We are slowly getting on with the animation of our short film based on “the Music hall”. “Burlington Bertie” is one of two films, both of which feature a song by the first world war composer William Hargreaves in arrangements by David Watson of Kanon. Bertie is odd though because all the references in the song are to Queen Victoria and the “Prince of Wales,” Edward VII who had died by the time the song was even first performed by Hargreaves’ wife, Ella Shields in 1915. It was then later done by Julie Andrews in the film “Star”. When she comes off stage after singing the song for the first time as a pregnant understudy, one of the other actresses standing in the wings asks “how was that?” she says, “It was marvellous!” and that rather seals her fate- sacrificing a private life to the demands of her theatre-public (1968) The film, sadly- some of which was shot in the Hackney Empire where we are setting our own film- was not a great success but it has some great scenes in it! Well worth watching. The final number “Jenny” has an irritatingly repetitive lyric but Dame Julie is as game and joyous as ever. According to her memoirs (the very readable “Home”), she had been offered the part of “Lady in the Dark” early on in her own Broadway career but turned it down. I think she was worried about comparison to Gerty Lawrence, so it is ironic that she went on to do a bio-pic of her life.
Here is a colour snippet from our version of “Bertie”:
Now, this is the reason for the out-dated references: The “Bertie” song by Hargreaves is actually a pastiche of a much older song by Harry B Norris which was famously sung from 1900 onwards by Vesta Tilley, the darling of the lesbian set. The original song is fairly patriotic too with a great chorus that is well-worth repeating. Here is the end of the last verse and the end of the final chorus. Suddenly, reading this, you can see how the bunting would go flying and why Vesta Tilly earned such a reputation during the First World War!
Altho’ absent minded, he does not forget That Englishmen always must pay off a debt. He drops all his pleasures, the polo, the hunt And just like the rest, he is off to the front; Altho’ he’s a johnny, he’ll fight in the ruck, He’s wealthy and foolish, but if you want pluck – …
What price Burlington Bertie, the boy with the Hyde Park drawl, What price Burlington Bertie, the boy with the Bond Street crawl? He’ll fight and he’ll die like an Englishman. Forgive all his folly we can; Says old John Bull ‘I plainly see These Burlington boys are the boys for me!’
There are a few dodgy lyrics though here- I hate the laziness, for example, of “always must” * but the rest is priceless! (*The inversion is clumsy- It’s almost as lazy as the lyric: “I just called to say I loved you”- the word “just” has no purpose there at all. It is included for the scansion alone.) The Bertie here is a Gent down on his “uppers”. He’s not from Bow, he’s from South Ken!
The Hargreaves’ version plays around with patriotism, too, and we will certainly make use of this in our animation- but it focuses much more on the idea that his Bertie, in contrast, is a “down and out” pretending to be a toff. There is alot of pride in this “tramp” too: The same stock character/characters, in effect, turn up in “Easter Parade” with a song by Irving Berlin. Check out Judy Garland’s “Little Titch” shoes here…a tremendous tribute to the music hall/vaudeville!
And for the potency of the tramp character in music hall, look no further than Chaplin!
and frankly, it is the same idea that we find in “Hello Dolly” when Cornelius Hackl, Barnaby Tucker and co elect to walk to Harmonia Gardens “because it is more elegant”. There’s a charming version of this song here:
The Lady Diana at the end of the Hargreaves’ song would be Lady Diana Cooper, not of course Diana Spencer. Bertie comes from Bow which makes him a genuine Cockney. He is idle, drunk and smokes too much- he enjoys hobnobbing with the idle rich in the West End. This is a slightly different character to the one in the Norris song. In the original song “He rents a swell flat somewhere Kensington way” and has frittered away his inheritance on “Brandy and Soda”. But his biggest failing seems to be that he is always ready to help. When a girl wants a present she wonders “who can I touch” and along comes the rousing chorus,
What price Burlington Bertie, the boy with the Hyde Park drawl, What price Burlington Bertie, the boy with the Bond Street crawl? A nice little supper at the Savoy, Oh! What a duck of a boy, ‘So free’ says she, ‘with L.s.d., Burlington Bertie’s the boy for me.’
The LSD line gets a new meaning I suppose after the 60s.
Below is a recording of the Hargreaves song with some very elementary movements and then follows a line test of the coloured version at the top of this post. I am afraid there is a long way to go…. I will add some updates soon and some images of the backdrops which are also coming along nicely!
(I am not sure how Bertie’s pose is actually “ironical”- I suppose because he is picking up fag ends from the strand and strutting around wearing a monocle. Maybe there is more to it than that? I welcome any observations!)