Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Hannah Chaplin, Part I: The tragic life of an unsung Chaplin hero

Hannah, look up Hannah! A portrait of Hannah Chaplin
Hi everyone, welcome to another instalment of Charlie's London.

As promised, I'm going to look at the life of Charlie's mother Hannah in more detail. Every time I think of Hannah, I have this very romantic image of her - I think this has a lot to do with the way Charlie describes her in his autobiography. I imagine this beautiful young woman singing, always singing, in as she twirls around the room of her run-down old lodgings. The only ray of sunshine that her sons have as they look on with love and amazement. But then I think of her laying upon the bed in those same rooms, staring aimlessly at the corner of the same room, constantly the same corner, with Charlie and Syd watching her despair as she descends further into madness. These were images that would haunt them in incredibly different ways for the rest of their days.

For me, it's this factor that helps us to understand the very essence of the brothers in relation to their different outlooks to both their lives and careers. Charlie would work until he could work no more! He would delve so deep into his pictures that sometimes the editing process alone took longer than the initial shoot. He creating masterpieces day and night until he reached perfection - but by working in such a way his private life suffered terribly on many occasions. However, Charlie would use his roots as the inspiration for some of his greatest works - this is without a doubt the part of Charlie's London I feel the closest too.

Sydney, on the other hand had a much more laid back approach. He enjoyed the fruits of his labour because he had worked so hard to earn them, and who could blame him. Maybe Charlie feared his background and poverty, feared he would find himself back there and used the thought of it as a way to remind himself to be humble. Charlie was often accused of being tight, penny-pinching and even miserly. Rollie Totheroh, Charlie's leading cameraman, once commented that although Charlie often filmed reels and reels of unnecessary footage and treated the process as if money was not an issue, he would watch the purse strings on other issues like a hawk. In my opinion, this was not miserly behaviour. It was the behaviour of a financially conscientious man who had stared poverty in the face, the results scarring him beyond repair. Even if the approach became a hypocritical one, with regards to his filming techniques he could argue that the ends justified the means when they resulted in successful Chaplin films!

Charlie in his editing room at the Chaplin Studios
For me this all goes back to one thing. Hannah. 

Born Hannah Harriet Pedlingham Hill on August 11th 1865 in Camden Street, Walworth, Hannah was a true South London girl. She seems to have spent much of her life in and around the area (contrary to popular belief that she gave birth to Charlie in a Birmingham Gypsy camp). A music hall artist herself, Hannah developed the stage persona of Lily Harley and seems to have had quite a modest career. Charlie often credited his mother with nurturing his own gift, commenting on her remarkable ability to mimic those around her. For me this is a very interesting element of Charlie's life, and one that I strongly believe ties his most famous character of the Little Tramp to his South London upbringing. 

One of the most famous acts performed by women upon the stage during the height of the English music halls was the popular character of "Burlington Bertie from Bow." Male impersonators would take on the role with much hilarity. Although no record exists of Hannah playing such a role, it's certainly one she would be familiar with. Perhaps familiar enough to put on her own rendition in her home for her small sons at any time. Charlie often remarked of such cold and damp days in Pownall Terrace when his mother would do just this for their entertainment, even keeping a box of her old music hall clothes for dress up. For me, this is where we see another interesting prelude to the tramp character. Burlington Bertie was a gentleman tramp, a man who slept under the stars and yet retained this never-say-die attitude and the stance of an aristocrat.....

Sound like anyone we know?

Charlie as the Little Tramp
Hannah's career, as previously stated, was a modest one - but it was while performing herself she met and married Charles Chaplin Snr. By this point, Hannah had one son from a previously relationship born on the 16th March, 1885 - Sydney John Hill. Sydney would later become Sydney Chaplin through the marriage of his mother and stepfather when he was just one year old. The identity of Syd's father remains a bit of a mystery. Four years later Sydney would find himself with a baby brother, born on the 16th April, 1889, and named after his father - our very own Charles Chaplin.
Charlie and Sydney Chaplin
At this stage, her husband  had acquired a certain amount of success on the English Music Hall circuit and the s lived in comfortable, plush housing - at No.39 West Square, Kennington, one of the Chaplin houses you can still see today. It's in a beautiful Georgian square, with a small park situated in the middle. It was at this home that Charlie remembered finding sweets, cakes and other such treats from his mother after her own performances on the stage. His childhood seems to have been a happy one here.

West Square today
Yet all that was to change, a dramatic twist of fate would see his father leave England for the United States on a tour of the Vaudeville circuit and return home to find his family had changed, and little Charlie's home life broken beyond repair.

Join us next time for Part II!

Monday, 17 September 2012

You sure you know where we are going?!

"You sure you know where you're going?!"

