A family story straight out of Downton Abbey

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Vicky first discovered that the man who had raised her, Andy Andrews, was not her real father at the age of around 13 or 14.

Although it was a shock, she was getting ready to leave school at the time and go out to work so had other things on her mind. She was also told that her paternal grandmother had been a famous music hall performer but learned nothing more at that stage.

Vicky went on to marry John Laurie and have her own family. She hadn’t thought about her ancestry again until four months ago when out of the blue she had a letter from Patrick and Eileen Hooper. It turned out they had been searching for her for some time.

It was Eileen who had uncovered the existence of Vicky after researching her husband’s family tree. She had discovered that Patrick (77) and Vicky shared the same father, Carl Victor Hooper, who had died in May 1965 on Jersey at the age of 59.

By all accounts Carl had a fondness for women, leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake. He had met Vicky’s mother Violet Olive (nee Furneaux) when he got a job as chauffeur to her wealthy Jewish husband Jack Lubliner by whom she already had three children.

In no time at all, Violet had been seduced and in true romantic fiction style had run off with the chauffeur, taking the Rolls Royce with her.

Violet soon became pregnant and Vicky was born in 1941. But when she was just three weeks old, Carl abandoned them. It turned out he had already done the same to Patrick’s mother, his wife Gwenfron and their two children, June, born in 1933 and Patrick, born in 1935.

By 1948 Carl was married again to Kathleen Collingwood. Research has shown that he travelled around the world and when he died his estate was divided between at least ten different people.

Until her death in 1999, Patrick’s mother spoke of Carl as “the only man I ever loved.”

Conversely, Vicky’s mother Violet was a touch more cynical, describing her errant lover as “an ugly (so and so) who could charm the birds off the trees”.

Patrick went on to confirm that their father’s mother was Victoria Ann Monks, a famous music hall performer in her day and contemporary of Ellen Terry and Marie Lloyd. Marie even attended Victoria’s funeral in 1927.

Born in 1884, Victoria Monks’ most famous song was the well known “Won’t you come Home Bill Bailey”. Rumour has it that her husband bought the song-sheet from a penniless beggar sitting in the gutter but it turned out that the song had been pirated and as a result of copyright issues, she was never able to record it. However, she made the song her own and recorded others between 1906 and 1913 under HMV’s Zonophone label, sometimes using the pseudonym Violet Dunn.

Victoria was beautiful and described as having a “striking and exuberant personality” with a reputation for liking ‘racing’ men of a certain type. She was educated in England and Belgium and her first public appearance was on March 9, 1903 at Oxford Music Hall where she was billed as Little Victoria. She went on to appear in the leading music halls both in London and the provinces.

A newspaper report of the time published Victoria’s own account of her rise to fame:

“...About ten years ago, billed as Little Victoria, I made my first appearance in a music hall, and liking the experience, sought other engagements... then I attacked London only to find that agents and managers regarded me as too young and too small to hold the stage.”

However, the success of Bill Bailey sealed her fortune.

“...I came back to town, got a week’s engagement at Hammersmith and followed it up with another at the old Royal Music Hall... Bill Bailey caught on like wildfire... I was turned into a star artiste who could command engagements.”

She married German-American Karl Freidrich Hooper, her agent, on August 10, 1904 becoming Mrs Victoria Monks-Hooper. By 1911 they were living in Lambeth with their son Carl Victor (Vicky’s father) who was born on Christmas Eve 1905.

Hooper hailed from Pennsylvania and had originally been a Grueler which is a common German name.

He changed it when he came to England probably because of anti-German feeling at the time. This was not uncommon in those days but made family history research problematic. It is believed he chose Hooper because he had been performing in a music hall troupe as a hoopla man when he first came to England.

1911 was also the year that Victoria’s father, Andrew Thomas Monks died, and again the story could have been lifted straight from the pages of a novel.

Andrew Monks, a travelling optician and former public entertainer himself, had been widowed after his wife Mary Elizabeth died while giving birth to Victoria. The photograph (published right) is of Victoria, her father and sister Peggy on the lawn of Victoria’s home in Lambeth and is believed to have been the only family portrait ever taken.

Tragedy struck again when in 1915 Victoria had an accident involving a stage door. She sued the theatre but lost the case and went bankrupt.

Although she regained her health, she made only one more appearance at the Croydon Empire before dying of pneumonia at the age of 43.

She is buried at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green.

The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America who seek to keep the stars of music hall, Vaudeville and Pantomime alive are currently raising money to renovate Victoria’s gravestone. Vicky and her husband John had an emotional meeting with Patrick and Eileen, along with Adrian Barry of the society at the memorial site in June.

You can visit www.themusichallguild.com for more details or to become a Friend of the society. All donations are gratefully received.

Vicky’s grandmother Victoria’s portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

There are probably not many Chronicle country residents who can boast that.