Al’s Birth Certificate Traced – The real Al Bowlly by Ray Pallet
World Scoop for Memory Lane ( 1984)
Anyone who has carefully looked into the life and work of AL BOWLLY must have found that he often gave differing accounts of events in his life when he was interviewed by the press. For example, he gave two different versions of how he acquired his first fully professional job in the music business which was with EDGAR ADELER. In 1935 he was interviewed in the magazine “Popular Song”. The resultant article explains that Al was singing to himself in the barber shop in which he worked and he was overhead by a customer. The customer turned out to be EDGAR ADELER who immediately offered Al a job. However, in 1938 in “Radio Pictorial”, Al states that when ‘ADELER came on tour to Johannesburg (which was incorrect anyway because ADELER was based in Jo’burg), Al went along to listen to the band every night. On the 6th night he plucked up courage and asked ADELER for a job. This particular tale keeps popping up! The truth of the matter is that Al was already in a successful semi-pro band actually competing with Edgar Adeler in Jo’burg. When this band broke-up Al simply offered his services to Adeler who was glad to accept them. There are many other occasions when Al “told stories” to make ordinary events in his life more interesting. How he got his job with Roy Fox, for example, or all that nonsense about being a jockey. How was Al to know that, 50 years later, anyone would be interested in his life?
It has also occurred to me how shallow the published information about Al Bowlly is. It cannot be that someone left so little behind for his biographers. Indeed, it became apparent that the only way to help fill the enormous gap in our knowledge of Al was to trace the usual public records which have legally to be filed. With the help of PAUL TURNELL, official registries both in the UK and abroad have been searched and authenticated copies of official documents obtained. The following “snippets” from some of these documents begin to portray the real Al Bowlly . . . a story astonishingly different to much of what we have read before. The most vital discovery of course, was of the existence of a registration of Al’s birth. I wonder why so many people assumed his birth was not registered or, if it was, the registration could not be traced. After all he was born and brought up in civilised countries. The birth certificate proves once and for all that Al was younger than most pundits believe being born at the turn of the century. This squarely puts the tin lid on the myth that Al was born around 1890! Whilst mentioning Al’s origins, the birth, marriage and death certificates of his parents reveal at least one most interesting fact. This is that Al’s father was not born with the name “Bowlly”, nor had he acquired it when he married in 1892. The marriage certificate describes both parents as “hawkers”. Both parents died from serious illness, his father in 1927 and his mother in 1949.
Moving into the 1920s, Al made an application for a passport in 1921. The interesting thing about this is that at this time Al must have had ambitions to travel abroad, even though he had not yet joined Edgar Adeler with whom he left the country in 1923. It also shows that at the time of application, Al had not yet been naturalised. Much information written about Al’s marriages has been proved to be erroneous by the tracing of the birth, marriage and death certificates of his wives. As regards Al’s first wife, her real name was not “Freda” which was the name she was known as; also she was under age when Al married her! After an extremely short marriage, Freda petitioned Al for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Because Al’s second wife was known as “Marjie” it has always been assumed that her full name was “Marjorie”. For the first time in print “Memory Lane” reveals that her name was in fact, “MARGARET”. When he married her in the U.S.A. he did not declare he had been married before. The witnesses did not let-on! They were RAY NOBLE and BILL HARTY. Al and Marjie were never divorced. After Al died, Marjie married again as reported by DOUG WILKINS in the last issue of “Memory Lane”. There has always been much speculation as to whether either of the former MRS BOWLLYS are still alive. I can now reveal that they are both dead. Interestingly enough, Al did not leave either of them anything in his will, all his money being left to his mother.
Further documents have been traced throwing light on Al’s financial affairs. These show quite clearly that Al was not a financially irresponsible person who lived only for the day as we have been repeatedly told. For example, he sent money back home to his mother on a regular basis and he had a valuable financial investment that enabled him to afford an operation in an American clinic in 1937. How different to the stories we have read about him being penniless and having to ask so-called friends to help. After his estate had been dealt with during the period after his death, Al’s mother finally inherited £720, a considerable sum for those days. Even the BRITISH MUSEUM has been involved in Al Bowlly research . . . One story told by Al was that when he was at school he fell in love with his teacher, Miss McGill. This is one story he told which is at least half true! We shall never know whether or not he did fall in love with his teacher, but we do now know for sure her name was Miss McGill. I have in my possession a book awarded to Al as a school-leaving present. It is inscribed “Awarded to Albert Bowlly June 1913 from B McGill”. This came to my attention at a time when many people seriously thought Al was born around 1890. If those people were correct about Al’s date of birth then the inscription in the book would have to be a forgery, as it would have meant that Al was still at school in his 20s! I therefore asked the British Museum to verify that the inscription was authentic. They were able to do so thus showing that Al must have been born at least 9 years later than 1890. And in the fullness of time, the birth-date was confirmed by the birth certificate. And so we come full circle..
In order to add still further to existing information concerning Al Bowlly, I am now preparing a “discography” of all recordings of Al that were originally non-commercial. The first instalment is scheduled for the next issue of “Memory Lane”. Most of the items listed are air-checks, film sound-tracks, radio transcription discs and private recordings. If any readers possess , or know of any recordings which come under those categories and which contain the voice of Al Bowlly, I would be very grateful if they could send me particulars for inclusion in the listing.