Alfred John Robertson Nolan was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1884. He began his stage career as an eccentric dancer and comedian at the end of the 19th Century. Billed as Alf Nolan he started to appear in pantomime, as did his wife-to-be Minnie Hobbs and her sister Maud. In 1898, at a novel end-of-run performance of Aladdin at Brighton’s Eden Theatre, in which the children took all the principal roles, Minnie appeared as Abanazer and “made the audience roar with laughter at her eccentricities” and Maud Hobbs “was a dainty little Princess Beauty”.
In 1908 Alfred and Minnie Frederica Hobbs were married. By the time of the 1911 census they were living in London with their two year old daughter Frances, Minnie’s sister Maud and their widowed mother Hannah. Alf and Minnie developed a dance act and appeared as ‘Betty Hobbs and Nolan’ or sometimes ‘Nolan and Hobbs’ acrobatic dancers. They continued to appear in pantomimes and were in the Arthur Rigby Company production of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in 1913/14.
As was the case for so many, the Great War then interrupted their careers and Alf joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. It was also during the war years that he joined Freemasonry. He was initiated into the Highgate Lodge No. 1366 on 11th September 1916, remaining a member until his death.
As well as their regular dance routines the duo continued to appear in pantomime in successive years after the war through to the early 1920s. The 1922/23 seasonal offering was ‘Jack and Jill’ which opened at the Royal Theatre, Worcester on Boxing Day 1922 before going on tour. In 1922/23 they appeared in ‘Red Riding Hood’ at Bradford Prince’s Theatre and they were already booked to appear the following season at the Leeds’ Royal Theatre, but fate intervened. They had toured South Africa during 1924 and shortly after their return they were performing their ‘Toy Soldier and Rag Doll’ routine at a London cabaret club. It was a strenuous routine requiring Alf to make many lifts. They were not far into the dance when Alf dropped to the floor………and died, it was October 13th 1924.
The post mortem revealed that although his heart was strong in itself a blood clot had caused the heart attack and a verdict of natural causes was recorded. Betty pursued her stage career for a year or so with a new partner named Harry Deans but then decided to teach dance at her own ‘Betty Hobbs’ Dancing School’.
In 1928 she married Frederick Ison, a one-time vaudeville artiste and also a Freemason being a member of Chelsea Lodge No. 3098. In the 1930s and the 1940s there were several Betty Hobbs’ troupes performing including the ‘Betty Hobbs Globe Girls’ and the ‘Betty Hobbs Superb Eight’ who were resident at the Holborn Empire for a while during the 1930s.
Betty died at her home in Eton, Surrey, (now Berkshire) on 16th July 1943. Alf and Betty had both been members and keen supporters of the Variety Artistes’ Federation and at the meeting following Betty’s death the federation Chairman, Dave O’Gorman, requested members to stand as a sign of respect for the departed. The dance school continued and the good name of Betty Hobbs lived on after her death with former pupils always proud to mention their training ground and their association with Betty’s dance companies in their curriculum vitae.