Robb Wilton was one of a host of Liverpool comedians whose
careers began in the final days of the music halls and blossomed with the
advent of radio and films. He was born Robert Wilton Smith on 28th
August 1881, his father Joseph was a compositor and his mother Elizabeth (née
Poland) had been an actress. The family lived at 34 Tillotson Street L7 which
ran from Low Hill to Hall Lane, the area now being occupied by Sacred Heart
He tried a variety of jobs after leaving school but eventually turned to the stage. His first steps were not as a comedian but as a straight actor, his first appearance being at the Theatre Royal in Garston, Liverpool in 1899. He undertook straight roles for some three years but was already gaining a reputation as a comic for his antics to the audience during scene changes. In 1903, whilst appearing at the Alexandra Theatre in Hull, he met the actress Florence Palmer and they were married the following year in Stalybridge. They were a very close, devoted couple who managed their careers so that they spent a minimum amount of time away from each other. They had one son, Robert, who was born in 1907. Sadly he died in an accident in 1943, falling from a window during the wartime blackout. At the time of their son’s birth they were living at 3 Redcar Street L6.
Wilton’s ‘big break’ came in 1903. He had begun to perform comic material as his main activity and was appearing in Liverpool at the Lyric and Pavilion Theatres, when he was ‘spotted’ by the impresario Sir Walter De Frece who immediately offered him a contract. From this point onwards his career steadily rose and by 1926 his status was recognised with a royal command performance. Billed as the ‘Confidential Comedian’ he toured abroad and when radio began his humour was a perfect fit for the new medium. He made his first film in 1928 (The Fire Brigade) and made more than twenty more screen appearances in the years leading up to the war. After a sixteen-year gap he made his final film appearance in The Love Match  which starred fellow Liverpudlian Arthur Askey. The war years were fertile ones for him as his satires on the pervading bureaucracy that blighted everyone’s lives delighted his listeners.
After the war, with Florence in poor health, they cut back on their workload and returned to Liverpool to live with friend Reginald Breech and his wife at 30 Mayville Road, Allerton L18. His wife died in 1956 and he followed a year later, dying in Broadgreen Hospital after an operation, on 1st May 1957.
There are a number of clips of Wilton performing on You Tube, my favourite being the monologue he delivers as a soldier who has been in the trenches for years after the armistice unaware the war was over. Click here to view.
The Wilton's home after their marriage and where their son Robert was born.
The house in which Robb Wilton and his wife spent their final years.
There is a useful entry for Wilton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I am not aware of any single main source but there are numerous potted biographies on the internet.
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