Hello everyone, welcome back to Charlie's London. Firstly, I would like to say a big, big thank you to everyone that has supported the Twitter and Facebook pages! Together we can keep it going from strength to strength, showing that Charlie is as loved today in his own neighbourhood as he always was.

Stan Laurel
In this edition, I want to talk to you briefly about the places, works and people I am going to be focusing on in much more detail as the blog continues. People such as Hannah and Sydney Chaplin, Fred Karno, Hetty Kelly, Charles Snr, Stan Laurel and even Albert Austin. They all add another dimension to Charlie and the London he held so dear. I will be looking at his homes that still survive and the ones that do not; at the places he mentioned such as The Cut, Lambeth Walk and the site of the old Canterbury Music Hall. Then I will, hopefully, track down as many points of interest such as schools, even the asylums Hannah was a patient of before her sons took her to America in the 1920s. All to help expand the view Charlie's world a little bit more.

Fred Karno
Please stay with us, as next Monday I will be doing a study of Hannah Chaplin, Charlie's beloved mother, and (some may argue) his main inspiration for the female roles in his movies - and even his own classic character of The Tramp. Hannah fascinates me! The first time I read her story, I thought of all the women in my life I had known, and how their own plights had made them so much stronger for it. The grit and bravery of a London woman is truly something I will always be in awe of, and something that I have witnessed all my life - for good and bad. Hannah had a sad life, one plagued with mental and financial anguish. Hopefully next week will do her justice.

Hannah Chaplin

Throughout our journey together we will build a map of Charlie's haunts throughout London, some well-known and some perhaps not so familiar.  I will also be adding that personal touch along the way, sharing some heart warming and loveable stories with you as I go. People often forget that comedy can be both truthful and tragic all at the same time. Charlie showed us, as did Shakespeare before him, that comedy and tragedy sit upon the same side of the coin. Sat upon the other is realism and observation. This is something that I believe Charlie used incredibly well, especially when observing those around him as he grew up in and around the Borough of Southwark.

Along the way, I want you all to see South London not only as Charlie would have, but also the history and the humanity of it - its people and places. Then, if i have done my job properly, you will never look at a Chaplin film in the same way again! With every roll of the eyes, kick up the arse and sarcastic facial expression, you will quietly laugh to yourself as you shake your head, smile and say under your breath "Ayse was right, that's so South London!"

Cheerio, Charlie!

See you all soon everyone!

Ayse x

Friday, 14 September 2012

Hello Charlie!

Charlie the man! Perfectly turned out in his studio.

Hey there everyone! Thanks for coming back for another instalment of Charlie's London. As you may already be aware, my interest in Charlie comes from a background of love and admiration that travels through two generations of my family. It is very hard at times to separate Charlie from my own childhood memories, he has always been around: on the TV, in books, pictures - the list goes on...

Charlie and a toy of his alter ego, the Tramp.

A lot has been written about him over the years. Some works are ground-breaking, innovative and truly amazing. Some are, shall we say ... interesting. Let's leave it that for now. Charlie is a point of fascination for many people. As I often say, many people look at Charlie, but they don't see Charlie. Growing up in the 70s, 80s and 90s was hard for many Chaplin fans - TV nearly killed the silent movie star. When the films wwere shown, the prints were often so damaged an and faded that they were virtually impossible to watch. If this wasn't bad enough, they were usually played sped up, with soundtracks of cheap, second-rate stock music. They were also shown in poor time slots and got lost in the listings. In short, it was made very hard work to watch. 

I was lucky enough to have someone who almost gave me a running commentary, my own DVD extra before DVDs were even invented - my Grandmother. "Now Ayse, you see this set of ladders, watch what he does with the other man, he lands the ladder on him and uses it to hold him, look! Isn't that funny!" Her voice almost as clear in my head now as it was 26 years ago. I was sat on the floor, the palms of my hands resting on my chin and my elbows rested on my knees as I sat cross legged on the floor. I remember laughing so much I almost hyperventilated!

This was back in the days before the Internet as we know it (not that long ago - anyone under the age of 20!). All I had was her, anyone else that liked Charlie, and of course the Library. I remember looking at a book at home, a small book with less than 30 pages, almost a picture book and being completely fascinated. I was fascinated because in my young mind (I was about 6 or 7 by this time) Charlie and Chaplin were two separate people.

Charlie was the smart man who smiled as he departed the Olympic in 1921, before getting a train to Waterloo and seeing the Lambeth he loved so dear.

Chaplin was the film star who put on a little toothbrush moustache, a bowler hat, cane and baggy trousers, and embarked on a funny little walk - with silly, but often near-genius, consequences. The most recognisable man in the world, the biggest celebrity of his day and the highest paid (at one time) star of the screen was omce also a complete unknown to many who wished to write about him. He was a grey area in a world that saw its stars in black and white. He was a figure of honesty and hate, all wrapped up into one big bundle of comedy perfection.

