PE0208. THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (Nat D. Ayer; George Grossmith & Edward Laurillard), w.John Ansell Cond. Alhambra Theatre Ensemble; Violet Loraine, George Robey, Mark Lester, Odette Myrtil, Jack Morrison & Nat D. Ayer, etc. (England) Palaeophonics 107, recorded 1916 (with three additional songs sung by the composer, Nat D. Ayer), w.Elaborate ‘The Play’ 20pp. Brochure replete w.photos from the London production.
“THE BING BOYS ARE HERE, styled ‘A Picture of London Life, in a Prologue and Six Panels’, is the first of a series of revues which played at the Alhambra Theatre, London during the last two years of World War I. The series included THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY and THE BING GIRLS ARE THERE. The music for them was written by Nat D. Ayer with lyrics by Clifford Grey, who also contributed to YES, UNCLE!, and the text was by George Grossmith, Jr. and Fred Thompson based on Rip and Bousquet's LE FILS TOUFFE. Other material was contributed by Eustace Ponsonby, Philip Braham and Ivor Novello.
The revue first opened on 19 April, 1916 starring George Robey and Violet Lorraine, famous for their introduction of the song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)’, and Alfred Lester (1894–1925). It was replaced, after 378 performances, on 24 February, 1917 by THE BING GIRLS ARE THERE, with a different cast. It changed once again on 16 February, 1918 to THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY, with Robey returning to the cast. The total number of performances for all three reviews was well over 1,000, lasting beyond the Armistice in November 1918. Recordings were made for the Columbia label in London by members of the original cast (Columbia L-1035). Odette Myrtil, playing her violin, also recorded ‘The Languid Melody’ (Columbia L-1051).
THE BING BOYS ARE HERE was one of the three most important musical hits of the London stage during World War I (the other two being THE MAID OF THE MOUNTAINS and CHU CHIN CHOW); music or scenes from all of these have been included as background in many films set in this period, and they remain intensely evocative of the ‘Great War’ years. Other hit shows of the period were THEODORE & CO (1916), THE BOY (1917), and YES, UNCLE! (1917). Audiences, which included soldiers on leave, wanted light and uplifting entertainment during the war, and these shows delivered it.
THE BING BOYS ARE HERE, was a 1916 Alhambra musical by George Grossmith and Fred Thompson. The words were by Clifford Grey (1887-1941) — who made his West End name with the lyrics for this musical, and went on to a string of successes including THE LAMBETH WALK. The music (Tempo di Marcia) was by Nat Ayer. The soloist was Violet Loraine — who in the same show, with George Robey, sang the much better known song, ’If you were the only girl in the world’.
A composer, pianist, and performer, before moving to England where his career really took off, Ayer wrote one enduring standard, ‘Oh, You Beautiful Doll’ (1911), with A. Seymour Brown, and collaborated with Brown on several other numbers such as ‘Moving Day In Jungle Town’ (1909) (apparently a reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting trip to Africa) and ‘If You Talk In Your Sleep, Don’t Mention My Name’ (1911). He also contributed to Broadway musical comedies and revues such as MISS INNOCENCE (1908), THE NEWLYWEDS AND THEIR BABY (1909), THE ECHO (1910), A WINSOME WIDOW and THE WALL STREET GIRL (1912). Ayer’s first trip to England was as a member of the Ragtime Octet, at a time when American jazzy and ragtime music - particularly that of Irving Berlin - was beginning to sweep Europe. In 1916 Ayer teamed with lyricist Clifford Grey to write the score for one of the West End’s biggest World War I hits, the revue THE BING BOYS ARE HERE, which starred George Robey and Violet Loraine, and contained the immortal ‘If You Were The Only Girl In The World’, along with ‘Another Little Drink Wouldn’t Do Us Any Harm’ and ‘The Kipling Walk’, among others. Ayer and Grey followed that with the music and lyrics for THE BING BOYS ARE THERE (1917, ‘Let The Great Big World Keep Turning’) and THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY (1918), with its tender ballad, ‘First Love, Last Love, Best Love’, which was introduced by Robey and Clara Evelyn. As well as composing the music - and sometimes the lyrics - Ayer often appeared on stage himself, notably with Alice Delysia in the revue PELL-MELL (1916, Clifford Grey, Hugh E. Wright) and with Binnie Hale and Gertie Millar in the musical comedy HOUP-LA! (1916, Howard Talbot, Hugh E. Wright, Percy Greenbank). Among the many other London shows to which he contributed were HULLO, RAGTIME (1912, ‘You’re My Baby’ with A. Seymour Brown), 5064 GERARD (1915, ‘At The Foxtrot Ball’ Dave Comer, Irving Berlin, Henry Marshall, Stanley Murphy, et al.), YES, UNCLE! (1917, Grey), BABY BUNTING (1919, Grey), SNAP (1922, Kenneth Duffield, Herman Hupfeld), ‘Shufflin’ Along’ (with Ralph Stanley), THE SMITH FAMILY (1922) and STOP-GO! (1935, Edgar Blatt).”
