Revue, a melting pot of performance and languages

John Mullen in his survey of British popular theatre during the war years, The Show Must Go On (2015), describes the impact that revue had on the entertainment-seeking classes:


‘The music hall had its rivals and some of them were becoming threatening: the war years saw the rapid rise to prominence of the revue. Several hundred revues were presented during the conflict; some of the biggest variety theatres abandoned traditional music hall to do only revue.’


Revue differed from music hall in that instead of a series of individual acts, such as Harry Lauder or Vesta Tilley, each vying for status and a higher billing, and thus the potential of profitably playing more than one theatre per night, revue told a usually loose and vague story, with the whole company involved, more or less prominently; the star and the chorus girl both contributed to the whole, rather to than their own presentation. Plot lines were often little more than the backdrop to audience-pulling song and dance numbers and highly costumed tableaux; the show and the hit number were interdependent. Such opportunism inevitably brought criticisms of decline: Mullen quotes MacQueen Pope in Twenty Shillings to the Pound saying ‘True music hall was dying, largely because its individualists had sunk their individuality, the very backbone and marrow of Variety, into team work called “revue”.’ Perhaps so, but perhaps this was a reflection of the times, as the overwhelmingly powerful experience of society became that of conscripted men becoming numbers, casualty lists, names on a memorial.


Revue did provide for its audiences ample opportunities for both the well-worn model song, the risqué song, and the topical song. These did have to undergo inspection by the Lord Chamberlain, effectively the censor of performance scripts, whose office, from the evidence of a few original manuscripts in the British Library, was occasionally rather naïve, and not ideally equipped for the international nature of the new model of performance. La Revue Tricolore, scheduled for performance at the London Pavilion from 14 June 1915, was imported from France, and based on the loose story of a French company having to go on tour following a fire at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Its front page carries, like many of the others, a stamp stating that it was typed by ‘Mrs. Marshall’s Type Writing Office, 126, Strand, W.C.’, but also a handwritten note from the French manager and producer Jean Fabert – ‘Apprové par la Censure française avec felicitations’ – which Ernest Bendall, acting as examiner for the Lord Chamberlain’s office read as ‘flirtations’. Bendall gave a generous assessment to the script and lyrics for La Petite Revuette, August 1915, describing as ‘innocent self-advertisement’ both the slight story revolving around two people’s desire to go to the theatre where the revuette is to be performed, and the lyrics of ‘Tipperary Turk’ aka Mike O’Burke, who is captured by ‘a hundred thousand Turks’ and held in a harem, or ‘Mam’selle Marie’, who, coming inevitably from ‘gay Paree’, brings with her a strong line in sexual innuendo.


La Revue Tricolore moves freely between French and English, and would have perplexed an audience not well-versed in both languages, while La Petite Cabaret, licensed on 24 May 1915 for performance in Wakefield and Scarborough, has little French beyond its title, the manuscript comprising mostly music hall style patter, but presumably appealed to the enthusiasm for the entente cordiale.


The Anglo-Belgian Revue, from May 1918, may have been written for a mixed audience of Anglophones and Belgian refugees. Its subtitle, I Am Sorry … Savez vous, indicates that the language here associated with Belgians is French, but there is the occasional ‘Bodferdek’ which indicates a familiarity with Flemish too. Theatre historians/etymologists would spot the appearance of the chorus/chairman character as two figures, the compere and the commere, male and female, ‘father’ and ‘mother’. Sadly, it is not possible to post images of the manuscript, hence the transcript, with its errors and lack of accents copied exactly as set down in Mrs Marshalls Type Writing Office. What is curious for this date is a song celebrating a phrasebook. The characters include a Costermonger, ‘the Lady Macbed’, a Food Controller and his Belgian assistant, while the story at this point is carried by Rosalie and le Poilu, who are exploring London:


La Commere:   Oh, excuse me I will show you … Have you just come on leave?

Le Poilu:          Je vous demande pardon, mais je ne comprends pas un mot d’Anglais  Si ce n’est Food Controller

Rosalie:              Oues, Oues, ca est le ministre de la boustiffaile

La Commere:     Oh.. I am sorry ….  You don’t speak English and I cannot speak French …. But only a little… une toute petit peu..

