Charlie Chaplin, the enigmatic star of silent movies, is recognised worldwide and remains a household name to this day.
Who was Charlie Chaplin?
Most remember Chaplin for his iconic character The Little Tramp – a scruffy moustached figure who unwittingly falls into all manner of disastrous situations.
However, the real Charlie Chaplin was a cut a different figure entirely. From an early life on the streets of London plagued with hardship and poverty, Chaplin’s talents for entertainment and performance catapulted him to worldwide fame.
In later life, he received a knighthood and even dabbled in politics, but found himself increasingly surrounded by controversies both in his personal and professional life, even being banned from entering the USA due to his outspoken political views.
Discovering Charlie Chaplin’s Origins
However, throughout all this time, Chaplin’s origins remained somewhat mysterious. Whilst it’s true that he grew up poor in the late Victorian London, even entering the workhouse at a young age, his birth certificate has never been found.
In 1991, long after Charlie Chaplin’s death, his daughter, Victoria Chaplin, inherited her father’s old bureau after the death of her mother. Within it, in a locked drawer, lay the secret about Chaplin’s heritage that had remained hidden for most of his life.
After enlisting the help of a locksmith, Victoria was finally able to open the drawer and discover a letter addressed to her father from an elderly gentleman named Jack Hill, informing the then aged Chaplin that he was born on the Black Patch in Smethwick near Birmingham.
Born to a Romany Gypsy Queen
Jack Hill claimed Chaplin was born in a Gypsy caravan – and a good one, belonging to a Gypsy queen. He goes on to explain how Chaplin’s grandfather belonged to a circus which moved around, with Chaplin’s mother eventually settling in London.
So why did Chaplin keep this secret from his family in his last years?
Perhaps because he didn’t want to be attached to the stigma surrounding the Romany Gypsy community at the time, having faced such controversy in his earlier life as it was.
Regardless, his children have embraced the heritage. Chaplin’s son, Michael Chaplin, unveiled a memorial to the Romany Gypsy community at the Black Patch, in a high-profile acknowledgment of his ancestry and validation of the rumours.
Charlie Chaplin in the Peaky Blinders
More recently, Chaplin’s ancestry entered popular culture again, with a feature in the popular TV show, Peaky Blinders, with a mention from the protagonist Tommy Shelby about Chaplin’s Gypsy heritage and links to the Black Patch.
Tommy Shelby confirms rumours that Charlie Chaplin was born in the Black Patch, Birmingham. #PeakyBlinders pic.twitter.com/Rg0qayYiuM— BBC Two (@BBCTwo) October 30, 2014
According to a letter received by Charlie and uncovered by his daughter after his death, Chaplin was born in a Gypsy caravan to a renowned Gypsy Queen.
Series 2, epidsode 5.