Musical comedy was the forte of Billie Love, although her theatrical ambit spread far wider.
She was born into a showbiz family. Her father, Joe Murgatroyd, the stage name of Mark Stone, performed a comedy double act with his wife, Josie Bradley, the couple styling themselves Murgatroyd and Poppet. In the late 1930s, they appeared in Laugh and Grow Fit, a daily programme on the French station Radio Normandy, which featured song parodies accompanying keep-fit exercises. They repeated their success on the Home Service, the forerunner of BBC Radio 4, in Breakfast with the Murgatroyds, in which their daughters, Love and Helga Stone, joined them. This was the first British series featuring a real family.
Love’s first major role in musical comedy came in Prince Littler’s production of Wild Violets (1950), based on the music of Viennese composer Robert Stolz and staged at the old Stoll Theatre in London’s Kingsway. Also at the Stoll and in a touring production that followed, Love played the flirtatious, but gullible young woman, Ado Annie Carnes, in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, in which she sang I Cain’t Say No.
There followed Sandy Wilson’s The Buccaneer (1955) at the Apollo, a show about the unlikely subject of a campaign for managerial control of an old-fashioned boys’ magazine. Unfortunately, it did not have the same impact as Wilson’s major success two years earlier, The Boy Friend, a pastiche on shows of the 1920s.
In 1969, Love joined the cast of the Evelyn Laye/Stanley Baxter/Mark Wynter musical, Phil the Fluter, at the Palace, based on the life of Percy French, one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters. However, by now, Love had developed a new passion that took over her life, collecting many thousands of historical photographs from antiques shops and jumble and car boot sales.
Billie Love, who was born on October 18, 1923, died on January 13, aged 88.
Richard Anthony Baker