Dover at war
Dover Index

Billy Beer, Pianist and Entertainer


Billy Beer was my grandfather's cousin.

William John Thomas Beer was born in Dover on 28th April 1892, the son of Edward James Beer and Ann (nee Nutting). His father was a hatter and hosier with a shop in Biggin Street and a house in Park Street.  His mother was apparently also a hatter.

Billy Beer(e), as he was known professionally, was a pianist and entertainer. Various family stories say that he could play five instruments at once and that he could play the piano with his feet.

During the First World War, he became a Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers, stationed for some time in Dover, where he appears to have given a number of concerts for the troops and locals.  The first mention we have found in the local papers is on April 30th, 1915, when he was reported as having taken part in a concert to the inmates of the Union Workhouse.

  He married Rose Herring in 1916.

Dover Express, May 5th 1916 (page 5)


Lance-Corporal Beer, the well known Dover vocalist, made a very successful debut at the King’s Hall with two well sung songs at the piano, his excellent voice and good playing being both enjoyed.”

Dover Express, January 5th 1917

Town Port and Garrison

At the Women’s Theatre Company’s entertainment at the Town Hall last Saturday night a change from the general arrangement of things was made in having an artiste in khaki, lance corporal W.J. Beer, of Dover, appearing as an entertainer at the piano.  He was a decided success, two encores in the first half of the programme, three in the second, being undoubted proof of this.

After the war, Billy went on to appear on the radio.  The BBC does not have a record of what was actually broadcast on 14th November, 1922, when 2LO began its broadcasts, other than it included news and weather, but there is a record for the 16th November and amongst the entries for between 7 & 8pm is one for Billy Beer (listed as a 'humorist') with two items titled ‘I knew there was a catch in it’ and ‘The Parish Magazine’.

There are also records in the "Radio Times" of three further broadcasts by Billy Beer.  His second broadcast was on the 20th December, 1922, in which he performed the same two pieces as in his first broadcast, plus an item called ‘The Syncopated Village Blacksmith’.  His next broadcast, from Daventry rather than London, was the 30th November, 1925, in which he is listed as ‘William Beer, Entertainer at the Piano’.  The other broadcast, from London again, was on the 18th August, 1926.  He is again listed as an ‘Entertainer at the Piano’.

He apparently wrote most of his own material; I have not been able to track down any copies of his songs.

Dover Express, August 3rd 1923

Town Port and Garrison

An old Dovorian, known to most people as Lance-Corpl. Beer, R.E., who during the war “did” over 600 concerts in aid of charities in Dover and whose clever work at the piano helped to cheer many an evening, is now a member of H.G.Pallisier’s Company “The Follies.”  He will be at Folkestone at the concert at the Theatre on Sunday next.  He showed exceptional talent at Dover and since the war has done very well in the concert world.

The Folkestone newspaper reported that he appeared at the Pleasure Gardens Theatre on Sunday 5th August "with conspicuous success.

Between the wars he used to entertain the children on the beach at Herne Bay during the summer months.  After his death his son continued to perform traditional Punch and Judy and magic shows using Billy’s dolls, which are still in the family.

Billy died in Willesden, North London, on 24th October 1936.  He described himself in his will as “William John Thomas Beer (Concert Artiste known professionally as Billy Beer)”.  In it, he left everything to his wife to dispose of as she wished.  He is buried in an un-marked grave in Willesden Cemetery.

His daughter, Vera, was also musically talented, playing the hand-bells, which skill she demonstrated on the radio in a Children's Hour talent show with "Uncle Mac" in April 1936, at the age of 14.