Lillie, Beatrice

Beatrice (Gladys) Lillie (Lady Peel),. Comedienne, singer, b Toronto 29 May 1894, d Henley-on-Thames, Eng, 20 Jan 1989. (Contrary to the widely published birth year of 1898, she was reported on her death to have been 94.) The daughter of Lucy Ann Shaw, a concert singer, and John Lillie, a former British army officer who became a Canadian government official, she was educated at Loretto Academy in Toronto and St Agnes' College in Belleville, Ont. Beatrice, her mother, and her sister Muriel (a pianist) performed throughout Ontario as the Lillie Trio before moving to England in 1914. There, in 1914, Beatrice made her stage debut at the Chatham Music Hall and her London debut in The Daring of Diane. In 1920 she married Sir Robert Peel (b 1898, d 1934) but continued her career, making a New York debut in the English production Andre Charlot's Revue of 1924.

Although she would be known mainly for her Broadway and London West End successes and for her appearances in films (as late as 1967) and on radio and TV, Beatrice Lillie began recording quite early - in England for Columbia 1915-19, and in New York for Columbia in 1925, Victor in 1926, the Gramophone Shop in 1934, and Liberty Music Stores in 1939. The early recordings were said not to do justice to her high comedic gifts, but those made in the LP era - eg, Auntie Bea (Lon X-5471) and Beatrice Lillie Souvenir Album (Decca DL-5453) - captured her character with considerable success. Lillie was also featured on several CDs, including High Spirits: The Original Broadway Cast Recording (MCA Classics MCAD-10767); an archival reconstruction of the 1935 production of At Home Abroad (AEI-CD 048 AEI, 1999); and Bea Little: The Unique! The Incomparable! (Flapper PAST CD 7054, 1004; Pearl 1996). A 1962 recording of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (London 436 105-2, reissued 1993) features Lillie as narrator. Her autobiography, Every Other Inch a Lady (Garden City 1972), gives a colourful account of her years in Canada. In 1989 a Toronto municipal building at 1115 Queen St W (near the old Lillie family home) was dedicated by the Duke of Edinburgh as the Beatrice Lillie Building.