Le Poilu:           Un p’tit peu …  mais c’est mieux que rien … C’est par des ruisseaux que commencent les grandes rivieres…. Un jour, peut etre, vous parlerez tres bien…

La Commere:   (giving him a vocabulary)  No … Mais vo parlez.. English   Look here is a little book to learn English ….  It is quite easy.

Le Poilu:           (reading the first words.)    I love you….  Je vous aime

La Commere:   Très bien     mais vous parlez bien

Rosalie:              Oues, si tu commences par lui dire que tu l’aime Bodferdek …  qu’est ce que tu vas une fois lui dire quand tu seras sur la seconde page…?

La Commere:   Ça ete très facile …. Vô voyez ….  Are you alone in London?

Rosalie:               Elle demande si tu es seul sur Londres ?

Le Poilu:           Oui … pour le moment au moins!

La Commere:   Oh, ça ete shocking ….  You can’t be like that alone   Shall I show you the town?

Rosalie:               Elle demande si tu beux voir la ville … Ça est quelque-chose …. Bodferdek ….  Moi, je m’en vais, savez-vous …  si elle va te montrer comme ça sa ville ….. tu peux lui montrer ce que nous avons chez nous sur le derniere du palais de justice …  Tiens, voila une carte postale de  Bruxelles ….. je l’ai toujours sur moi, parceque quand les Anglais me  demande si je suis allée pour une fois sur St Pauls Cathedrale ou sur le Tour de Londres, ils dissent, “Mais vous n’avez rien vu de si beaux?” Alors je rèpond, “Rien vu de si beau”, mais Bodferdek, il n’y a rien de plus beau que ce que j’ai dans mon poche … et alors je leur montre les Marolles Manieken …. …  Oh, ils dissent “Shoking”’ mais ils aiment de regarder. Allons au revoir,  tu saies et amuse-toi bien pendant que tu es sur Londres.

Le Poilu:           (a la Commere) Je vous remercie beaucoup ….. Mais comment faire pour parler

La Commere:   parler …  O, … so easy ..

Air       La Baya           (duo)

Elle                  To speak English, it’s so easy

                        With that book, mon petit ami

                        I am sure you will certainly

                        Speak very well presently

Lui                   L’Anglais n’est certes pas difficile

                        Pour celui qui sait le parler

                        Moi j’ai la langue assez debile

                        J’pourrai bien essayer

Elle                  Yes, yes, yes, yes, vo d’vez essayer

                        Je vois que vous etiez malin.

Lui                   No, no, no, no vous, vous trouper

                        Je n’suis pas l’inventeur Turpin

Elle                  To gether we shall be very happy

                                    Mon Petit.


C’est charmant, epatant, et meme amusant

De se rencontrer subitement aussi

You and me, all ready, we may be happy


Donnez moi le bras et vous s’ez mon mari

Mrs M [sic]:     C’est vraiment    Extraordinaire …. Comme vous dites en Français … Puisque madame veut bien vous montrer Londres   Je vous souhaite bon voyage … et “happy holiday”

Coster:            Yus.  ‘appy ‘olidays indeed,  — and wot abart me   …. Still waitin’ for me bloomin’ tickets ?


It must have been a difficult session for Mr Bendall; what was going on behind the Palais de Justice in Brussels, or was it better not to know? What did the Lord Chamberlain’s office make of ‘Bodferdek’ and ‘ouès’, as far as we can tell being Parisian accent transcriptions for a Flemish term of annoyance and the standard French ‘oui’ respectively? Comments and corrections invited here. The revue was licensed for performance at the Margaret Morris Theatre in Chelsea, which is still there, on the corner of Flood Street and Kings Road.


Mixed-language revues and concert parties (influenced by pierrot shows and seaside entertainments, and a more genteel, temporary and light-hearted form of music hall) continued after the war; concert parties were more suited to the army situation and allowed the quick coming together of a bundle of talented and enthusiastic individuals.

Acorns prog 2















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