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Lilian Shelley
British entertainer

Lilian Shelley

Lilian Shelley
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro British entertainer
Is Entertainer
From United Kingdom
Field Entertainment
Gender female
The details (from wikipedia)


Lilian Shelley (born Lilian Milsom) (1892 - after 1933) was a popular music hall entertainer and later artists' model in London in the early 1900s known as "The Bug" or "The Pocket Edition". She posed for Jacob Epstein and Augustus John. John's portrait of Shelley was described as one of the "star turns" in an exhibition Pictures of Women at the Wildenstein Galleries, London, in 1940. He called her "Bill".

Early life

Shelley was born in a Bristol public house in 1892. According to later newspaper reports she had to teach herself to read and write. The 1901 British census records the family living at 2 Christmas Steps, Bristol, with Albert Milsom (aged 34) as the head of the household together with his wife Mary (aged 32), a son Albert (aged 8) and Lilian (aged 8).

Music hall career

Shelley was a successful musical hall performer dubbed as "Crazy Lilian Shelley. The Merry, Mad, Magnetic Comedienne." She was known for "My Little Popsy-Wopsy", a popular Edwardian song, and "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)" (1913) which had been popularised by Al Jolson. Shelley was represented by the Rolls-Darewski agency and appeared in London and regional shows with performers from the same stable such as American violinist Jay Whidden and George Clarke ("London's leading Dude"). In 1913/14 she toured in the revue Step This Way which appeared in Birmingham, Sheffield and Scotland, and probably elsewhere, as one of the main acts mentioned in the billing. She was one of the entertainers photographed by Walter Benington.


In 1914, Shelley married the artist John P. Flanagan in Marylebone district, London, under her real name of Milsom.

Bohemian life

Shelley was a contemporary of the other artists' models Betty May, Euphemia Lamb and Dolores, both of whom also posed for Epstein, and like Dolores she sang and danced at Madame Strindberg's The Cave of the Golden Calf (1912–1914). One of her jobs at the Cave was to visit the Savoy Hotel each evening to feed Madame Strindberg's monkey. According to Nina Hamnett, in 1914 Lilian Shelley and Betty May were the "principal supports" of the Crab Tree Club. There also, she would sing "Popsy-Wopsy".

Shelley was a regular at the Café Royal where she was often seen in the company of the practical joker, Horace de Vere Cole. Nina Hamnett described Shelley as "the craziest and most generous creature in the world", giving someone a piece of jewellery if they admired it. M.J. Woddis described her appearance as "a Botticelli-looking person, with strangely cut black hair, which is adorned with a golden-embroidered head-band, a perfect model of an Egyptian goddess" while John Quinn wrote to Jacob Epstein in 1915 that Shelley was "a beautiful thing ... red lips and hair as black as a Turk's, stunning figure, great sense of humour". She posed for Jacob Kramer in a work now thought lost.

Jacob Epstein

Jacob Epstein completed a head and a larger bust of Shelley. One was shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in Bond Street in 1916 and another at the Leicester Galleries in 1920. On one occasion, Shelley arrived at a gallery showing one of these works with a male friend who said to Epstein "Yes, I can see that you have depicted the vicious side of Lillian". Epstein answered that he thought the man knew Lilian better than he did. According to Epstein, the man was later "kicked to death in Cornwall by the miner father of a girl he had attempted to seduce."

Mary Bryant

In 1923, William Collins published a possibly autobiographical novel, Mary Bryant, a girl of the people. A novel., by Shelley. It told the story of a girl born in a Bristol slum who is led by an "indefinable yearning" to seek a more fulfilling life in London and Paris. A review of the book noted its "unusual presentation of Bohemian life".


According to Virginia Nicholson, Shelley committed suicide. She was evidently alive in 1934 but the exact date of her death is unknown.

Selected depictions of Lilian Shelley

  • Head of Lilian Shelley. Jacob Epstein.
  • Bust of Lilian Shelley. Jacob Epstein, bronze, 1920.
  • Lilian Shelley in Black Dress. Augustus John. (Shown at the Alpine Club, 1917)

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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