Tuesday 9 April 2013

Centenary blog

This is my hundredth blog, prompting thoughts of the past.  I have no idea who wrote this heartless music hall song, or when, but it's long been a favourite of mine:

A mother was bathin' her baby one night
The youngest of ten, a poor little mite.
The mother was fat and the baby was fin,
T'was nawt but a skellington wrapped up in skin.

The mother turned round for the soap from the rack,
She weren't gone a minute, but when she got back
Her baby had gone, and in anguish she cried:
"Oh, where is my baby?", and the angels replied:

"Your baby has gorn dahn the plug'ole,
Your baby has gorn dahn the plug.
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
He shoulda been bathed in a jug.

Your baby is perfik'ly happy,
He won't need no bathin' no more.
He's workin' his way through the sewers
Not lost, just gone on before."

I couldn't find a recorded version so here's the next best thing: Albert Chevalier singing (rather mournfully) 'Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road'. Noël Coward painstakingly taught Marlene Dietrich this song, and she made a bizarre recording which can easily be found on the internet.


Chevalier (1861 - 1923) invented the 'coster' song, the most most popular of which was My Old Dutch (written by his brother Charles Ingle) about an old man's long and happy marriage ' We've bin togevvah nah fer fortee years...'.

Albert Chevalier

The title is Cockney rhyming slang: Duchess of Fife / wife. In real life Albert Chevalier's wife was Florrie, the daughter of music hall star George Leybourne, who was better known as 'Champagne Charlie.' Chevalier and Leybourne share a grave - and gravestone - in the wild and wonderful Abney Park Cemetery in North London. Walking around this huge site one summer's day I remember coming across their elaborate 19th century memorial and spending much of the afternoon alternatively humming and singing to myself, the style of a lion comique:

Champagne Charlie is my name
Champagne Charlie is my name
There's no drink as good as fizz, fizz, fizz
I'll drink every drop there is, is, is
All round town it is the same
By Pop! Pop! Pop! I rose to fame
I'm the idol of the barmaids
Champagne Charlie is my name.

Stanley Holloway played Leybourne in the very first Ealing Studios comedy in 1944:

This is the kind of film that regularly cropped up on television on Sunday afternoons when I was a child, and which is hardly seen at all anywhere now. This is a shame, as a continuity is lost and songs which were once part of everyone's cultural luggage have been forgotten within a generation. One also wonders what films grandparents and grandchildren today watch together with equal pleasure.

But back to music hall songs.  The choruses, at least, lodge stubbornly in the memory in a way that more recent popular music fails to do:

As I walk along the Bois de Bologne
With an independent air
You can hear the girls declare
"He must be a Millionaire."
You can hear them sigh and wish to die,
You can see them wink the other eye
At the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo.

If nothing else they provide one of the infinite number of keys to Finegans Wake, for which I suppose we must be grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Surely it's "Champagne Charlie is my name / Champagne drinking is my game".. at least if the film is anything to go by.