Stanley Kirkby

Stanley Kirkby (1878 – 30 October 1949) was an English baritone singer and variety artist of the early 20th century. Possessing a "pure baritone" voice and with "perfect diction," he was able to sing music from a wide range of genres. He sang ballads and popular songs of the Edwardian era, the First World War and the inter-War period. He sang mostly in music halls and variety theatres and was a popular recording artist.

Born and brought up in Manchester, Kirkby worked in a warehouse from the age of 12; he went on to win first prize in a baritone singing competition at the age of 22. His career moved to London where he formed a number of collaborations on stage with other variety artists; these became well known for their smartly-dressed and musically-excellent performances. In 1915 he teamed up with Harry Hudson to form the popular duo "Kirkby and Hudson". They entertained audiences with their eclectic mix of songs and humour well into the 1920s. Kirkby became especially well known for his concert party performances at The Oval, Margate in Kent.

Kirkby was a prolific recording artist and has been credited with making the largest number of records in Britain from the 1900s to the 1930s. Although he was among the first to record roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operas, much of his recorded output was popular songs, the subject matter of which ranged from the topical to the comic. He was one of the highest paid recording artists of his time.

In the mid-1920s he was a joint theatrical producer of a burlesque revue. In the 1930s he broadcast on BBC radio variety shows. He was a founder member of an early British record company which produced Clarion cylinders.

Early years and personal life

Stanley Kirkby (pronounced Kir-k-by) was born in Ancoats, Manchester, England, in the last quarter of 1878[Note 2] as James Baker[1][Note 3] to George Baker, an iron moulder and his wife Margaret Kirkby.[2][3] He was a double cousin of the contralto opera singer Louise Kirkby Lunn (born 1873), two Kirkby sisters having married two Baker brothers.[4] In 1891 at the age of 12 he was working as a warehouse boy in Manchester; his father was no longer present in the household and both his mother and sister had entered the confectionery trade.[5] By 1901 the family was running a confectionery shop and living in Oldham Street in Manchester; his mother was no longer present in the household and Kirkby was working as a tobacco packer.[6]

From around 1900 Kirkby was being engaged to sing at local events in Manchester, for example he was a soloist in the sacred service for Lifeboat Saturday – a fund-raising event which was held at the Palace Theatre of Varieties in 1900.[7] In 1901 at the age of 22 he won first prize as a baritone singer in a contest held as part of the Music Trades exhibition at St. James's Hall, Oxford Road in Manchester.[8] On Easter Day 1902 he sang "The Trumpet Shall Sound" from Handel's Messiah in All Saint's Church Chorlton-on-Medlock in Manchester.[9]

In the early 1900s Kirkby performed at a number of provincial events, for example singing a small role in the Edwardian musical comedy The Geisha in Derby in late 1902,[10] and in July 1903 he performed in an outdoor concert "The Pierrots" at the Sydney Gardens in Bath, Somerset – the Bath Chronicle commented: "Mr. Stanley Kirkby has a capital baritone voice".[11]

Kirkby moved to London. There in 1908 he married the singer Jessie Jolly who had been performing with him in one of his concert parties.[2] They had three sons.[12] By the 1911 census he was living in Barnes, London with his wife and his first son, and his profession was given as that of a vocalist.[12][13] He was rejected for military service in the army for the First World War.[4] He died on 30 October 1949, at his Barnes residence, aged 70.[2][12][Note 3]

Stage career

Kirkby began his stage career in the music halls of London's West End, for example appearing in 1905 at The Metropolitan Music Hall on the same billing as the music-hall star Marie Lloyd;[14] however his style soon evolved, with his appearance at the London Coliseum as part of a group called the "Quaint 'Uns" in 1911. The Stage magazine commented:[15]

Stanley Kirkby's "Quaint 'Uns" are newcomers this week, and quickly get on good terms with the audience, in spite of the fact that the exigencies of time preclude anything more than an opening chorus and two concerted numbers. The first quaint thing one notices about the "Quaint 'Uns" is their costume. This has the appearance of a made-to-measure pyjama suit of blue material with white Peter Pan or Quaker cuffs and collars. The party look very smart and original, and their work is quite in keeping with their appearance, the singing being good ...

From about 1910, Kirkby became a pioneer of summer entertainment at The Oval in Margate where he performed with his concert parties.[12][16] In 1910 his party comprised: Emily Hayes (soprano),[Note 6] Jessie Jolly (humorist), Bernard Turner (tenor), Mr. L. Lennol (humorist) and James "Jimmy" Godden (humorist);[16] over the succeeding years, the members of this group were to vary.[Note 7] The artists would typically perform at Margate during the summer season, returning to the music halls and variety theatres of London and the provinces during the winter months.

