Gay music hall icon Fred Barnes to be honoured with Maida Vale plaque

Fred Barnes

Fred Barnes lived at 22 Clifton Villas from 1926 to1930 - Credit: British Music Hall Society

A Maida Vale house which once housed an iconic gay music hall singer is set to receive a plaque in his honour.

The plaque to Fred Barnes will be unveiled by the British Music Hall Society on October 18 at 22 Clifton Villas, where he lived from 1926 to1930, at the height of his popularity.

This is a British Music Hall Society-sponsored plaque, and not part of the English Heritage Blue Plaque scheme.

Openly gay at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence, Fred was known as the "wavy haired, blue-eyed Adonis", lauded for his looks, talent and charm.

The singer is best remembered for his signature song The Black Sheep of the Family, which he first performed in 1907 and made him an overnight success.


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British Music Hall Society secretary Alison Young said she is "delighted" the singer is being honoured with a plaque.

She told the Ham&High: "He's largely been forgotten, but at the time he was important to so many people.

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"In particular, he had many female fans as he was very handsome."

Society president, comedian and former drag artist Paul O’Grady will unveil the plaque later this month, followed by a singalong of music hall "greatest hits".

"The residents of Maida Vale won't know what has hit them," Alison said.

Frederick Jester Barnes was the son of a butcher, born in 1885 in Saltley, a working class area of Birmingham.

The society said Fred became interested in performance when, at the age of 10, he saw the male impersonator Vesta Tilley on stage and became determined not to join the family meat business.

The success of The Black Sheep of the Family led him to perform at many major music halls, including the London Palladium.

Hits included Give Me the Moonlight and On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep, later popularised by Frankie Vaughan and Danny La Rue.

According to the British Music Hall Society, Fred's family found his open homosexuality difficult to digest, and his father's suicide in 1913 was possibly connected to the shame he felt about his son’s lifestyle choices.

Having struggled with alcoholism and squandered his wealth, Fred died in Southend-on-Sea in 1938.

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