Hilda Martha Garner (1903-1998)
Under the stage name "Baby Langley", Hilda Martha Garner was a child comic who also appeared in several films by Bamforth & Co. Ltd. of Holmfirth in 1915.
She was born in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, the daughter of bricklayer James Tyers Garner and his wife Florence Emily (née Benstead).
At the time of the 1911 census, she and her father were lodging on Northgate, Almondbury, at the house of Huddersfield Borough policeman William Albert Langley. William's daughters Althea Mildred (who preferred to use her middle name) and Dorothy Beatrice were gifted musicians — pianist Mildred had first performed with an orchestra in Huddersfield aged 12 and was regarded as a local musical prodigy. Together with Hilda as "Baby Langley", the Langley Sisters Trio (later the Three Prodigies) became popular stage performers from late 1914 until the end of the First World War.
The earliest reference found to the Langley Sisters is a notice placed in The Stage (28/Jan/1915):
A Great Discovery
THREE OF THE MOST WONDERFUL SISTERS IN VAUDEVILLE.
Age 14 years,
The Beethoven of to-day, both in likeness and gonitis, whose works have bean accepted by HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN, also by HER MAJESTY QUEEN ALEXANDRA.
Age 15 years,
The girl with the marvellous voice, who will sing her Sister Mildred’s works, AND
Age 11 years,
Who will give her impressions of great Artists, and CONDUCT THE BAND to her Sister Mildred’s compositions.
First Class Offers only entertained.
All communications, Manager,
West End Reviews Productions Co.,
13, Hart Street, W.C.
'Phone: 2815 Gerrard.
Bamforth Films (1915)
As part of an expansion of their film-making facilities, Bamforth & Co. Ltd. of Holmfirth extended their repertoire of comic actors in March 1915, announcing that Lily Ward and her husband Alf Scotty, as well as the "clever juvenile actress" Baby Langley, would be appearing in upcoming comic roles:
COMEDIES FORGING AHEAD. — Determined to make a greater hit in the producing world, Messrs. Bamforth’s, the producers of the Winky comedy films, have been for some time overhauling their studios, augmenting their staff, and seeking first-rate comedians. They have been in great measure successful, and are now issuing, through the Yorkshire Cine Company, of 30, Gerrard Street, W., a number of comedies which it is claimed will open the eyes of the public to the worth of the All-British production. Besides the child-actress. Baby Langley, Messrs. Bamforth’s have now regularly working in their pictures Miss Lily Ward, a comedienne whose capabilities in all sorts of parts will, it is said, soon become a password with cinema-goers. This lady and a famous Yorkshire comedian are not only first-rate players but are acrobats, whose tricks astonish and amuse. There are several thing's worth seeing weekly at the London showrooms of the Yorkshire Cine Company Limited. The wonderful genius of the child actress, Baby Langley, who was, in a measure, quite accidentally discovered by the producers, has been featured in a special release, “A Good Little Pal,” a comedy-feature, which is now on show in the company's private theatre. This film is stated to form an admirable medium for one who will quickly prove herself a genuine favourite with all cinema patrons.
The Kinematograph Weekly praised her acting:
A NEW STAR. — Baby Langley is the new star in the kinema firmament. She is, without doubt, a most marvellous child screen player, and is going to be popular with the public. Her great charm is that she is by no means a well-trained doll, like so many prodigies, but a perfectly natural, clever little actress, with a winning smile and an extraordinary capacity for kinematograph acting.
The Bamforth Co. have been fortunate in bringing to light a very original kind of child actress, and the London firm are equally fortunate in securing the films in which she appears. This young lady, by name Baby Langley, is, indeed, a "find." She seems to have "found her feet" at the very outset of her career, and gives every promise of going far in the special line on which she has embarked. Baby Langley is quite a new departure in infant film actresses. She is not of the "pretty-pretty" variety (her warmest admirers could not thus describe her) nor do we think that her mannerisms would arride us in any plays but those of a broadly humorous nature. But in this film she shines with a distinctive method of her own. Her acting for pictures shows no signs of laborious instruction and imitation —she is, we believe, an entirely untutored genius—but is frankly improvised and spontaneous. In other words, she is a "personality," and may quite conceivably be a Louie Freer or Topsy Sinden of the screen in embryo. Last week's Langley film was entitled "A Good Little Pal," and exhibited the prodigy in some characteristic antics — though we imagine it possible that Bamforth's have some better stories in store for her. In this one she makes play with her sister’s two suitors, leading the one she doesn’t like into several booby traps and literally pushing the other into favour. It is all familiar enough fun, but Baby Langley's sudden inspirations are a delight to watch and will stand her in good stead in a stronger theme. Her capacity for practical joking and sly grimacing seems unlimited and her laugh is certainly infectious. We shall follow this young lady’s whimsicalities with pleasure.