Kirkby's shows set a standard that was upheld for many years by himself and his successors.[12] In one of his shows (in 1915) was Harry Hudson and their association with its mix of songs and humour resulted in a partnership that gained great popularity as a music-hall act in the 1920s.[12][17] In 1916 The Stage magazine gave the following review of an early concert resulting from their collaboration:[18]

Popular newcomers to the bill this week are Stanley Kirkby and Harry Hudson who are making their first appearance in the West End in a double turn. They score one of the hits of the programme with syncopated harmony ... Both gentlemen possess fine voices and we thus get ragtime sung artistically and not shouted ... Altogether the duo are to be congratulated upon the excellence of their performance.

The names of Kirkby and Hudson provided a top-line attraction for many years and they made great capital out of songs specially written for them by Weston and Lee.[12] During the latter part of the First World War and for several years afterwards they toured music halls as a double act, though the discographer Brian Rust did not consider any of these songs to be music-hall in style.[19] Several of the songs were recorded for Edison Bell between 1916 and 1925.[19]

In 1925 Kirkby shared the theatrical production of a sixteen-scene burlesque revue called Apple Sauce, with the O'Gorman Brothers. This was based on a book by Will Wise, Fred Pattison and the O'Gorman Brothers, with songs by Lawrence Wright, and Weston and Lee. The show opened at the Royal Hippodrome in Eastbourne, and following its opening night on 30 March 1925, The Stage magazine remarked:[20]

Rarely has such long-sustained applause greeted the fall of the curtain on any revue at this house as was the case ... when "Apple Sauce" thanks to the smart production work of the Brothers O'Gorman went without the slightest hitch, and scored an emphatic success.

During the summer of 1928, after several years absence, Kirkby returned to direct concert parties at Margate for at least one season.[21]


Kirkby must be regarded as one of the most prolific of all recording artists in the United Kingdom, making many records under a variety of pseudonyms as well as his own name, for every record label, during the first three decades of the 20th century.[19] Some have even credited him with making the largest number of records in Britain from the 1900s to the 1930s;[1] others that he shares this title with the singer Peter Dawson.[22] Although Kirkby was among the first to record roles in Gilbert and Sullivan operas,[23] he was primarily a highly popular ballad singer with his output containing a high proportion of sentimental ballads as well as patriotic items and a small amount of comic material.[24]

Kirkby was considered a star performer and, according to Joe Batten, the pioneer recording manager, was also very well paid; between 1909 and 1918 earning £90 per week (£8,484 in 2019 adjusted for inflation) to record six titles (normally three hours' work), but as he was freelance and doing similar work for two other companies at the same time,[Note 8] he could earn as much as £270 in a week (£25,452 in 2019 adjusted for inflation).[22][25]

He used the following pseudonyms for HMV: Charles Holland, Walter Miller, Murray Johnson,[Note 9] Fred Cooper, George Dent, Rupert Hazell,[Note 10] Gerald Orme, Jim Donovan, Frank Williams, George Daly, George Claff, Sam Ireland, Frank Ashton and Mike Magee; he was the Walker in "Cobbett & Walker" (with Ernest Pike).[26] He is known to have used the following pseudonyms for Edison Bell: Frank Miller, Walter Miller and Frank Emerson.[27] He also used the pseudonyms Stanley Barnes (Scala), F. Elliot (Scala), Keith James (Edison Bell Radio) and Charles Lester (Polyphon).

Kirkby recorded well over 200 tracks for the "Gramophone & Typewriter Company" (G&T) and its associated labels: HMV, Zonophone and Victor.[26][28][29][30] Much of his recorded output from about 1912 was for Edison Bell (Winner, Velvet Face and Radio labels), and it is this label with which be became particularly, but not exclusively associated.[24] He recorded Clarion cylinders from about 1907,[Note 11] 4-minute Edison cylinders from 1911 and Pathé etched-label discs from 1913.[31] His recordings were also released on the following record labels: Beka, Beta, Coliseum, Columbia, Empire, Favorite, John Bull, Jumbo, Lyceum, Regal and Scala.[Note 12] Over forty of his records were included in the 1912 Ariel Grand record catalogue.[32]

Record label for "Silver Bell" on Coliseum (above) and "Tipperary" on Scala (below)

Early recordings

Kirkby started to record as early as 1903 for G&T, but some of these very early tracks were not issued; one of the earliest with a catalogue number was "The Village Blacksmith" (by Willoughby Weiss) recorded on 27 April 1904.[26] He recorded ballads and songs typical of the Edwardian era. A selection of these recorded for Zonophone is given below with the year of recording and any pseudonym used:

