Legendary Sheffield conjurer's 150th birthday marked with gift to museum

A legendary Sheffield conjurer's 150th birthday has been marked with a gift to a city museum by his grandson.

By Rob Hollingworth
Monday, 27th September 2021, 12:00 am

September 29 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Sheffield's greatest entertainers, conjuror Professor De Lyle whose real name was George Arthur Fox and lived on Ecclesall Road.

His grandson David Monks has marked the occasion by donating two ventriloquist’s dolls used by Professor De Lyle’s daughter Winnie to Weston Park Museum.

The musuem already has puppets used by the Professor at the entrance of the Sheffield Life and Times exhibition.

As seen in print, Professor De Lyle

Mr Monks said: “He gave his first professional show at the age of 14, entertaining for 63 years, never retiring. He brought happiness to thousands of local people and the titled including The Duchesses of Devonshire and Norfolk.”

Professor De Lyle, a father-of-five, also gave Punch and Judy shows in Sheffield and Rotherham parks, including performances close to his home at Endcliffe Park in what was the bandstand area, in front of what is now the cafe.

He died on stage aged 77 after finishing a show at a Darby and Joan club and was packing up when he suffered a stroke.

Mr Monks added Professor De Lyle's eldest daughter took to the stage giving her first professional show at the age of 10 becoming Winnie De Lyle, Britain's premier female ventriloquist.

Professor De Lyle

He said: “I have donated Winnie's two dolls, Jimmy the large doll and Clarence to Western Park Museum for the people of Sheffield along with equipment belonging to my grandfather Professor De Lyle.”

Both dolls are in RAF uniform and were used in an act where Jimmy parachuted in on stage.

"The De Lyle name is part of the fabric of Sheffield, they were extremely popular and among Yorkshire’s most famous entertainers,” said Mr Monks.

He added his grandfather’s home was known as the House Of Magic because visitors would find themselves removing coins from their ears. "I’m very proud of them and now aged 75 I want to pass on their wonderful stories,” said Mr Monks.

Winnie's ventriloquist doll Jimmy with David Monks and the Magical DeLyles book

"My mum Elsie Fox helped out in the act and was at Chatsworth House when the Duchess had to be reassured that a rabbit used in the act had been treated kindly.”

Mr Monks, who lives in Coventry, has written a book called The Magical De Lyles, the story of a Sheffield family.

It is the culmination of his collection of a lifetime of stories from family members, people from Sheffield and across the world who have contacted him during his research - and posters, newspapers and magazines from the time.

He said he has been aware of the stories all his life, but decided to write the book to make sure the memories of his famous family were collected in one place for posterity rather than being lost to time. “I want them to be remembered in the city of their birth,” he said.

Winnie De Lyle's two dolls, Jimmy the large doll, and Clarence

“I’ve been collecting the stories that have been passed down to me for a long time and eventually got round to writing them down.”

The book is available from Amazon for £5 and there are videos of Professor De Lyle on YouTube.