Did you know about Charlie Chaplin?
His name is known around the world and his face is instantly recognisable – but did you know that Charlie Chaplin, master of the silent-film era, hailed from south London and spent much of his childhood in and around Elephant & Castle?
Despite reportedly having no birth certificate, Chaplin is widely-believed to have been born in East Street, Walworth, on 16 April 1889. It’s fair to say the actor, comedian, filmmaker and composer was destined for a life on the stage because talent ran in his family; his
The budding star fell on hard times at an early age, however, after his father died and his mother became unwell and was unable to support Charlie and his older brother, Sydney. The family sought refuge in the former Lambeth Workhouse, a Victorian institution in Kennington. Today, it is home to The Cinema Museum, which has artefacts and memorabilia telling the story of cinema from the 1890s onwards.
Chaplin later lived with his brother in a flat in nearby Brixton, where an English Heritage blue plaque is now displayed – a reminder of the star’s London roots.
In his early career, Chaplin performed with clog-dancing troupe The Eight Lancashire Lads. This was followed by other stage work, including his acting debut in a production of Sherlock Holmes, before he got his big break with Fred Karno’s pantomime troupe in 1908.
Chaplin left England for the US, where his film career – which boasts an incredible 82 titles – was born. As well as starring in his movies, Chaplin was regarded as a pioneer behind the camera, often producing and directing his films.
It is believed Chaplin’s experience of living at the Lambeth Workhouse had a lasting effect on his life and helped him to create some of the characters for which he is best known, including his screen persona in the 1915 film The Tramp. This unassuming character – with his bowler hat, neat moustache and walking cane – became his most memorable work, appealing to fans across the globe.
Five things you may not know about Charlie Chaplin
- He first sang on stage at the age of five. Chaplin was watching his mother perform in a show when she lost her voice. The young boy replaced her on stage and wowed the audience with his natural stage presence – and the rest is history, as they say.
- Chaplin had a love of music and composed for many of his films, having taught himself the violin and cello. His friend Stan Laurel is reported to have said: “He carried his violin wherever he could. He had the strings reversed so he could play left-handed, and he would practise for hours.”
- Chaplin’s final film, A Countess from Hong Kong, was his first and only colour work.
- Chaplin died at his home in Switzerland on Christmas Day 1977, at the age of 88. In a twist rivalling some of his own film plots, his body was stolen from his grave not long after he was buried. His body was recovered 11 weeks later.
- Chaplin was married four times and had 11 children. His daughter Geraldine followed in his acting footsteps and played Tonya in David Lean’s classic film Doctor Zhivago.