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Gladys Morgan 1898 - 1983

Gladys was born in Swansea in 1898, and rose to become labelled the Welsh queen of comedy, although national recognition came late – it took over forty years of touring in variety, concert party’s and revue’s. An early appearance on Mumbles Pier is documented in 1923. Only four feet ten inches tall, she eventually found her place as a comedienne with her husband, Frank Laurie, as her comic feed. Gladys’ big opportunity came when she was asked to audition in front of legendary producer Mair Jones for the popular radio show “Welsh Rarebit” She did four minutes on “”Welsh Rarebit – it was a mixture of comedy, song and hilarious gurning facial expressions - and was so successful that she earned a regular slot on the programme. She had an infectious laugh that had a devastating effect on audiences. With a vividly expressive face and toothless smile. sometimes its effect on the audience lasted her whole performance! She also received an important fan letter from Frankie Howerd, who said: “After hearing your performance tonight, I feel you have a great future and you have the most striking personality I’ve heard for many a day.”.Whether on stage, radio or TV, comic Gladys Morgan was guaranteed to have an audience in stitches with her homely routines, Clad in her trademark blazer and beret, she regaled them with her down-to-earth homely comedy about her mythical husband “Owen” (“He’s so thin, you’d mistake him for a bus stop!”) and her seaside landlady stories (“There were 28 of us around the dining table. That’s too many, you know. It was my turn to sit down the Saturday we came away, see!”).When fame came to Gladys, she was already in her fifties and had been treading the boards in revue, variety and concert party for 40 years. Her family were not theatrical, but Gladys was always interested in the stage and by the time she turned 11 she had a song and dance act. Realising that she had a beautiful soprano voice, Gladys turned to straight singing and joined a children’s concert party called The Brilliant Gems, where one of her colleagues was the comedian Albert Burden. With two other members of the company, Betty Jumel on violin and Vy Vivienne on piano, she formed an act called The Three Virgins. Gladys continued touring as a singer until one fateful day in an Isle of Man concert party when the manager asked her to take part in a comedy sketch, playing the part of an old deaf woman. Gladys was initially affronted: “Me, play comedy! How could I, whose rendering of Love’s Garden of Roses had no equal in all Britain? But when I went off I was amazed to find that the audience were not only laughing but also applauding, as they never had before. And when afterwards one lady in the audience said ‘Oh Miss Morgan, I think you’re funnier than the comic’, that settled it.” Gladys married fellow comedian Frank Laurie, whom she had first met when he was a 16-year-old youth appearing in Carrie Laurie’s Juveniles, and they toured as a comedy act with Frank as the comic and Gladys as the feed. The act was not doing very well and money was scarce. Then fate took a hand when they were playing Liverpool in a week of cine-variety. Agent Charlie Ellerman caught their act and suggested that they swap roles as Gladys had a gift of a face for comedy. The pair decided to go along with his suggestion and so the act Morgan and Laurie was born - and plentiful dates followed.  During the war, like so many other artists Gladys and Frank worked for ENSA and their daughter Joan joined the act. It was here that the family met Bert Hollman, who at the time was ENSA entertainments organiser for northwest England. Bert later married Joan and also joined the act, as performer and manager. Gladys’ big opportunity came when she was asked to audition in front of legendary producer Mair Jones for the popular radio show Welsh Rarebit. Up until then Gladys had worked in a Lancashire accent, influenced no doubt by her hero, Frank Randle, but now she was able to utilise her own accent. Gladys’ success on Welsh Rarebit led to many successful variety tours as well as radio and television work including regular appearances on Educating Archie and The Frankie Howerd Show. Gladys appeared in “Cinderella” at her hometown theatre Swansea Grand in 1951/52. Alongside her husband Frank and their daughter Joan. Gladys was called up as a last minute replacement for Laurel and Hardy when they had to pull out of the final leg of their tour, Swansea Empire in 1954. In 1956 she had the honour of being invited to speak at the second Women of the Year luncheon at the Savoy Hotel, representing radio and TV. Throughout the sixties they were kept busy with pantomime and summer season including four sell-out tours of South Africa where the family also had their own series on Springbok Radio called The Morgans. Gladys was approaching 70 by this time and she confided to a South African newspaper: “I’ve been in show business for just on 60 years. I think I like it. Maybe I’ll settle down in the theatrical profession after all!” Sadly arthritis forced Gladys to retire to Worthing, where she died in 1983.


(From an article written by

Geoff Bowden

Editor,

The Call Boy,

British Music Hall Society)