Express & Star

Charlie Chaplin was 'born into Midland gipsy family'

Charlie Chaplin may have been born into a gipsy family in the Black Country, it has emerged.

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin may have been born into a gipsy family in the Black Country, it has emerged.

A letter written to the 20th century comic genius claims he was born on the "Black Patch" in Smethwick, rather than in London.

Jack Hill wrote from Tamworth in the 1970s to inform Chaplin he entered the world in a caravan that belonged to the "Gypsy Queen".

It says 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 but 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.

The letter was found in the locked drawer of a bureau which was inherited by Chaplin's daughter, Victoria, after Charlie's widow Oona died in 1991.

It 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 gipsy born in Smethwick does not bother him.

He said 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.

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