Beatrice Lillie – The ‘Funniest Woman in the World’

Beatrice Lillie

Nige remembers Bea Lillie, the once extremely famous comedienne and formidable character…

Today marks the birthday of Beatrice Lillie, born on this day in 1894 in Toronto. Beatrice who? you may well be asking – and with good reason. Though she had a huge reputation in her day, ‘Bea’ Lillie specialised in the most ephemeral and fast-dating forms of comedy: stage revue, comic songs, parodies and routines – and was not keen on making films.

There’s little in what footage of her survives to explain her reputation as the ‘Funniest Woman in the World’. According to Sheridan Morley, her gift was for ‘the arched eyebrow, the curled lip, the fluttering eyelid, the tilted chin,  the ability to suggest, even in apparently innocent material, the  possible double entendre.’ I guess you had to be there.

Lillie was certainly a formidable professional. Her revue contracts invariably stipulated that she would not step onto the stage until at least half an hour into the show, to ensure maximum impact. Rather chillingly, when she received news of the death of her son as she was about to go on stage to entertain the troops, she insisted the show should not be cancelled: ‘I’ll cry tomorrow,’ she declared.

This was her only son – by Sir Robert Peel, 5th Baronet (in private life, she was Lady Peel). Beatrice remained married even after she took up with a fellow entertainer, John Philip Huck, some 30 years her junior.

She succumbed to Alzheimer’s and died at the age of 94, in 1989. Huck died of a heart attack barely 24 hours later.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

2 thoughts on “Beatrice Lillie – The ‘Funniest Woman in the World’

  1. Brit
    May 29, 2014 at 17:21

    Interesting how most (not all) humour dates. There has been a noticeable backlash against Monty Python in recent years as people go back to the TV series and find it dated.

    Which it is – things that were outrageous then are normal now – but it’s still a lot funnier than the Bea Lillie sketch above. And the Bea Lillie sketch is funnier than, say, Mercutio’s ‘banter’ in Romeo & Juliet.

      June 1, 2014 at 11:01

      I think our notions of what is humorous are formed largely in youth, when we laugh the most easily and often, and stay with us for life. I find a lot of modern stuff my twenty-year old son thinks is screamingly funny to be quite juvenile, but he sits stone-faced at things like Cheers and others that left me on the floor.

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