  • "Violets", 1907[29]
  • "The Miner's Dream of Home", 1906 (as Charles Holland), 1907 (as Kirkby with Denise Orme as May Loveday)[29]
  • "Father O' Flynn", 1907[29]
  • "A Sergeant of the Line", 1910[29]
  • "Silver Bell", 1910[29]
  • "I Hear You Calling Me", 1916 (as Rupert Hazell)[26][Note 10]

He also recorded songs of a more humorous nature. Here is a selection with the year of recording, record company and any pseudonym used:

  • "We All Walked into the Shop", 1905, G&T, (as Walter Miller)[29]
  • "Go Away, Mr. Crocodile", 1906, Zonophone, (as Walter Miller)[29]
  • "I'll Tell Tilly on the Telephone", 1907, Zonophone, (as Walter Miller assisted by Miss Topsy May "The Original Tilly")[29]
  • "She's a Lassie From Lancashire", 1908, Zonophone, (as Walter Miller)[29]
  • "The Galloping Major", 1907 and 1912, Zonophone, (as Walter Miller)[29]
  • "Yiddle, on Your Fiddle", 1912, Edison Bell Winner, (as Stanley Kirkby)[27]
  • "You Can Do a Lot of Things at the Seaside", 1912, Scala, (as Stanley Barnes)[Note 13]

Gilbert and Sullivan recordings

Kirkby sang in some of the earliest recordings made of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, commencing in December 1906, by singing Pish-Tush and part or all of the roles of Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah in the first recording of The Mikado for G&T. This was initially released on single-sided gramophone records and then re-released on double-sided discs in 1912.[23] In 1907 he sang Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard also for G&T.[23] Also in 1907 he made a number of recordings as part of a chorus called "The Sullivan Operatic Party" for both The Yeomen of the Guard and The Gondoliers, again for G&T.[28] In 1908 he sang Captain Corcoran in the G&T recording of excerpts from H.M.S. Pinafore. In 1912 he sang The Mikado, Pooh-Bah and parts of Ko-Ko for the Edison Bell recording of highlights from The Mikado.[23]

Topical events

Kirkby made a number of recordings about the topical events of his time, for example in 1910 "Don't Go Down in the Mine, Dad" – a song said to have been written in response to the great 1907 mining disaster at St. Genard in South Wales[33] and in 1913 "Be British!" – a memorial song to raise funds for the families of the victims of the Titanic disaster.[26] Also in 1913 he made a famous recording about Scott's Antarctic Expedition "'Tis a Story That Shall Live For Ever".[1] He recorded First World War songs both popular and propaganda, for example "We Didn't Want to Fight but By Jingo Now We Do" and "Your King and Country Want You" for Edison Bell Winner;[34] he also recorded "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" for Zonophone (also released on Regal and Scala).[1] Following the War one of his greatest hits was "The Rose of No Man's Land" which sold a total of 163,000 copies; it had become very popular with men returning home to civilian life from the Front in France.[22]


Kirkby collaborated with other artists at HMV, for example with Ernest Pike in "When You Wore a Tulip" in 1916 (as Cobbett and Walker)[26] and "She Sells Sea Shells on the Seashore" in 1908 (as Fred Cooper with Herbert Payne).[29][Note 14] He recorded duets with female singers, for example with Denise Orme in "The Kissing Duet" from The Geisha, and with the music-hall star Florrie Forde in "Would You Like to Change With Me?", both in 1906.[29] His collaborations with artists for other record companies included one with the contralto Jessie Broughton in "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" in c. 1916 for Scala.[Note 15]

Occasionally he would form part of a backing group or chorus in the HMV recording studio known as "The Minster Singers" along with some or all of the following: Ernest Pike, Peter Dawson and Arthur Gilbert; sometimes there were additional singers in this group.[28][29] The Minster Singers also recorded songs in its own right, for example "Christmas Eve in the Old Homestead" in 1907.[28] He was in the Zonophone church hymn singing ensemble "A Church Choir", recording "Onward, Christian Soldiers" in 1909 along with Eleanor Jones-Hudson, Ernest Pike, Harold Wilde and A. H. Gee.[28]

Post War

Between 1916 and 1925 Kirkby and Hudson recorded a number songs resulting from their stage collaboration, for Edison Bell Winner, for example: "Somebody Would Shout Out 'Shop'" (1916), "The Body in the Bag" (1920) and "Eeh! By Gum, It Were a Real Fine Do!" (1922).[19] He continued to record from the late 1920s to the early 1930s on the 8-inch Edison Bell Radio electrically recorded series, for example: "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", "Don't Do That to the Poor Puss Cat", "Hot Pot" and one of the last of the series recorded in 1931: "I'm the Last One Left on the Corner".[Note 16]

Singing voice

In his memoirs, Joe Batten said of Kirkby's voice:[22]

He had the finest recording voice of all the artistes I have heard in recording studios. It was a pure baritone. His diction was perfect, and he had a versatility in interpretation that distinguished him from all others.

