Vesta Victoria (1873–1951)
Born Victoria Lawrence in Leeds, the daughter of Music Hall manager and some-time performer Joe Lawrence, Vesta Victoria appeared on stage at a very early age as “Baby Victoria” and later as “Little Victoria.” She became one of the greatest Music Hall stars, and was almost as popular in the United States as in Britain. The song that made her famous was Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow-Wow, which she introduced in 1893 at the age of 19. She went on to have such great hits as Waiting At The Church, It’s All Right In The Summer Time, Our Lodger’s Such A Nice Young Man, and Poor John.
Music historian Peter Gammond describes her as “vivacious, naughty, with a voice of plummy dignity....She was small and lively and, like the very best stars, knew how to bend an audience to her will....Her songs were always full of character and include some of the best-turned numbers we have had — or was it Vesta who made them so when she ‘struck a light’, as one publicity punster had it?”1
Of her appearance in 1895 at a Dublin Music Hall, it was said that she was “rather sharp-featured, yet had a generous mouth, a bit gap-toothed, and bright eyes that might be innocent, might be naughty, one couldn’t be sure which....Audiences flocked to hear this rarest of all Artistes, the true female Comic.”2
One of Vesta Victoria’s most imperishable numbers was Fred Godfrey’s Now I Have To Call Him Father (HMV GC-3896), which she first recorded in 1911. She also recorded Godfrey’s Leading the Simple Life (Arcady) (Zonophone Twin 761, 1911). She is listed as a co-writer on at least four Godfrey songs that she never recorded but likely performed on stage: Mary, Queen Of Scots (1907), which she apparently took with her for her tour of American Vaudeville stages in January 1907; The Pride Of The Ballet (1908); Mother’s Had A Row With Father (1910); and I’ve Got My Mother’s Husband And She’s Got Mine (1911). Two other Godfrey songs are included in a 1911 M. Witmark & Sons series, Songs written for and sung by Vesta Victoria: A.B.C.D.E.F.G.; and Take Me There.
A newspaper report of Vesta Victoria’s return to the stage in 1926 noted that “some of Miss Victoria’s latest song numbers have been written by Mr. Fred Godfrey, who was responsible for many of her early successes.”3 These numbers, co-authored by Lawrence Barclay, were I’m A Slop; The Wishing Well; Never, Never More; Chop Stick Sue; and I’m Going Back (“Variety Gossip,” The Stage, 4 March 1926, p. 14).
1 Peter Gammond, Your Own, Your Very Own! A Music Hall Scrapbook (London: Ian Allan, 1971), p. 80..