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Issue 23 - November 08

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Josephine Langley Lady Ventriloquist, The Story of Mrs Edward Howarth  

Dr Roger Woods and Maurice S Howarth
Available from the author:
Roger Woods, 12 Curven Edge, Helmshore, Rossendale BB4 4LP
Price: £12  

Chances are you have not heard of Josephine Langley; I certainly hadn’t. She was a ventriloquist who worked in the British music halls, who began her professional performing career nearly a century ago, around the time of the onset of the First World War in 1914. Her work encompassed a number of vent routines: from tableaux of groups of dolls - worked pneumatically by a series of pipes, tubes, bulbs and bladders - to the more familiar knee dolls. The story as told continues to keep the readers’ interest, as Josephine emigrated to the USA with her husband and young son in 1929, where she still performed in Variety occasionally, and her husband became a bootlegger!  

Magician-historian Dr Roger Woods, together with help from Josephine Langley’s son – Maurice S Howarth – has produced a charming booklet which introduces the story of this little known vaudeville entertainer. It is very nicely illustrated, with exceptionally well-reproduced photographs and reproductions of Josephine, her dolls, and the lost world she inhabited. Her son, Maurice, followed in his mother’s footsteps where his speciality was a Lefty-style hand figure called “Josephine” as an affectionate tribute to his mother – again colourfully illustrated. What comes through is a warm family story of continuity and regard; Maurice continued with his mother’s work, and Josephine herself learnt the art of ventriloquism from her brother Jimmy.  

I think this book suffers a little from its brevity. I would have liked to have read more on Josephine’s apprenticeship with her brother; how she broke into the Variety circuit; how, and where on earth, she acquired the extraordinary mechanical figures, (including a six-foot tall soldier doll that would walk across the stage and exchange sentry boxes with Josephine in a “Changing of the Guard” routine); and, perhaps not directly pertinent to the story of Josephine the performer, more on those bootlegging adventures in America.  

The publication does manage to open a small window into this fascinating world and succinctly conveys something of Josephine’s achievements, where there must have been no insignificant sense of mystery and magic, as her assortment of figures, dolls and dummies came to life in the antiquated yet romantic, provincial theatres of Imperial Britain. DL

What’s Hot: Charming and well-produced
What’s Not:
I wanted to read more!
Star Rating: ***

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