The Ariel record catalogue from 1912 stated:[32]

[Stanley Kirkby is] the fortunate possessor of a rich and powerful baritone voice ...


During the 1930s Kirkby broadcast on BBC radio variety shows, for example in 1933 he took part in a "Memories" programme which included Fred Wildon and Philip Ritte among others, and was presented by Harry Hudson.[35][36][Note 17] In 1935 he appeared in "Out of Town Tonight" a variety programme which was compered by Dave Burnaby and included the comedian Tommy Handley, Hudson again and the BBC Variety Orchestra.[37]

Business interests

Kirkby was one of the founder members of the British record company "Premier Manufacturing Co. Ltd." which was incorporated in 1905 and produced Clarion cylinders from about 1907.[1][38][39][Note 18] The company folded in 1910, but re-emerged as the "Clarion Record Co. Ltd."; it continued to trade until about 1922.[39]

Notes and references

  1. The handwritten message on this card reads: Sincerely yours Stanley Kirkby; Yours truly Stanley Kirkby
  2. There are two possible dates for Kirkby's (James Baker's) birth in Manchester (Lancashire): 1878 (Oct to Dec) or 1880 (Apr to Jun). It was customary in early British censuses to estimate the year of birth given the age at last birthday. With census day being in March/April from 1881 onwards, Kirkby's age was estimated at: 2 in 1881, 13 in 1891, 22 in 1901 and 32 in 1911. So a birth date of the last quarter of 1878 fits best with most of these estimates; 1880 with none of them. It also fits best with his known accurate date of death on 30 October 1949 and age at death of 70 – with his 70th birthday most likely to have been in November or December 1948.
  3. The name James Baker appears to have been used for affairs relating to his personal life, e.g. census details and marriage certificate, while he used Stanley Kirkby as his professional name. However at some point he must have permanently adopted the name Stanley Kirkby as this is what appears on his death certificate.
  4. All Saints church was badly damaged during the Manchester Blitz in the Second World War. It was demolished in the late 1940s.
  5. Stanley Kirkby concert party. From left to right, back row: Emilie Hayes, Bernard Turner, James Godden; middle row: Jack Lennol; front row: Stanley Kirkby, Jessie Jolly.
  6. The wife of music-hall star G. H. Elliott.
  7. Other people in Kirkby's concert parties over the years were:
    • Frederick Arthur
    • Ben Calvert
    • Bromley Carter
    • John E. Conan
    • Lucy France
    • Edith Lorraine
    • Kathleen Severn
    • Elsie Steadman
    • Eustace Wallace
    • Fred Wildon.
  8. Kirkby would often record the same song with more than one record company.
  9. This pseudonym was also used by Harry Fay.
  10. According to the "AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music", Rupert Hazell is a pseudonym for Stanley Kirkby – the Kelly directory having c. 1500 entries for this. However, Rupert Hazell was apparently also used by a comedian during roughly the same time period.
  11. For example Clarion cylinder no: 5 "I'm Wearing My Heart Away for You"
  12. The following is a list of example records for each of the record labels on which Kirkby's songs were released:
    • Beka record no: 512 "Kitty Dear"
    • Beta record no: 3331 "How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm"
    • Coliseum record no: 145 "Silver Bell"
    • Columbia Rena record no: 1506 "Don't Go Down in the Mine, Dad"
    • Empire record no: 1511 "Beautiful Garden of Roses"
    • Favorite record no: 828 "Tip-top Tipperary Mary"
    • John Bull record no: B49 "Sweet Jenny Gray"
    • Jumbo record no: A423 "Till the Boys Come Home"
    • Lyceum record no: 69 "Silver Bell"
    • Regal record no: G6795 "Boys in Khaki, Boys in Blue"
    • Scala record no: 609 "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"
  13. Scala record no: 181
  14. Herbert Payne was one of Ernest Pike's pseudonyms.
  15. Scala record no: 862
  16. Edison Bell Radio (EBR) record numbers are as follows:
    • "Are You Lonesome Tonight" is EBR 826 – this was recorded more than 30 years before the well-known recording by Elvis Presley.
    • "Don't Do That to the Poor Puss Cat" is EBR 862.
