Old Mother Riley

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Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane as Old Mother Riley and her daughter Kitty

Old Mother Riley was a music hall act which originally ran from about 1934 to 1954 played by Arthur Lucan, and from 1954 to the 1980s played by Roy Rolland.[1][2]

Old Mother Riley (full comedy name; Daphne Bluebird Snowdrop Riley) was an Irish washerwoman and charwoman character, devised by Lucan (born Arthur Towle).[1][3] His wife Kitty McShane played Old Mother Riley's daughter, Kitty.[1] It was essentially a drag act but also a double act. The couple played music halls, theatres, and broadcast on radio and appeared in films. Lucan was voted sixth biggest British box-office star by the Motion Picture Herald in 1943.[4][5] They also gave Jimmy Clitheroe his break in 1939 in an Old Mother Riley pantomime called The Old Woman who Lives in a Shoe,[6] and then the following year a part in their film, Old Mother Riley in Society. The Film Fun comic included an “Old Mother Riley” strip cartoon in the 1940s.

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.[1]

Old Mother Riley films[edit]

Made on a minuscule budget, but extremely profitable, 15 of the 17 films made by Arthur Lucan featured him as Old Mother Riley:

At the time of Lucan's death he was scheduled to film Old Mother Riley's Trip to Mars.


  1. ^ a b c d Gifford, Denis (26 August 1997). "Obituary Roy Rolland". The Independent. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  2. ^ Old Mother Riley homepage
  3. ^ "Britmovie". Old Mother Riley: The Life and Career of Arthur Lucan. Britmovie. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  4. ^ Matthew Coniam (2009-09-13). "The 1944-45 Motion Picture Almanac". Movietone News. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  5. ^ http://www.brent.gov.uk/media/7031206/Arthur%20Lucan%20-%20the%20man%20who%20was%20Old%20Mother%20Riley.pdf
  6. ^ "Vintage British Comedy". Old Mother Riley. Retrieved 13 June 2011.

Robert V Kenny, The Man Who Was Old Mother Riley - The Lives and Films of Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane, BearManor Media, 2014, 428pp. https://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Man-Who-Mother-Riley/dp/1593937717