British Music Hall Comedy Songs

Updated on February 8, 2017

The late Victorian and Edwardian periods were the heyday of British music hall entertainment. Audiences enjoyed jugglers, magicians, acrobats, and songstresses with romantic ballads. However, among the most popular acts were the comic songs.

The Oxford Music Hall in 1875 where the audience could get well lubricated, the better to enjoy comic songs.
The Oxford Music Hall in 1875 where the audience could get well lubricated, the better to enjoy comic songs. | Source

The Simple Pimple

George Robey was one of the biggest stars of the music hall. He was known as the Prime Minister of Mirth and had a career on the stage that lasted six decades.

His pantomime dame was a crowd pleaser and he even ventured into Shakespeare, playing Falstaff in Henry 1V Part 1.

In the music hall he wore a black frock coat, squashed bowler hat, and gave himself a red nose, as he stepped onto the stage to sing The Simple Pimple. Written in 1891 by E.W. Rogers, the song became one of Robey’s signature pieces. It told the story of Maria Brown, and the sheet music for it proclaimed it was “Sung with the greatest possible success by George Robey.” The opening verse describes the poor woman’s misfortune:

“I courted once a pretty girl dressed in the smartest clothes
She’d only one defect which was a pimple on her nose
I thought I was her first love, but my pals said, ‘Well, what cheek,
Old man, that girl of yours went out with three of us last week.’ ”

Harmless stuff by today’s standards, but a century or so ago it had them, as the saying goes, “rolling in the aisles.”

George Robey. Later, he squashed down the bowler for greater comic effect. He was knighted a few months before his death in 1954 at 85.
George Robey. Later, he squashed down the bowler for greater comic effect. He was knighted a few months before his death in 1954 at 85. | Source

I’m One of the Ruins Cromwell Knocked about a Bit

Marie Lloyd was known as the Queen of the Music Hall and enjoyed a career that lasted four decades, with top billing for most of those years. Her songs were full of saucy double meanings as in What Did She Know About the Railways? that contains the line “She’d never had her ticket punched before.” Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

Then, there is the chorus of A Little of What you Fancy Does you Good:

“I always hold in having it if you fancy it
If you fancy it, that's understood
And suppose it makes you fat?
I don’t worry over that
A little of what you fancy does you good.”

Such lewd lyrics caused her to be hauled before a committee charged with cleaning up the stage. The committee banned her from the royal command performance of 1912 for fear she might offend the aristocracy.

One of her most famous songs was I’m One of the Ruins Cromwell Knocked about a Bit.

She performed the tune while staggering about the stage as a drunk. The innuendo in it, for once, is not sexual, but rather a pun on the name of a pub called the Oliver Cromwell. In a bitter irony, it was Marie’s fondness for the demon drink that did her in at the age of 52 in 1922. The last performance she gave was of I’m One of the Ruins Cromwell Knocked about a Bit.

Marie Lloyd in the 1890s.
Marie Lloyd in the 1890s. | Source

When the Gorgonzola Cheese Went Wrong

Now, there’s a title for a song. You know you’re not going to get a crooner banging on about the “moon in June and you my love.” You are forewarned that a comic song is on its way and it’s likely Harry Champion, the composer, who’s going to deliver it.

Born in 1865, Champion was a Cockney comedian, singer, and composer. He was immensely popular in the music halls and many of the tunes he sang have come down to us today: Boiled Beef and Carrots, and Any Old Iron are examples. Part of Champion’s shtick was that he delivered his songs at a fast tempo.

When the Gorgonzola Cheese Went Wrong (also known as Oh! That Gorgonzola Cheese) tells the story of a birthday celebration that was a bit of a disaster. The cheese had been bought at a bargain price and placed

“… safely in a drawer
A month went by or perhaps a little more.”

At the birthday party the cheese was brought out of hiding and that’s when we get to the chorus:

“Oh, that Gorgonzola cheese
It wasn’t over healthy I suppose
For the old tomcat fell a corpse upon the mat
When the ‘Niff’ got up its nose
Talk about the flavour of the ‘crackling on the pork’
Nothing could have been so strong
As the beautiful effluvia that filled our house
When the Gorgonzola cheese went wrong.”

One of the celebrants left, came back with a gun, and shot the cheese. This only made the pong worse.

Harry Champion.
Harry Champion. | Source

The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life

In 1911, Billy Merson wrote these immortal lines:

“List to me while I tell you
Of the Spaniard that blighted my life;
List to me while I tell you
Of the man who pinched my future wife.”

Merson swears to have his revenge on “Alphonso Spagoni, the Toreador.” When he catches up with the philandering bullfighter it’s going to be nasty, for “I’ll raise a bunion on his Spanish onion …”

The song was taken up by Al Jolson and used in his show The Honeymoon Express. His recording in 1913 sold more than a million copies, but it seems Jolson neglected the small detail of securing permission from Merson. The songwriter sued and the tune was removed from the Jolson movie The Singing Fool.

Bonus Factoids

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum there were 375 music halls in Greater London alone in 1875.

The opening of picture palaces showing movies was the beginning of the end for music halls. Radio and cheap phonograph recordings helped close them down. There was a brief resurgence in the 1930s when stars such as George Formby got their start.

Harry Champion had a huge success posthumously. In 1965, the group Herman’s Hermits made a cover of Champion’s song I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am. It shot to the top of the charts, becoming the fastest selling single at that time.


Sources

  • “The Story of the Music Hall.” Victoria and Albert Museum, undated.
  • “The Simple Pimple.” E.W. Rogers, monologues.co.uk, 1891.
  • “The Songs of Harry Champion.” Mudcat.org, undated.
  • “Marie Lloyd.” Victoria and Albert Museum, undated.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://spinditty.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)