Thursday, February 13, 2014

Knocked 'Em in the Old Kent Road

Former Hollywood child star Shirley Temple (1928-2014) died this week. Once upon a long time ago she sang a South London song in 'The Little Princess' (1939), loosely based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Fallen on hard times as a servant girl, she searches the Veterans Hospital for her missing father, entertaining the inmates along the way with a few verses of 'Knocked 'Em in the Old Kent Road'.

Others who have sung the same song have included Marlene Dietrich in the 1950s. In 1954, 'Dietrich swept on to the "Night of a Hundred Stars" at the London Palladium with Noel Coward. The glamorous pals faked a cakewalk to "Knocked 'Em in the Old Kent Road", a number neither of them really knew, but nobody minded, for they raised £10,000 for the Actors' Orphanage' (Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend by Steven Bach, 2011):

...Julie Andrews (in 1973)- this is awful -

... and best of all Fozzie Bear as a Pearly King in the Muppet Show (1978):

If all this is a terrible mockney/cockernee caricature, you could say the same about the original song. It was written in the 1890s by music hall star Albert Chevalier (1861-1923), with music by his brother Charles Ingle. Chevalier was born in Notting Hill to a French father and Welsh mother, hence his rather wonderful full name of Albert Onesime Britannicus Gwathveoyd Louis Chevalier.

Previously a professional actor, Chevalier specialised in writing 'coster songs' (costermongers were street sellers, especially of fruit and veg), using the costers' cockney slang. The full lyrics, with its tale of a Camberwell donkey being left in a will, are as follows:

Last week down our alley came a toff,
Nice old geezer with a nasty cough;
Sees my Missus, takes 'is topper off
In a very gentlemanly way;
"Ma'am," says he, "I have some news to tell,
Your rich uncle, Tom of Camberwell,
Popped off recent, which ain't a sell,
Leaving you 'is little donkey Shay."

"Wot cher!" all the neighbors cried,
"Who're yer goin' to meet, Bill?
have yer bought the street, Bill?"
Laugh? I thought I should 'ave died.
Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road!

Some says nasty things about the moke,
One cove thinks 'is leg is really broke;
That's 'is envy, 'cos' we're carriage folk,
Like the toffs as rides in Rotten Row;
Straight, it woke the alley up a bit,
Thought our lodger would 'ave 'ad a fit
When my missus, whose real wit,
Says, 'ates a 'bus because its low."

When we starts, the blessed donkey stops,
He won't move, so out I quickly 'ops,
Pals start whackin' him when down he drops,
Some one says he wasn't made to go.
Lor ", it might 'ave been a four-in- and,
My old Dutch Knows 'ow to the grand,
First she bows, and then she waves 'er 'and,
Calling out we're goin' for a blow!

Ev'ry evenin' on the stroke of five,
Me and missus takes a little drive;
You'd say, "Wonderful, they're still alive"
If you saw that little donkey go.
I soon showed him that 'e'd have to do
Just whatever he was wanted to,
Still I shan't forget that rowdy crew,
'Ollerin' Woa! steady! Neddy woa! -

Another Chevalier song, The Cockney Tragedian mentions The Cut at Waterloo, opening with the line 'I used to wheel a barrow for my father down the Cut, until I saw a drama at the Brit what turned my nut'.

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