Betty Bolton

Versatile Twenties actress

The actress and singer Betty Bolton was one of the last surviving links to pre-1920s London theatrical revues, the world of early Beatrice Lillie and the young Gertrude Lawrence.

Betty Bolton, actress and singer: born Nottingham 26 January 1906; (one daughter); died London 2 April 2005.

The actress and singer Betty Bolton was one of the last surviving links to pre-1920s London theatrical revues, the world of early Beatrice Lillie and the young Gertrude Lawrence.

She began as a child performer. Her mother Maud (as Madame Bolton) ran a school of dance in Nottingham and was later a West End stage manager. "Betty", as she was originally styled (no surname), made her début in 1916, at the age of 10, in a revue called Some, at the Vaudeville Theatre in the Strand. Gertrude Lawrence was the principal dancer.

This was partly the work of Harry Grattan, and one of a series of revues that he wrote with snappy titles like Odds and Ends and Mind Your Backs during the First World War and into the 1920s, some of them produced by André Charlot. Betty played both little boys and little girls in these shows - "precocious little beasts". Photographs from two of these revues, Cheep (1917) and Back Again (1919), show her remarkable powers of facial expression. In 1917, The Sketch called her "the youngest actress on the London stage".

Betty Bolton had tremendous versatility as a performer, and she displayed it in almost every branch of entertainment available in the 1920s and early 1930s: revues, straight plays, films, recordings, even early television. The last show in which she performed as a child was the musical fantasy Fifinella, in late 1919.

She continued to appear in revue (Come In at the Queen's Theatre, 1924, and Charlot 1928 at the Vaudeville) but also in melodramas like The Dybbuk, about demonic possession (in 1927) and The Wolves, in which she played an Eskimo. With her dark good looks and command of languages, she specialised in exotic roles as a grown-up actress: in 1924, she played Almond Eye, a slave-girl in the musical play The First Kiss. The last West End play in which she seems to have played was Appearances, by Garland Anderson (Royalty, 1930), an interesting item on the theme of racial prejudice.

As well as the 1930 film version of The Wolves, Bolton was in the sound sequences of Balaclava (1928) and in Long Live the King (1933), for which she remembered Dorking serving as a stand-in for Russia. On the radio, she appeared in a series of cockney sketches, 'Erb and Emma, with Harry Grattan, who also wrote them. Bolton was decidedly part of 20th-century history when, on 22 August 1932, she made an appearance in the very first, experimental, television transmission, along with Betty Astell (Mrs Cyril Fletcher), Fred Douglas and others.

Betty Bolton's name is well known to 78rpm record collectors of the vintage kind, as a dance-band vocalist, solo comedienne, and occasional torch singer. Although her recording career stretched only from 1929 to 1935, she made records for 11 labels. Her effective contralto cover versions have a distinctive, lilting quality all their own.

As a comedienne, some of her material might have been seen as rather daring. A snippet of her 1931 version of "She Jumped on Her Push-bike and Pedalled Away" was included in a 2003 BBC Pick of the Week. It stood up extremely well.

Betty Bolton retired from the theatre, gradually, during the 1930s, after the birth of her daughter, Judyth Knight.

Alan Black



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?