Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Hole in the Elephant's Bottom

As America had its vaudeville, so England had its music halls.

From Wikipedia:

Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment popular between 1850 and 1960. It involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, specialty acts and variety entertainment. The term is derived from a type of theatre or venue in which such entertainment took place. British music hall was similar to American vaudeville, featuring rousing songs and comic acts, while in the United Kingdom the term "vaudeville"' referred to more working-class types of entertainment that would have been termed "burlesque" in America. 
Originating in saloon bars within public houses during the 1830s, music hall entertainment became increasingly popular with audiences, so much so, that during the 1850s, the public houses were demolished and music hall theatres developed in their place. These theatres were designed chiefly so people could consume food and alcohol and smoke tobacco in the auditorium while the entertainment took place. This differed somewhat from the conventional type of theatre, which until then seated the audience in stalls with a separate bar-room. Early music halls included the Canterbury Music Hall on Lambeth and The Middlesex, in Drury Lane, otherwise known as the Old Mo. 
By the mid-nineteenth century, the halls created a demand for new and catchy popular songs. As a result, professional songwriters were enlisted to provide the music for a plethora of star performers including, more notably Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno, Little Tich and George Leybourne. Music hall did not adopt its own unique style. Instead all forms of entertainment were performed: male and female impersonators, lions, comiques, mime artists and impressionists, trampoline acts, and comic pianists such as John Orlando Parry and George Grossmith were just a few of the many types of entertainments the audiences could expect to find over the next forty years. 
Music hall in London was the scene of important industrial conflict in 1907 with a dispute between artists and stage hands on the one hand and theatre managers on the other, which ended in a strike. The halls had recovered by the start of the First World War and were used to stage charity events in aid of the war effort. Music hall entertainment continued after the war, but became less popular due to upcoming Jazz, Swing, and Big Band dance music acts. Licensing restrictions had also changed, and drinking was banned from the auditorium. A new type of music hall entertainment had arrived, in the form of variety, and many music hall performers failed to make the transition. Deemed old fashioned and with the closure of many halls, music hall entertainment ceased and the modern day variety began.

The Oxford Music Hall, c 1875

Music hall songs were often contemporary, humorous, catchy and sometimes a little naughty. Frequently the performer sang the verses with the audiences joining in on the repeated choruses. Music hall songs could be romantic, patriotic, humorous or sentimental, as the need arose. Songs such as Where Did You Get That Hat, I’m Henery the Eight I am, Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay, It's a Long Way to Tipperary, I Belong to Glagow and Has Anyone Here Seen elly all began life as music hall songs.

One popular music hall song was The Hole in the Elephant's Bottom

No less a personage than Jeremy Irons can be found on YouTube singing some verses of the song:

The same Jeremy Irons audio but with Scar from The Lion King singing those same verses is well done and worth a look:

There are a number of versions of the lyrics, verses having been added and deleted at various times. 

The original lyrics, believed to be from the days of World War 1, predate political correctness, hence the use of words and viewpoints that would be considered unacceptable today. I have retained them to show the progression to the present day.

Here is a common set of lyrics:

My ambition's to go on the stage
And now you can see that I've got on.
In the pantomime I am engaged
To play the elephant's bottom.

Now the girls all think that I'm it
When they sit in the stalls I can spot 'em
And I wink at the ones in the pit
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

Now this part doesn't have any words
There is nothing that can be forgotten
I spend all my time pushing property turds
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

One day we played in a farce
And they stitched up the backside with cotton
It split and showed all of me bum
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

One day two queers came in
On the stage before anyone could stop 'em
But they gave me a lovely bouquet
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

The manager said 'That's all wrong!'
As they sit in the stage you could spot 'em
So I use a telescope now
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

My landlady packs up my meals
One day I went out and forgot 'em
So now every day she feeds me with buns
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

There are pockets inside of the cloth
For some bottles of beer if you've got 'em
But they hiss and they boo if I blow out the froth
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

Now the fellow who plays the front part
As an actor he is simply rotten
Through bad beer he does nothing but fart
While I play the elephant's bottom.

Some people may think this song good
Others may think that it's rotten
Those who don't like it can just push their nose
Up the hole of an elephant's bottom.

Here is another set of lyrics, incorporating images and terms from World War 1 (the Oerlike gun reference, as an example, is to a large, WW1 gun):

My ambition's to go on the stage; 
From this you can se that I've got 'em. 
In pantomime I'm all the rage, 
I'm the hole in the elephant's bottom. 

His balls they hang so low 
I think I could knot 'em, 
As I wink at the girls in the pit 
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom. 

The man who plays the front part 
Is absolutely rotten, 
All he can do is to fart 
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom. 

Oh! the girls think that I'm it, 
As they sit in the stalls I can spot 'em, 
And I wink at the girls in the pit 
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom. 

A young lady stood at the stage door. 
She said you're a film star I can spot em. 
You're Douglas Fairbanks, I said me Mam no thanks 
I'm the hole in the elephants bottom. 

One night we performed in a farce 
And they stuffed up the bottom with cotton, 
But it split and I showed my bare arse 
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom. 

There are pockets inside in the cloth 
For two bottles of Bass, if you got 'em. 
But they hiss and they boo when I blow out the froth 
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom. 

Now my part hasn't got any words 
But there's nothing that can't be forgotten, 
I spend all my time pushing property turds 
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom. 

‘Twas awfully dark one night after the show
As we went to our digs at West Tottham,
So to light up the night I shone a red light,
Through the hole in the elephant’s bottom.

Some may think that this story is good 
And some may believe that it's rotten, 
But those that don't like it can stuff it right up 
The hole in the elephant's bottom. 

Should the Japanese make an attack, 
Then hundreds of bombs they will drop 'em, 
But we'll keep 'em at bay with an Oerliken gun 
Through the hole in the elephant's bottom.

A different version sans musical accompaniment with even more different lyrics:

A traditional arrangement of the song:


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  1. The last lyrics date to WW2 not WW1,the Oerlikon was a Swedish anti-aircraft gun fitted to many ships.

  2. Nope! Oerlicon was - and is - a swiss company 😊

  3. Oerlikon gun: German design, first manufactured in Switzerland. Later made in Sweden and elsewhere under licence.

    More to the point - The reference to the Japanese is certainly a WW 2 reference. In WW 1 Japan was not at war with the British whose song this is.

    Incidentally, the first written version I came across of this (in the 60s) went:
    When the Japanese come the bombs will fall thick from the sky [1. possible insert] when they drop 'em.
    And I'll shoot at the ****s with my Oerlikon gun, throught the hole in the Elephant's bottom.

    [1. And they'll fall ****ing fast]


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