Alfred Vance

Alfred Peek Stevens (1839 – 26 December 1888), best known by his stage name of Alfred Vance, was a 19th-century English music hall singer. He was also known as The Great Vance, and Alfred Grenville.

Alfred Vance
Alfred Vance.jpg
Alfred Vance
Alfred Peek Stevens

Died(1888-12-26)December 26, 1888 (aged 48–49)
Sun Music Hall, Knightsbridge
Other namesThe Great Vance
Alfred Grenville
OccupationMusic hall vocalist

Early lifeEdit

Vance was born in London in 1839. He worked initially as a solicitor's clerk before appearing in music halls.


His first solo appearance was at the South London Palace in 1864. He had earlier performed in a blackface act with his brother in 1860. His act, initially as a Cockney singer, evolved into comedy.

Throughout the 1860s, Vance, along with contemporaries Arthur Lloyd and George Leybourne, was instrumental in developing a new style of music hall performer known as the lion comique or swells. In this style, performers relied less on copying burlesque, and instead sought inspiration in their everyday experiences and the colourful characters of daily street life. Audiences loved to join in the chorus and "give the bird".[1]

Vance was a great rival of George Leybourne, writer of "Champagne Charlie". Vance wrote and performed "Cliquot" in response, and eventually ended the feud with the song "Beautiful Beer".

His popular song "Walking in the Zoo" has been cited by Desmond Morris (in Gestures: Their Origin and Distribution) as the earliest known use in the UK of the term "O.K." in its current sense. (It was previously used in America as a political slogan for Martin Van Buren, who was nicknamed Old Kinderhook or O.K.) The chorus of Vance's song begins with the line "Walking in the zoo is the O.K. thing to do." It is also one of the first uses of the term "zoo" in place of the full name of "zoological garden".[2] The song refers specifically to the Zoological Gardens at Regent's Park, London. Another song of the 1860s was "The King of Trumps". The cover depicts a playing card for the King of Trumps in colour with parts of other cards in each corner, around a picture of Alfred Vance in a top hat.

Vance died on 26 December 1888 while performing on the stage of the Sun Music Hall, Knightsbridge. He is buried in Nunhead Cemetery, although his headstone no longer exists.


Critical receptionEdit

Vance toured Cornwall in 1880. Writing in The Cornishman newspaper (14 October 1880), a reporter described him as a broad, not to say vulgar singer who should not be allowed to dispense to the people such songs as the London Music Halls encourage; and suggested that,

The feelings of well-disposed and peaceful citizens are outraged by the so-called improvised songs or topical allusions of this very low comedian. Respectable people are held up to ridicule.

The writer, further suggested that if Vance, a broad and vulgar singer/comedian, should choose to tour Cornwall again, the citizens of Falmouth should follow the example of Redruth and Liskeard, and make his visit a far from pleasant one.[3]

In popular cultureEdit


  • Oxford Companion to Popular Music by Peter Grimmond - ISBN 0-19-280004-3
  1. ^ Banham, M., The Cambridge Guide to Theatre, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 768
  2. ^ [1], Webpage for WYNC's Radiolab podcast on Zoos.
  3. ^ "Scraps and Fancies". The Cornishman (118). 14 October 1880. p. 5.