But I didn't see him that way. I saw him as a man with monkeys crawling all over him, I saw him climb over buildings to retrieve his son, and I saw him flit through cogs of a massive industrialised and cruel world.

I have been asked many time before if my love for Chaplin would be so great if I wasn't a South Londoner? I can't answer that really, because I am a South Londoner. And a very proud one! My grandmother was the same. I think her love for Charlie came from being alive when he was at his height, something I wish I had experienced - sadly, he died five years before I was born. Yet through everything she told me, I got to feel just what she meant.

Charlie in 1921!

In writing this blog, I always promised myself that I would be true to my roots and I would bring something very personal to the "Chaplin table." Charlie means something very different to everyone - and this is what he means to me:

"Hello Charlie, and welcome back! The world may have been a very different one to the one you brightened! But your star still shines on! They once sung The Moon Shines Bright On Charlie Chaplin. Well, I beg to differ - London shines bright on Charlie Chaplin, especially when it comes to a little girl, her Grandmother and a bunch of beautiful childhood memories."

See you next time everyone!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Where it all began...

Hello everyone, and welcome to another segment of Charlie's London! I hope you are enjoying the new site! We are settling in to our new home nicely and have paid the rent man, no moonlight flits for this South Londoner! By the way for those of you who do not know the meaning of a moonlight flit I will explain. In the times when our very own Charlie was a small street urchin this method of 'moving' was very common amongst the poor working classes in the London area. It literally meant what was said on the tin. You would gather all your belongings in the dead of night and leave! The next morning when your rent was due, the landlord would come to get his money and you would not be there; gone! You had flitted! Charlie moved several times as a small boy, Pownall Terrace the home he comments on the most in My Autobiography but I don't think, even in desperation his mother chose this method!

Anyone who has read my previous blog on Silent London will know that my Chaplin journey is a very personal one. Of course everyone has their own connection to Charlie and this is what makes him so unique. When he looks into the camera, big eyes staring back at you we are all made to feel its incredibly personal. Yet I feel both honoured and humble to be a South Londoner, just as he was! In My trip Abroad he mentions areas such as The Cut and speaks about the places of his childhood with such love and affection! I walk these everyday and have so many family stories connected to those exact same places he loved so dear! My uncle William Goodman (Harris)  was in the workhouse with Charlie, to this day we do not know how he ended up there! We also do not know why on some documents he is listed as Goodman (His mother's maiden name) and on others Harris (married name). This is the only photo that exists of him as a child, and we only have one as an adult.

                                   Charlie circled at the age of 7 in Hanwell Children's home. Above him, top row on the far left is little William Goodman (Harris) my great great uncle

Thank goodness the involvement of the London Workhouse was a distant family memory by the time I was born in 1982 in Guys Hospital Southwark. Guys Hospital sits just  beyond Borough Market and, according to the old maps and previous road situations of the area it is the beginning of the long road that would be famously known as The Walworth Road, a Chaplin haunt without a doubt! So to put it bluntly, I was born at one end and he was born at another!

Walworth Road in the 1920's

Charlie in 1921 returning home for the first time
since his success in America! His smile says it all to me!

Me at 3! The age I first fell in love with Charlie!
A love affair that would last my entire life!

This blog will look at Charlie from an angle like no other! It will look at his upbringing, his influences and his love of his homeland that never left him! It will look at my journey along the road of one of my favourite Londoners and my pursuit to remind everyone that even though the world claimed him as its own, he was a London boy first and foremost! His London is still very much alive! So ladies and gentleman please put your best walking shoes on, pull up your socks and join me for a walk around Charlie's London!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Welcome to Charlie's London

Hi everyone!

Thank you for following and reading Charlie's London!

As some of you are probably aware, Charlie's London started its internet life on the fantastic website Silent London. Since then it has taken on a life of its own! With the Twitter and Facebook pages now active and spreading the London love, I decided to venture back into the blogging world for some more insights into the part of London I hold so dear.

Charlie Chaplin is a world icon and his popularity has spanned more than a century! His appeal today is in many ways as strong as it always was, his message too speaks to a world in many ways unchanged from the one he knew! With new modern technologies and ways to communicate, it is no surprise that we find ourselves speaking to people everyday, all over the world about subjects we love so dear, Charlie happens to be one of them.

I began my Chaplin journey from the age of three, but little did I know I was already on it beforehand! His films and art have run in my family for many years before I was even born. My Grandmother and Mother both adore his work! But more than this, he was a home grown boy they were immensely proud of! A South London, born only a stone's throw from where we all called home.

This blog aims to explore those roots, the origins of the world's funniest comedian by a very proud South Londoner. I hope I can bring something different to the Chaplin table with my insights, and hopefully show how his hometown never left him, no matter where he was in the world!