the pub - Flanagan. Flanagan and Allen went on to be two of the best loved entertainers of their time. You see, many people walk around the streets of Melbourne without realising that when they’re walking past Flanagan’s pub and much else besides. Here, fall in behind, put your hands on my shoulders - Underneath the arches . . . raise your hat to the nice lady . . . I dream my dreams away - 2-3-4.”

Some forthcoming events:


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