Sunday, 28 March 2010

Burlington Bertie from Bow

"I dress up in fashion. And when I am feeling depressed I shave from my cuff all the whiskers and fluff, stick my hat on and toddle up West. I'm Burlington Bertie. I rise at ten thirty. Then saunter along like a toff. I walk down The Strand with my gloves on my hand. Then I walk down again with them off. I'm all airs and graces, correct easy paces. Without food so long I've forgot where my face is. I'm Bert, Bert, I haven't a shirt ..." Of course there's nothing new under the sun. And long before grime, when the music hall was all the rage, London locations were frequently used in songs. As in I'm so-and-so from wherever. Ella Shields singing Burlington Bertie from Bow is a perfect example. The number was written by her husband William Hargreaves in 1915, and is a bit of a send-up of an earlier Bertie number. In Ella's star turn Bertie has fallen on hard times and is scraping by in Bow. But he's determined to keep up appearances. Down but not out, you might say. Ella was one of the most celebrated male impersonators of the music hall era, and in many ways the fact she was American just adds another lovely twist to the ironies inherent in her performances. Colin MacInnes writes in praise of her in Sweet Saturday Night, mentioning in passing that "she was a bit of an intellectual, and liked analysing her art". There is a lovely clip of her, late on in her career, performing the song Aveline. There is even surviving film of her doing a turn as Burlington Bertie from Bow ...


  1. I have performed this song many times, over the years and I have never tired of it. The audiences just love the old music hall numbers. Long may they survive.

  2. That's the way it used to in the old days, sad that they are now gone.