Friday, 12 March 2010

Petticoat Lane (On A Saturday Ain't So Nice)

On Saturday you might have been lucky to see one or two customers, but: "Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning is a picture of industry. All the shops, yesterday shut, open up like sesame ..." Well, that's the contention in Lionel Bart's 1962 musical Blitz! from which the number Petticoat Lane (On A Saturday Ain't So Nice) comes. Bart's start in showbiz came through Unity Theatre, and Unity's story is one of the great London tales. Its roots were in the 1930s Jewish east end with a backdrop of popular left working class politics, communism, and anti-fascism. It, however, was established in the St Pancras area of London, where among those who graduated through its ranks would be Bill Owen, Una Brandon-Jones (who was in Sparrows Can't Sing), Ted Willis, Alfie Bass, David Kossoff, Warren Mitchell, Herbert Lom. Among others who had links to Unity were Paul Robeson, J.B. Priestley, Alexander Baron, Patrick Hamilton and Johnny Speight. After the incredible success of Oliver on stage, Lionel Bart's next work was Blitz! Set in the east end of London during WW2 it follows the fortunes of families working on the stalls down Petticoat Lane. The original cast featured Bob Grant (Jack from On The Buses) and Grazina Frame. It was a success, with Shirley Bassey scoring a hit with Far Away, but it's not become part of the public's psyche in the way Oliver has. People love to point out Bart never matched the success of Oliver, but that's as irrelevant as saying Kevin Rowland never had another Come On Eileen. After some troubled times Lionel returned to our screens in 1990 for a fondly remembered Abbey National ad ... "There's an 'appy ending".

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