Charlie Chaplin was the son of a gypsy queen
Last updated at 10:44 AM on 21st February 2011
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1358970/The-secret-letter-claims-Charlie-Chaplain-son-gypsy-queen.html#ixzz1mg8HR6D1
The little tramp: Charlie Chaplin may have been born in a gypsy caravan, not in London
A letter hidden for years by silent movie pioneer Charlie Chaplin has come to light which claims he lied about his birthplace and was in fact born in a gypsy caravan.
The letter, written to Chaplin in the 1970s, claims he was born on the 'Black Patch' near Birmingham rather than in London as previously believed.
The comedian, one of most iconic personalities of the 20th century, received the letter six years before he died in 1977, and kept it hidden in his desk drawer.
It stated that the British comic actor's claim in his memoirs that he was born in London was wrong and instead relocated his birth, on April 16, 1889, to a caravan in the town of Smethwick, in central England.
Believed to be genuine by Chaplin's family, the letter was found in the locked drawer of a bureau which was inherited by Chaplin's daughter, Victoria, after his widow Oona died in 1991.
It was only found after his daughter had a locksmith open up the drawer.
WHAT THE LETTER SAID:
'If you would like to know, you were born in a caravan, so [was I]. It was a good one, it belonged to the gypsy queen who was my auntie.
'You were born on the Black Patch in Smethwick. So was I, two and a half year later.
'Your mum did move again with her dad's circus and later settled down in London but whereabouts I do not know.'
Jack Hill, who adds he is not out for any money for the information, signs off:
'Goodbye and good luck,
The letter is set to be included in a British radio documentary tomorrow and reveals the inauspicious beginnings of the man who earned worldwide acclaim for his performance as the 'little tramp'.
It was sent by Jack Hill, of Tamworth, who says that he knew about the British actor's real background from his aunt, who was a gypsy queen.
Mr Hill wrote: 'The caravan belonged to the Gypsy Queen, who was my auntie. You were born on the Black Patch in Smethwick near Birmingham.'
The Black Patch was a thriving Romany community based on the industrial edge of Birmingham in the 1880s.
Chaplin's birth certificate has never been located, even though by the late 1880s it was a legal requirement. His older half brother Sydney had one.
Until now it was thought he was born in London in 1889. His mother Hannah, whose maiden name is Hill, was descended from a travelling family.
She was a singer and actress with the stage name Lily Harley, who separated from her husband Charles when young Charlie was three.
There may have been some shame in having a Romany background, which is thought to be why Chaplin made much of being a Londoner, particularly after he emigrated to America in 1910.
Secret letter: Charlie Chaplin aged 12 (left) in 1901 and aged 25 in 1914 (right). He received the letter telling him of his birthplace six years before he died in 1977
Inauspicious beginnings: Chaplin may have been born in a gypsy travelling wagon similar to this
The letter is one of a number of documents about the comic being kept in a bomb-proof concrete vault in Montreux, Switzerland, the country where his relatives now live.
Other documents include reel-to-reel recordings of Chaplin improvising at the piano.
There are also press cuttings which detail the British Army's banning of the Chaplin moustache from the trenches during the First World War.
Chaplin is one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, famous for his signature character, the Little Tramp.
The survivor of a tough workhouse childhood, he became one of the best-known film stars in the silent movie world before the end of the First World War.
Chaplin's oldest surviving son Michael has said the idea of Chaplin being a gypsy born in Smethwick, the West Midlands, does not bother him.
He believes the letter must have been significant for Chaplin to have kept it.
There are plans to turn the Chaplin family home in Montreux into a museum.