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05 September 2008

Bobbie Kimber (1918 - 1993) ventriloquist.

Ronald Victor Kimberley started a stage career at the Theatre Royal, West Bromwich in 1935, but there was a surplus of male ventriloquists, although very few female ones.
Birkenhead 1938

Bobbie Kimber debuted at Weston-super-Mare in 1937. Her act with the dummy Augustus Peabody, was very successful and she appeared in the major London theatres, including a Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium in 1947.

She also appeared on radio and television. The Times commented in a review: 'Miss Bobbie Kimber is at once the triumph and surprise of the evening'. Other reviewers were also parviscient. Roger Baker quotes Mr Kimberley: 'I decided to keep my sex a secret. And I did, very successfully, although I was a married man and a father'.

Apparently few were aware that she was a man, although Bobbie Kimber appeared in Pantomime as early as 1945 when she was one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella at the Adelphi Theatre - that is, she was playing a Dame part and therefore was implicitly a man.

Mr Kimberley clarified his sex in 1952. He reports that Hannen Swaffer, a critic who had written him up as a woman, snubbed him after that.

Although successful in his female impersonation, Bobbie was also read. When he appeared on television, the switchboard would be flooded with calls enquiring: is it a man or isn't it?

*Augustus Peabody was not the US Congressman Augustus Peabody Gardner.
  • Roger Baker. Drag: a history of Female Impersonation on the Stage. A Triton Book. 1968: 189.
  • Anthony Slide. Great pretenders: a history of female and male impersonation in the performing arts. Lombard, Ill.: Wallace-Homestead Book Co., 160 pp. 1986: 50.
  • www.christinekimberley.info.  Christine is Bobbie's daughter.  Lots of photographs of his performances.
IMDB    Travalanche    
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From a 21st-century perspective, I find it rather odd that ventriloquists as well as gender impersonators were booked on the radio, where they could not be seen.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

As the daughter of Bobbie Kimber (his only child now aged 61) I don't find it hard that vents etc were booked for radio. In those days most radio was recorded live from theatres and readio audience heard the laughter from the live audience. Not everyone could get to or afford to got to the theatre and radio was a far more widespresd and popular form of entertainment. And of course all the acts recorded were well known through news paper reviews, magazines, live appearances and the charity work the did.

Anonymous said...

As the daughter Christine Kimberley now aged 61) of Bobby Kimber who worked as a female impersonator and ventriloquist I find it strange to read 'outed himself as a man in 1952' Dad never 'outed himself' he was always a man.The press found out that he was a man and had a field day - that's all. He was good at his job - he worked at it like any male impersonator impersonating a man today. Fact is he was so good at it he fooled a lot of people for a long time.

Zagria said...

Thank you for your comments, Christine. Is your father still alive? Was his secret known to the other performers, or did he arrive at the theatre already dressed as female?

I might well have had written 'outed himself', but actually I did not. The details in Baker and slide are very brief. What a shame that Bobbie Kimber was removed from Baker's second edition.

christine kimberley said...

From Christine Kimberley, daughter of Bobbie Kimber. My Dad died on the 8th of April 1993.To answer your questions: Other performers did know that he was a man. He only dressed as a woman to do his act or for publicity shots and charity appearances and things like that. All his friends knew he was a man. He arrived at the theatre as a man and left as one. He didn't reveal himself at the end of his act either because it served him better to have people think he was a woman. There weren't many female vent's in those days and the range of his voice made it exceptional for a woman.It gave him a professional edge. It was a gimmick - all part of the game. He went to great lengths to study women's body language and mannerisms. Again, in those days there were far more distinctions in the way men and women behaved and carried themselves than there are now. At one point he even had some special corsets made (or as he would say 'constructed' such was the work involved) to give him more curves in the right places. His hands were his only worry but fortunately he could hide them behind his dolls.
This is how it all began: When he first started out as a ventriloquist in his late teens, in the late 1930's, he was working in a seaside town in a summer show. Because the back stage facilities were so bad the town council wouldn't allow any women performers in the show. The boss didn't like this and said that to get round it, one of the performers would have to dress as a woman. Dad was the youngest, and newest member of the company.....so....then one night something went wrong with the running order and Dad didn't have time to change out of his female costume back to male clothes - so - he just grabbed his dolls and went on stage. From there he realised he was on to something and, being the artist he was he put as much work and effort into learing to deceive with his looks as he had put into doing the same with his voice. Voila! Warm regards, Christine.

Pebbles said...

I dont know who "Christine" is but Im afraid I really dont think this is Bobbie's daughter. I knew Bobbie, his wife and daughter in the 70s and Bobbie did not dress as a woman just for his shows and his real daughter Christine would know that!

Bobbie dressed as a woman ALL the time and was thought of as a woman which is how she wanted it. She had spoken often to my husband and I about her operation to become a woman. Her real daughter spent many a time with myslf and my husband and other friends with Bobbie and her mother, with Bobbie dressed in women's clothes. If you ask anyone in the Stoke Newington area, where they lived, about Bobbie they will tell you the same, Bobby was NEVER seen in men's clothes.

Zagria said...

//www.christinekimberley.info now contains lots and lots of photographs of Bobbie Kimber and promises that his autobiography with be added soon. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Pebbles. Oh yes I am Bobbie's daughter. I have no idea who you are and would really appreciate your full name - then I might remember spending many hours with you. Bobbie's story was very complicated, believe me, and I have no desire to wash dirty linen in public. You may never have seen Bobbie out of womens clothing but I did. The big tabloid spreads in the 70's did not tell the whole truth - far from it.
Please contact me through my website where you will see part of my collection of photo's of my Dad - and me as a little girl with my family.I also have some unpublished snaps you might like to see if, like me, you are who you say you are. I post my comments as anonymous because I can never get the URL thing to work.

Robert G said...

I was lucky enough to work with Bobbie in the 1970's when we were both employed by a Hardware Factor in Shoreditch. Although she called 'Herself' 'Robbie' at the time, we didn't know her past, eventhough there were rumours about her gender, she dressed as a Woman and was accepted as so and used the Ladies Loo along with all the other women. There was also some talk of her past celebrity status and that she once performed on the same bill as Laurel and Hardy at the Paladium,but, she never mentioned this herself and very much kept herself to herself, except did say she was going to visit her daughter now and again. She was also a fine artist and spent a lot of time (while she was at work) painting miniture Landscapes and I'm proud to say that she actually gave me some of these paintings and I still have them today. However, it wasn't until years after I left that company,that I came across a man who once worked as a stage hand at the Paladium, who said he had met Laurel and Hardy,so when I mentioned Robbie, he told me hew knew 'Him' well, which was a shock to me, as I was young at the time and didn't understand such things. Anyway, If Christine, requires any further information from the time I worked with her Father, please don't hesitate to contact me at bgsky@supanet.com.

Pebbles said...

Thank you Robert for confirming what I said. Bobbie came to my wedding with the woman he had been married to, who was still her wife. I'm appalled how her daughter now seems ashamed of her father. Both Bobbie and her wife came to my wedding and BOTH wore women's clothes and Bobbie was a guest, she wasn't working, and didn't bring her dolls.

Broken Sword said...

I lived in Stoke Newington in the 80s and was a friend of Bobbie's I agree with all that Pebbles wrote. I spent many afternoons with Bobbie admiring her paintings (she painted exquisite miniatures) and chatting about the old days of variety theatre.