London: A set of letters discovered recently has suggested that Charlie Chaplin may have been born into a gypsy community in the West Midlands.
The letter, written to Chaplin in the Seventies, claims he was born on the ‘Black Patch’ near Birmingham rather than in London as he had publicly claimed.
Up until now, the true birthplace of Chaplin has remained a mystery.
The faded document was sent by Jack Hill, who lived in Tamworth, Staffordshire, and was only discovered in 1991 after the star’s daughter inherited the desk it was concealed in.
In the letter, Hill told Chaplin that he had been born in a caravan, in a gypsy community in Smethwick, West Midlands, which was ruled by a gypsy queen.
Chaplin’s birth certificate has never been located and in the 1880s, the Black Patch was a thriving Romany community on the industrial edge of Birmingham, so it’s a possibility that he was a gypsy.
“It must have been significant to him or why would he have kept it?” his eldest son Michael speaks of the letter.
Researcher Edward Ellis, from Manchester, is attempting to track down the history of Hill to determine whether or not his claims have any basis.
“It’s a real mystery - he was investigated by MI5 and the CIA in the Fifties and they could not crack the nut,” the Daily Mail quoted him as saying.
“Because he didn’t have a birth certificate even Chaplin didn’t know where he was born,” he said.
The film pioneer’s son, Michael, first revealed the existence of the letter in a BBC radio documentary broadcast last year.
Lying locked in a writing desk for decades in Chaplin’s bedroom, it was discovered after the star’s daughter, Victoria, hired a locksmith to prise the drawer open.
Ellis, who has family connections to the Romany culture, suggested that Chaplin may have decided to lock the letter away, not wanting the world to know of his gypsy blood.
There are also letters that evoke his bitter estrangement from America in the 1950s. There are reel-to-reel recordings of him improvising at the piano.
A cache of press cuttings details the British Army’s banning of the Chaplin moustache from the trenches of the First World War.
Other clippings indicate that, in the early 1930s, he considered returning to his homeland and entering politics.