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8.120715 - HOLLOWAY, Stanley: Old Sam and Young Albert (1930-1940)
Old Sam And Young Albert Original 1930-1940 Recordings
To his many fans in the United Kingdom, Stanley Holloway was the epitome of the garrulous British music hall comedian. Brash and hearty as English roast beef, Holloway enjoyed seven decades as an entertainer, which began before World War I and continued almost up until the day he died at the age of 91. By the end of his career, Holloway had conquered all facets of show business: the music hall, radio, motion pictures, phonograph records, and finally, America’s Broadway stage. Those who became familiar with him through his memorable portrayal of the carefree dustman Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady were probably unaware that Holloway’s career as an entertainer dated back to the turn of the century.
Stanley Holloway was born on 1 October 1890, the son of a London law clerk. His career in show business began at the age of ten when he began performing in seaside resorts and town halls as a boy soprano. In an interview he gave to The New Yorker, Holloway recalled, “I earned two pounds a week and felt extremely independent. Once I’d grown up and become a baritone, I started singing in what we call concert parties, which are rather like revues.” When he was twelve, his school closed down and young Stanley got a job working as an office boy at Billingsgate, the centuries-old London fish market.
Holloway fancied himself a budding opera star and saved up enough money to travel to Milan to study to be an opera singer. However, World War I broke out and Holloway spent four years in what he called the “P.B.I.” (Poor Bloody Infantry).
After the armistice, Holloway abandoned his operatic endeavours and returned to the stage, starring in and co-writing The Co-Optimists, a revue that ran for six years. When it ended, he went back to the music hall, performing rhyming monologues, and introduced a new piece of material he had written called Sam, Pick Oop Tha’ Musket, about a recalcitrant soldier who refuses to pick up his gun. Watching in the wings was George Marriott Edgar (1880-1951), a writer who had been in the cast of The Co-Optimists. After the curtain fell one night, Edgar asked Holloway if he had heard of a story about a couple who had taken their young son to the zoo, only to see the lad eaten by a lion. Holloway had indeed heard the story and in a short time, Evans had supplied Holloway with a script. The Lion and Albert became one of Holloway’s most popular monologues, one of many he recorded for Columbia beginning in 1930.
Holloway’s style is in the understated look-on-the-bright-side world of the cockney working class. In the ensuing years, Holloway created a stable of lovable characters, the most famous being Sam Small and the members of the cantankerous Ramsbottom family, including the mischievous Albert. Holloway’s characters are stubborn, obstinate, and hilariously clueless. He often told his stories in costume; sporting outrageous attire and bushy moustaches.
Also recorded at the same session as The Lion and Albert was the second monologue written by Edgar for Holloway, Three Ha’pence Per Foot, in which Edgar took the Biblical story of Noah and “translated it” into Lancashire dialect (a sequel, The ’Ole in the Ark, was recorded in 1937). This device was later used for other comic works, including Steve Allen’s series of “Bebop’s Fables,” in which familiar fairy tales were told in hipsters’ lingo, and Andy Griffith’s “Romeo & Juliet,” where the Shakespearean tragedy was told from the point of a view of a congenial country bumpkin.
Holloway and Edgar collaborated on many stories featuring young Albert Ramsbottom, but Holloway also procured additional songs and stories from other sources. One was the songwriting team of Bob Weston and Bert Lee, who would pitch new material to Holloway when they came up with something they thought would suit him. One of the first they wrote for him was With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm, a macabre but hilarious song dealing with the ghost of the decapitated former English queen, Anne Boleyn. In a 1971 interview, Holloway chuckled when recalling the stolid executives at the B.B.C. gasping when Holloway made reference in the song to “the bloody tower.” “You can’t say ‘bloody’ over the air!” they shrieked and recommended Holloway change the phrase to “the ruddy tower.” Holloway refused, explaining that the term was a noun and not an adjective and was perfectly acceptable. The B.B.C. recanted and allowed Holloway to perform the piece as written. Weston and Lee would provide Holloway with other numbers he incorporated into his act, including Beat the Retreat on Thy Drum and Brown Boots.
By the mid-1930s, Stanley Holloway’s recordings had made him one of the most popular comic entertainers in England. His film career, which had begun back in 1921, brought him further fame. He would make movies constantly, never missing more than two years without an appearance, until the mid-1970s. Highlights of his film career include the comedy classic, The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and acting alongside Laurence Olivier in Hamlet (1948), in which Holloway played the first gravedigger, a role Shakespeare is reputed to have played. Holloway also appeared in Brief Encounter (1945), Nicholas Nickleby (1946), and Jumping for Joy (1956).
Holloway became familiar to American audiences when his films began to be shown on television in the 1950s. In 1956, at the age of 65, he created the plum role of his career: cast as the amoral yet amiable dustman Alfred P. Doolittle in Lerner and Loewe’s fantastically successful Broadway musical, My Fair Lady. Ironically, Holloway was no stranger to the two leading players in the show. In 1941, while working on the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara, he met Rex Harrison, who would go on to play the priggish Professor Henry Higgins. And after World War II, while performing on radio, he worked with a young child singer named Julie Andrews, who would become the linguistic changeling (and his stage daughter) Eliza Doolittle.
The role of Doolittle would become, in Holloway’s words, “the wonderful Indian summer” of his long career. In 1964, he repeated the role in the popular film version of My Fair Lady (after James Cagney had turned it down). He also starred as the namesake of a short-lived American situation comedy, Our Man Higgins, which had the misfortune of being scheduled against the hit comedy The Beverly Hillbillies and was quickly cancelled.
One music hall song that Holloway had performed was Harry Champion’s “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am,” whose refrain was turned into a pop hit by the British Invasion group Herman’s Hermits. This prompted Holloway’s starring role in the film Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (1968), which was based on another Hermits hit.
After My Fair Lady, Holloway continued performing on the British stage, making guest appearances on American television, recording new versions of classic songs from the golden age of the music hall for Columbia and Vanguard, and, in 1981, writing his autobiography, Wiv a Little Bit of Luck, named for one of the two songs he sang in My Fair Lady. In his later years, Holloway became a national institution, performing into his 90s. One of his last appearances was at a Royal Command Performance in 1980. Ten days after entering a nursing home in Sussex, on 30January 1982, Stanley Holloway passed away peacefully at the age of 91.
This collection features fifteen of Stanley Holloway’s most popular monologues and songs, which were recorded in England between 1930 and 1940. In these classic selections, you will be introduced to or reacquainted with Old Sam, Albert Ramsbottom, and other delightful blighters of Holloway’s world. So get yer top ’at on and enjoy the ride, me ol’ chinas!
– Cary Ginell (folklorist, radio broadcaster and award-winning author of four books on American music. He lives in Thousand Oaks, California)
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