Florence Desmond was a year younger than George Formby. She was a sensational artiste and ‘one of the most uncannily accurate and enduringly funny mimic of the century’.

She was born Florence Dawson in Islington, London on 31st May 1905. She began her career in London in 1916 when she was 11 as a ballet dancer in pantomime. In 1925 she appeared in the show On With The Dance and a year later she was a ‘Cochran young lady’ for a Pavilion revue. But she soon found her own special talent for impersonation. She had an observant impressionists method of choosing an immediately recognisable mannerism and adding to it a few quick strokes to complete a portrait that usually stopped short of caricature.

She was especially good at Great Garbo and Mae West but she developed an uncommon range of subjects. At one period before her retirement at 48 she managed to be seven people during a single play. She acted with Naughton Wayne in cabaret and during 1928 she was in Cochran’s This Year Of Grace. Both in its London and New York productions on Broadway, she understudied and played for Beatrice Lilley. Soon after this she put together her own cabaret act and for some years was a familiar figure in London variety.

During a 1933 broadcast which promptly became a popular recording (A Hollywood Party), she impersonated a group of stars as far apart as Jimmy Durante, Tallulah Bankhead and Gracie Fields. In 1934 James Agate reviewed her performance in the Cochrane review, Streamline at the Palace theatre: “She has not only a white-hot sense of the ridiculous but can present it in a dozen different disguises.” In 1936 she starred alongside George Formby in No Limit and the following year in Keep Your Seats Please.

She was on the bill of The Royal variety Performance of 1937 and in the following year toured in her own show Taking Off. During the war she had a long run in the Palladium review Apple Sauce with Max Miller and Vera Lynn, and also toured the Mediterranean entertaining the troops. She had a second Royal Variety Night in October 1951, and in 1952, at the Comedy Theatre she appeared in one of her most ambitious and exacting nights. A tricky play called Apples of Eve. This was set at a home for Psycho neurotics where the controller had been murdered and the audience had to choose the criminal from a roll call of suspects. The list covered five patients – a temperamental acrobat, a titled dipsomaniac, the murdered woman’s mother and a cockney charwoman. All of them were Florence Desmond.

She announced her retirement in 1953 but in 1958 she returned for a single part in an amusingly histrionic flaunt in an American play Auntie Mame at the Adelphi with Beatrice Lilley whom she had understudied thirty years earlier. Florence Desmond was married to Campbell Black and after his death to Chares Hughesdon.

She died in Guildford, Surrey in 1993 aged 87.