New book celebrates famous Sheffield family of magicians, ventriloquists and entertainers

A famous family of magicians, ventriloquists and entertainers from Sheffield are celebrated in a new book written by the grandson of their legendary patriarch.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 1:34 pm

‘The Magical DeLyles’ by David Monks tells the story of his grandad George Fox and his family of music hall entertainers, who wowed the well-to-do and ordinary Sheffield folk alike in the early 20th century.

George - who took the stage name Professor DeLyle - was born in 1871, gave his first professional show at the age of 14 and carried on performing until 1948 when he tragically died of a stroke shortly after coming off stage.

He was also followed into the family business by one of his cousins who was the first lantern slide projectors in Sheffield, and one of his daughters Winnie - David’s aunty - went on to be the UK’s leading lady ventriloquist.

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Photo shows Winni's ventriloquist doll Jimmy with David Monks and the Magical DeLyles book

David’s book 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.

“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.

Professor De Lyle

“I didn’t want all that history to end up in a wheelie bin. They really were mega-popular.”

The family lived on Ecclesall Road near what is now Sunnybank Nature Reserve, and David says he heard countless stories from people who remember visiting their home to see puppets drying by the fire or have coins magically produced from behind their ears.

“Grandad used to entertain thousands of people in Sheffield and Rotherham,” said David.

“My mum got involved in the family business as well and aunty Winnie had a fantastic act.

“They entertained people in parks but were also booked by the great and good to perform in stately homes such as Chatsworth.

“At Chatsworth, after the Professor conjured up a gentleman’s ‘smashed’ watch around the neck of a rabbit, the Duchess asked him to promise her the animal was ‘kindly treated’.”

David said some of George’s other attractions included ‘lantern slides’ - the pop videos of their day - which were shown for people to sing along to in theatres, early films and Punch and Judy.

“One of the projections was called ‘An A-Z of the evils of drink’!” said David.

“Back then they used to promise shows were ‘suitable for all classes and free from vulgarity’ and I can assure people my book is as well.”

After George died in 1948, Winnie carried on with her successful ventriloquism career until she sadly died in a car crash on the way to watch a television broadcast of the Coronation in 1953.

David, now aged 73, grew up in Coventry and was given the MBE in 2011 for services to blind and partially sighted people in Coventry, West Midlands.

He was born there in 1946 after his family moved to the booming Midlands city for work, but still sees Sheffield as the family’s ‘spiritual home’.

“The thing I remember is people talking to you at bus stops,” he said.

“If they see you struggling to find somewhere they will stop and help you. I hope it’s still like that.”

David’s book is currently available from The Sheffield Scene shop on Surrey Street, online from Amazon and hopefully soon will also be stocked by Museums Sheffield.

Professor DeLyle’s Punch and Judy puppets can be found in Weston Park Museum in the Sheffield Life and Times area and video of him performing can also be found on YouTube.