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Music Hall Stars

ack in 1999, I wrote to the Merthyr Express newspaper to see if anyone had any information or memories regarding our Joneses from Penyard. I had a few replies, but one very interesting letter was from a lady by the name of Doris Clayton. She was a niece of William Daniel Jones (Big Daddy) a daughter to his brother Lewis Jones. In it she described how she recalls her father talking of a cousin who lived in Wellington Street that went on to appear on stage with her husband as a double act. She said her name was Annie-Jane Jones and her stage name was ‘Kitty Francis‘ and her husband went under the pseudonym of ‘Tommy Francis‘.

Around the same time, I had received a letter from a Mrs Riden who was a retired school teacher living with her husband in Romford, Essex. She told me that her husband was a Grandson of Aaron Jones (a twin brother to Moses). Mr Riden’s mother was Bronwyn, a sister to Annie-Jane Jones and another cousin to Big Daddy. In her letter, Mrs Riden talks of her husband remembering his aunt being on stage, also under the name of ‘Kitty Francis‘ and being married to James Davies who appeared as ‘Tommy Francis‘. She added that they seem to remember Tommy passing away while performing in Pantomime in Carlisle about 1937/38. It was their son Eric Francis that went on to make a career in films and TV during the 60s/70s and 1980s.

Armed with this knowledge about Annie-Jane Jones marrying James Davies, I set off searching the archives for these music hall stars. Little did I know what I was getting into. Searching for someone with the name of Jones is hard enough, but searching for people who are constantly on the move and use pseudonyms can be very frustrating. I forgot to say there was also a daughter who appeared on stage, but the only information I had was that her name was something like Elva or Elvira. Great!

I started with all the usual records, Census, Birth and Marriage records. Nothing!! Annie-Jane Jones, yes living at home and still single in Merthyr Tydfil, but after 1891, nothing! I thought about giving up on them because it was as though they never really existed, not officially anyway. All I had left to go on was a rumour that James Davies aka Tommy Francis had died up in Carlisle at some point during the late 1930s while playing a role in a Pantomime. Where does one start to look for that kind of information, accepting that it is true? The answer is the British Newspaper Archives. Sure enough, The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette dated Thursday, 30th December 1937 came up with the following article.

Although it gives the daughters name as Elva, which, is similar to what Mrs Clayton had written in her letter it gives no mention as to his wife’s name. So now we know there was definitely a Tommy Francis, Comedian and Pantomime Dame, up until his sad but sudden demise. Delving further on the Tommy Francis archives in the newspapers, it seems he was quite the performer. No wonder I could never find him in the census, he seems to have appeared from Margate to Perth up in Scotland, from one end of the country to the other, every week a different town. Then I came across another advert that appeared in The Stage magazine dated September 7th, 1922.

Tommy Francis and Rona Riden. Can it be Annie-Jane Jones? She’s definitely not Kitty as has been suggested, but Riden is the name of her Brother-In-Law and the surname of Mrs Riden who is the wife of her nephew that wrote me back in 1999. She’s a Soubrette too, whatever that is! I can’t say for certain she is the same person, but these pair were very close together as a working couple. Below is another cutting from The Gloucester Journal dated Saturday, January 1st, 1921.

It’s about Cinderella the Pantomime at The Palace Theatre, Gloucester and says that Rona Riden has a very acceptable voice as well as making an excellent Prince. Tommy Francis as Pimples is a scream. One of those really comic comedians. I’m pretty sure these pair are James Francis Davies and Annie-Jane Jones. One more advert that ties in with the letter I had from Mrs Clayton and this one includes the young Eira, which I have since found was the stage name that Tommy Francis’s daughter went under. Eira Elva.

Again, I’ve not been able to find too much information on Eira Elva. Elva is mentioned as the daughter of Tommy in the article about him dying while in Pantomime in Carlisle. She obviously went on to star as the principal boy, again in Cinderella in 1937. I’ll leave it with this article taken from The Daily Mail 4th, January 1924 which is a notice about the Pantomime at The Tivoli Theatre.

The Daily Mail, Friday, January 4, 1924

Nonetheless interesting is the appearance of “Cinderella” at the Tivoli Theatre, and great things are promised in this production.
Henry L. Osmond is the producer and there will be some novel and spectacular effects. Stella Mainwaring will be in the name part, and the chief comedian will be Tommy Francis as Pimples the Page. Prince Charming will be played by Rona Riden and the Ugly Sisters will be Jay and Kay.
A special scene will be that presented by the Raleighs introducing living representations of toys. While in the Palace scene the coach will be drawn by pigmy ponies. An augmented orchestra will be under the direction of Miss D. Raleigh.

I wish I could find photographs of Tommy Francis and Rona Riden. If by chance anyone ever comes across any, I’d be more than grateful. I have seen the wills of James Davies and he leaves everything to his wife, Annie-Jane Davies as she leaves everything to her son Eric Francis Davies in 1954. Thank you.