In total, Hilda appeared in six known Bamforth short comedy films released between April and August 1915:
- A Good Little Pal (1915)
- There's Hair! (1915)
- Hilda Routs the Enemy (1915)
- Mamma's Dear (1915)
- Tommy's Freezing Spray (1915)
- Hilda's Busy Day (1915)
The Three Prodigies (1915-18)
In early May 1915, the Langley Sisters Trio performed at the London Palladium, where Hilda conducted the orchestra. Their popularity led to run being extended through to mid-June.
Infant prodigies on the stage are fewer than they used to be, but occasionally we come across a new one. At the Palladium, Baby Langley, a very clever little mimic, and her two sisters, also quite young — one is an accomplished composer, and plays beautifully, and the other has a mellow contralto voice of surprising richness — are a welcome addition to the programme. Their "turn" is all too short.
— Westminster Gazette (04/May/1915)
Following on from their success at the Palladium, the sisters toured as "The Three Prodigies" until December 1918 with dates including:
- August 1915 — Burnley Palace & Hippodrome, Shepherd's Bush Empire, Southampton Palace Theatre, Leicester Palace Theatre
- September 1915 — Folkestone Pleasure Gardens Theatre
- October 1915 — London Coliseum
- December 1915 — Middlesbrough Empire
- February 1916 — Bristol Hippodrome
- June 1916 — Hammersmith Palace
- July 1916 — Dundee King's Theatre & Hippodrome, Kirkcaldy Theatre, London Palladium
- August 1916 — York Empire, Woolwich Hippodrome, Croydon Empire, Penge Empire
- September 1916 — Edinburgh Empire, Glasgow Empire, Aldershot Hippodrome
- October 1916 — Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham Grand Theatre, Aberdeen Palace Theatre
- November 1916 — London Coliseum, The Middlesex
- December 1916 — Cardiff Empire, Shepherd's Bush Empire, Wood Green Empire
- January 1917 — Hackney Empire, Bradford Alhambra, Clapham Grand
- February 1917 — Holborn Empire, Kilburn Empire, Bristol Hippodrome
- March 1917 — Manchester Hippodrome
- April 1917 — Ilford Hippodrome
- May 1917 — Rochdale Royal Hippodrome
- August 1917 — Leeds Empire, Hammersmith Palace
- September 1917 — Ardwick Empire, Manchester Palace, Leicester Palace
- October 1917 — Newcastle Empire, Croydon Empire, Finsbury Park Empire
- November 1917 — Hull Palace
- February 1918 — Lewisham Hippodrome, Woolwich Hippodrome
- March 1918 — Nottingham Empire, Chatham Empire, Cheswick Empire
- April 1918 — Manchester Hippodrome, Bristol Hippodrome, Shepherd's Bush Empire
- May 1918 — Lewisham Hippodrome, Glasgow Coliseum Theatre
- June 1918 — Wigan Hippodrome, Clapham Grand Palace, Hampshire King's Theatre, Portsmouth King's Theatre
- August 1918 — Mansfield Empire
- September 1918 — Leicester Palace
- October 1918 — Manchester Empire
- November 1918 — Clapham Grand Palace, Shoreditch Olympia
- December 1918 — Hammersmith Palace, Poplar Hippodrome, Willesden Hippodrome, Ilford Hippodrome
Although Hilda seems not to have continued performing after 1918, Dorothy Langley became a stage actress and Mildred Langley remained a noted pianist.
It is believed that she married William Edward Jones in 1931 and she died on 26 December 1998 in Leicester.
Notes and References
- ↑ At least one newspaper report suggests that the Langleys had unofficially adopted Hilda — perhaps her father James had to leave Huddersfield for work-related reasons?
- ↑ The Bioscope (04/Mar/1915) page 810.
- ↑ Kinematograph Weekly (04/Mar/1915) & (11/Mar/1915).
- ↑ This is likely Dorothy's IMDB page: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0486515/