Fred Barnes (1885–1938)


Fred Jester Barnes, not to be confused with songwriter Fred J. [James] Barnes, was born in Birmingham, the son of a fairly prosperous butcher. As teenagers, he and Dorothy Ward were great friends, and her success inspired him to attempt a show business career.1 His first appearance in a London Music Hall, in 1906, was an immediate success, and he continued to enjoy popularity on stage for the next dozen or so years. Music Hall historian W. Macqueen-Pope says that Barnes “had a good voice, good looks, an easy manner and was always well dressed.”2 Another chronicler of the times, Theodore Felstead, describes him as “[a] man with first-class melodies and the voice to sing them.”3 Among his better songs were There’s A Friend In Every Milestone, The Same Old Park, On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep, and The Black Sheep Of The Family.

Both Macqueen-Pope and Felstead note that Barnes faded out early, but what they do not say is that he was unabashedly gay. Known to his friends as “Freda,” he was regarded as scandalous even by the relatively tolerant world of show business, and he was increasingly shunned in his later years. His fondness for alcohol also limited his ability to perform as time went on. Barnes ended his sad life by gas poisoning in the Southend-on-Sea flat of his friend and manager. (For some of the biographical details on Fred Barnes, I am indebted to the website

Fred Barnes recorded only a handful of songs, none of them by Fred Godfrey, but he appears from sheet music covers and other sources to have performed quite a few Godfrey songs on stage, including: You’ve Got Me And I’ve Got You (1914); Hullo! Hullo! Hullo! (You’re Carrying On) (1915); It’s All Through The Wibbly-Wobbly Eye (1915); On Our Happy Wedding Day (To That Little Church Just Over There) (1915); They All Did The Goose-Step Home (1915); Tommy’s Learning French (1915); You Were The First One To Teach Me To Love (1916); We’re All Scotch (1917); You Can’t Fool Around With The Women (1920); While The Sahara Sleeps (1926); and Mulligatawny (Where The Soup Comes From) (1927).



1  Norman Quilliam, “Remembering Fred Barnes,” The Call Boy [British Music Hall Society] 31, no. 4 (1995): 16.
2  W. MacQueen-Pope, The Melodies Linger On: The Story of Music Hall (London: W.H. Allen, 1950), p. 393.
3  S. Theodore Felstead, Stars Who Made the Halls: A Hundred Years of English Humour, Harmony and Hilarity (London: T. Werner
    Laurie, 1946), p. 177.