A lovely Embassy Theatre, Broadway poster from 1951 and featuring “Old Mother Riley & Daughter Kitty”.
Old Mother Riley was a fictional character portrayed from about 1934 to 1954 by Arthur Lucan and from 1954 to the 1980s by Roy Rolland as part of a British music hall act.
Old Mother Riley was the first and arguably the most influential drag act on stage and screen. Although nothing like the glamorous acts like Danny La Rue, Old Mother Riley proved that drag could be a smash hit with audiences and make you a star. The Old Mother Riley films also proved that drag could be an acceptable part of comedy and storytelling. Previous to Old Mother Riley, drag was a mixture of singing acts and short comedy sketches in music halls across the UK.
Roy Rolland was Lucan’s understudy and stand-in, and after Lucan’s death in 1954 he continued to play the Old Mother Riley character in pantomime, on television and in cabaret until the 1980s.
The character and show exist in a comic lineage that extends to Mrs. Brown’s Boys today.