    • "Hot Pot" is EBR 908.
    • "I'm the Last One Left on the Corner" is EBR 1501.
  17. Hudson was by now working for Edison Bell and had his own orchestra "Harry Hudson and his Melody Men".
  18. Premier Manufacturing Co. Ltd. is used for a completely unrelated purpose today.
  1. Encyclopedia of recorded Sound in the United States, ed. Marco, Garland Publishing, 1993, p. 371, ISBN 0-8240-4782-6
  2. British General Register Office – Birth certificate (as Baker): 1878 vol. 8D page 326; Marriage certificate (as Baker): 1908 vol. 1D page 775; Death certificate (as Kirkby): 1949 vol. 5G page 418. Payment required.
  3. The British 1881 Census: folio 56, page 6, piece RS00 – The early Baker household in Ancoats.
  4. Manchester Evening News, 15 Aug 1916, p. 3. Cousin of Louise Kirkby Lunn and First World War exemption.
  5. The British 1891 Census: folio 10, page 11, piece 3233 – Kirkby (as Baker) working as a warehouse boy.
  6. The British 1901 Census: folio 40, page 7, piece 3751 – Kirkby (as Baker) working as a tobacco packer.
  7. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 15 Oct 1900, p. 7. Lifeboat Saturday
  8. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 11 Sep 1901, p. 6. Wins singing competition
  9. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 29 Mar 1902, p. 1. Easter recital in All Saints
  10. Derby Daily Telegraph, 25 Nov 1902, p. 4. Appearance in The Geisha
  11. Bath Chronicle, 23 Jul 1903, p. 6. Concert at Sydney Gardens.
  12. The Stage, 3 Nov 1949, p. 4. Obituary.
  13. The British 1911 Census: folio 57, page 1, piece 3625 – Kirkby (as Baker) in London as a vocalist with family.
  14. The Stage, 20 Apr 1905, p. 18. Appearance at the Metropolitan.
  15. The Stage, 2 Nov 1911, p. 14. Appearance at the London Coliseum.
  16. The Stage, 6 Oct 1910, p. 4. First appearance at Margate.
  17. The Stage, 7 Oct 1915, p. 15. Kirkby and Hudson first mention.
  18. The Stage, 1 Jun 1916, p. 13. Kirkby and Hudson West End first review.
  19. Brian Rust, British Music Hall on Record, General Gramophone Publications Ltd., 1979, p. 132, ISBN 978-0-902470-12-5
  20. The Stage, 2 Apr 1925, p. 15. Apple Sauce.
  21. The Stage, 10 May 1928, p. 19. Return to Margate.
  22. Joe Batten's Book – The Story of Sound recording, Rockliff, 1956, pp. 61, 62, 117
  23. Website detailing the history of G&S recordings Accessed 06 Apr 2013
  24. Alexander Ross, British Documentary Sound, Scottish Council for Educational Technology, 1977, p. 11/23, ISBN 0-86011-008-7
  25. UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  26. The AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music. Accessed 06 Apr 2013
  27. "Numerical Listing of Edison Bell Winner Records", Part 1, Karlo Adrian, Talking Machine Review, 1983, ISBN 0-902338-17-X
  28. Catalogue of HMV "B" series Records, Andrews & Bayly, City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society Ltd., 2000, OCLC 47117798
  29. Numerical Listing of Zonophone Records, City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society Ltd., 1999, ISBN 0-900883-61-8
  30. Victor Discography Accessed 06 Apr 2013
  31. Girard and Barnes, Vertical-Cut Cylinders and Discs, British Institute of Recorded Sound, 1971, p. 79
  32. Ariel Grand Double-Sided Record Catalogue, Ariel, 1912, (No page number, but artists are in alphabetical order for each genre)
  33. Folk archive Suggestion of association with St. Genard disaster. Accessed 11 Apr 2013
  34. "Numerical Listing of Edison Bell Winner Records", Part 3, Karlo Adrian, Talking Machine Review 4A, 1974
  35. The Stage, 6 Jul 1933, p. 6. "Memories" concert broadcast by the BBC.
  36. The Stage, 29 Nov 1928, p. 14. Harry Hudson's Melody Men first mention.
  37. Evening Telegraph, 29 Jun 1935, p. 8. BBC – "Out of Town Tonight".
  38. Encyclopedia of recorded Sound in the United States, ed. Marco, Garland Publishing, 1993, pp. 115, 542. Premier Manufacturing and Clarion. ISBN 0-8240-4782-6
  39. The City of London Phonograph & Gramophone Society. Clarion cylinders. Accessed 18 Apr 2013

Listen to Kirkby sing

You can use the following links to listen to a selection of some of the songs that Kirkby sang:

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