'Thora the Ventriloquist' souvenir postcard
Late 19th century
Ventriloquism has existed since Roman times, but did not become a popular and common form of entertainment until much later. Le Sieur Themet, an 18th century French ventriloquist pretended to be trapped in a mill at night and imitated the sound of a hunt approaching and then fading into the distance - hounds, horses, horns and all. Early 19th century acts often involved the performer talking to people off stage, or to a group of life-sized dolls which appeared to speak and argue. In 1896 Fred Russell appeared at London's Palace Theatre with a cheeky cockney coster doll that sat on his knee. The single doll on the performer's knee is now the most familiar type of ventriloquist act. Thora was one of the very few female ventriloquists, working with a doll called Hugh Thorn.