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Jenny Howard (1902–1996)

by Richard Fotheringham

This article was published online in 2024

Jenny Howard's last appearance at Grand Coolangatta, by unknown photographer

Jenny Howard's last appearance at Grand Coolangatta, by unknown photographer

Papers of Bobby and Gracie Le Brun, National Library of Australia

Jenny Howard (1902–1996), comedian, actor, and singer, was born Daisy Evelyn Louise Blowes on 26 November 1902 at Walthamstow, Essex, England, fourth child of Charles Joseph Blowes, labourer, and his wife Hannah Matilda, née Polaine. Dais, as she was called, was close to her mother, who encouraged her to sing but died in childbirth in January 1913. Abandoned by their father after he left to fight in World War I, the children moved in with their maternal grandparents. A ‘stagestruck’ child (Howard 1982), she attended a nearby girls’ school and enjoyed performing in school productions, local theatre shows, and talent competitions. She claimed that at twelve she was expelled for jumping onto a desk to sing George Formby Senior’s ‘I Parted Me Hair in the Middle,’ unaware of the risqué double entendre.

Working in a nearby linen factory during the day and singing with local groups of an evening, Blowes adopted the stage name Jenny Howard. Dismissed from the factory for distracting her co-workers with impersonations, in the early 1920s she met Bertha King, whose husband Percy King (real surname Boughton) organised concert parties. Howard joined their troupe ‘The Yachtsmen’ at the seaside town of Margate. She performed professionally from then on, including in comedy routines with King playing the straight man to her mischievous ebullience. He became her manager and, after his wife died in 1924, the pair married on 28 March 1927 at St Luke’s Church of England, West Holloway, London. Unable to have children, they became a formidable artistic team.

Although primarily remembered as a popular singer, Howard was a versatile stage artist. In her early professional career, she used her powerful if untrained voice only in encores. A diminutive five feet two inches (157 cm) tall with ‘beautiful blue eyes which twinkled with devilment’ (Trigg 1983, 4), she could dislocate her joints to perform comic dances and used her talent for mimicking facial and vocal characteristics to burlesque politicians, public figures, and other artists.

Howard and King first visited Australia in March 1929 and ‘loved it the moment we got here’ (Howard 1982). They performed before appreciative crowds on the Tivoli circuit in Melbourne and Sydney, and at the Victoria Theatre in Newcastle, before returning home in July. Over the next decade, Howard became a headline act in regional and metropolitan variety theatres, including the London Palladium. She also released discs, performed on radio, appeared in a musical comedy film, Dodging the Dole (1936), and, in 1937, toured the West Indies.

In June 1940 Wallace Parnell, the general manager of Tivoli Australia, brought Howard and King to Melbourne to produce pantomimes and to headline a new production, The Crazy Show, which toured Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Adelaide. A second Crazy Show opened in March 1941. Howard was considered ‘the live wire of the show’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1941, 12), and reviewers praised her ability to switch rapidly from ‘the most ridiculous to the most sentimental’ (Telegraph 1941, 10).

Howard’s energy and dedication became legendary. Between seasons of shows playing up to twice a day, six days a week, she supported Australia’s effort in World War II by performing at military barracks and in fund-raising events. One of her most famed numbers was the song and march ‘A Brown Slouch Hat,’ which was written by George Wallace in 1942 and became an enduring part of the repertoire for brass bands, particularly at Anzac Day parades. By war’s end, Howard and King were financially secure and living at North Bondi. King’s son, Richard Boughton, and Howard’s sister, Lilian Jane Leary, joined them in Sydney with their families in 1946 and 1949 respectively. Howard continued to travel extensively to perform, touring Korea and Japan in 1954 to entertain Australian armed forces. She cemented her reputation as ‘perhaps the greatest principal boy of her time’ (Bridges 1980, 96) in many Tivoli pantomimes, including Cinderella, Babes in the Wood, Dick Whittington, and Aladdin.

Despite ongoing acclaim, Howard’s popularity began to decline during the postwar years, as her flirtatious comic girlishness seemed increasingly out of step with changing gender roles and sexual mores. She nonetheless refused to ‘act with the dignity and decorum befitting an octogenarian’ (Trigg 1984, 14) by appearing in charity concerts, clubs, and music halls; contributing to occasional revivals of variety and pantomime shows; and taking small roles in the television series The True Blue Show (1973), the stage musical Pippin (1974), and the feature film Caddie (1976). She won the 1981 John Campbell ‘Mo’ fellowship for services to the Australian entertainment industry and, two years later, starred in the closing night of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Brisbane. In 1985 she was awarded the OAM for service to the performing arts.

Howard was an Anglican and a teetotaller who preferred cooking, cleaning, and sewing to extravagant parties. After King died in 1979, she moved to Burleigh Heads on Queensland’s Gold Coast. On 18 September 1984 she married Eric Albert Aitken, a retired businessman, at St John’s Anglican Church, Burleigh Heads; he died the next year. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about 1990, she lived in nursing homes at Coolangatta and then Tweed Heads, where she died on 21 January 1996. Her ashes were interred next to King’s in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park, reuniting their famed double act.

Research edited by Michelle Staff

Select Bibliography

  • Bridges, Nancye, with Frank Crook. Curtain Call. North Ryde, NSW: Cassell Australia, 1980
  • Fryer Library, University of Queensland. UQFL524, Eddie Trigg Papers
  • Howard, Jenny. Interview with Bill Stephens, 24 July 1985. Recording. National Library of Australia
  • Howard, Jenny. Interview with Liz Wilson, 12–19 October 1982. Recording. National Library of Australia
  • Queensland Performing Arts Centre Museum. Jenny Howard Collection
  • People (Sydney). ‘Five Feet One and a Saucy Look.’ 22 November 1950, 31–33
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Second “Crazy Show” at Tivoli.’19 April 1941, 12
  • Telegraph (Brisbane). ‘Vaudeville is BACK at the Cremorne.’ 11 February 1941, 10
  • Trigg, Eddie. ‘Down Under.’ The Call Boy: The Official Journal of the British Music Hall Society 21, no. 4 (1984): 14
  • Trigg, Eddie. ‘The Kings of Music Hall.’ The Call Boy: The Official Journal of the British Music Hall Society 20, no. 4 (1983): 4–6
  • Van Straten, Frank. Tivoli. South Melbourne: Lothian, 2003

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Richard Fotheringham, 'Howard, Jenny (1902–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howard-jenny-33447/text41817, published online 2024, accessed online 24 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Jenny Howard's last appearance at Grand Coolangatta, by unknown photographer

Jenny Howard's last appearance at Grand Coolangatta, by unknown photographer

Papers of Bobby and Gracie Le Brun, National Library of Australia

More images

pic pic pic pic
Jenny Howard singing 'A Brown Slouch Hat'
National Library of Australia

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Blowes, Daisy Evelyn
  • Boughton, Daisy Evelyn
  • Aitken, Daisy Evelyn
Birth

26 November, 1902
Walthamstow, Essex, England

Death

21 January, 1996 (aged 93)
Tweed Heads, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Occupation
Awards