“Violet Loraine went on the stage as a chorus girl at the age of sixteen. Her rise to fame came in April 1916 at the Alhambra Theatre in the musical/revue THE BING BOYS ARE HERE. She was given the leading female part, Emma, opposite George Robey playing Lucius Bing. It became one of the most popular musicals of the World War I era. Her duet with Robey ‘If You Were the Only Girl (in the World)’ became a ‘signature song’ of the era and endured as a pop standard.
Sir George Robey, CBE, was an English comedian, singer and actor in musical theatre, known as one of the greatest music hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a comedian, Robey mixed everyday situations and observations with comic absurdity. Apart from his music hall acts, he was a popular Christmas pantomime performer in the English provinces, where he excelled in the dame roles. He scored notable successes in musical revues during and after the First World War, particularly with the song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’, which he performed with Violet Loraine in the revue THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916). One of his best-known original characters in his six-decade long career was the Prime Minister of Mirth. During the First World War, he achieved great success in THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916) and several other revues. He raised money for many war charities and was appointed a CBE in 1919. From 1918, he created sketches based on his PRIME MINISTER OF MIRTH character and used a costume he had designed in the 1890s as a basis for the character's attire. He made a successful transition from music hall to variety shows and starred in the revue ROUND IN FIFTY in 1922, which earned him still wider notice.
By the First World War, music hall entertainment had fallen out of favour with audiences. Theatrical historians blame the music hall's decline on the increasing salaries of performers and the halls' inability to present profitably the twenty or thirty acts that the audiences expected to see. Revue appealed to wartime audiences, and Robey decided to capitalise on the medium's popularity. Stoll offered Robey a lucrative contract in 1916 to appear in the new revue THE BING BOYS ARE HERE at the Alhambra Theatre, London. Dividing his time between three or four music halls a night had become unappealing to the comedian, and he relished the opportunity to appear in a single theatre. He was cast as Lucius Bing opposite Violet Loraine, who played his love interest Emma, and the couple duetted in the show's signature song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’, which became an international success.
Robey left the cast of THE BING BOYS during its run, in January 1917, to star at the London Hippodrome in Albert de Courville, Dave Stamper and Gene Buck's lavishly-staged revue ZIG-ZAG!. ZIG-ZAG ran for 648 performances. Stoll again secured Robey for the Alhambra in 1918 for a sequel, THE BING BOYS ON BROADWAY. The show, again co-starring Violet Loraine, matched the popularity of its predecessor and beat the original show's run with a total of 562 performances.
Robey returned to the London Hippodrome in 1919 where he took a leading role in another hit revue, JOY BELLS. Phyllis Bedells took over from Pollard as his stage partner, with Anita Elson and Leon Errol as supporting dancers. Robey played the role of an old-fashioned father who is mystified over the changing traditions after the First World War. He interpolated two music hall sketches: ‘No, No, No’ centred on turning innocent, everyday sayings into suggestive and provocative maxims, and ‘The Rest Cure’ told the story of a pre-op hospital patient who hears worrying stories of malpractice from his well-meaning friends who visit him. In the Italian newspaper La Tribuna, the writer Emilio Cecchi commented: ‘Robey, just by being Robey, makes us laugh until we weep.… Robey's aspect in dealing with his audience is paternal and, one might say, apostolic.’ JOY BELLS ran for 723 performances.
During the run of JOY BELLS he was awarded the Legion of Honour for raising £14,000 for the French Red Cross. He declined a knighthood that same year because, according to Cotes, he was worried that the title would distance him from his working-class audiences; he was appointed a CBE by George V at Buckingham Palace instead."
-Zillah Dorset Akron
“Alfred Leslie Lester was an English actor and comedian. Born into a theatrical family, he learnt his craft touring in melodramas, as a young man, but made his reputation as a comedian in musical comedy, music hall and, later, revue. Lester's gloomy stage persona was seen to its quintessential comic effect in the long-running musical THE ARCADIANS (1909) in which he delivered optimistic lyrics in a lugubrious manner. Among his other hit shows were THE NEW ALADDIN (1906), HAVANA (1908) and THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916). His co-stars included George Grossmith Jr., Phyllis Dare, George Robey and Violet Lorraine.
In 1905 Lester was engaged to play in a musical comedy, THE OFFICERS' MESS – OR HOW THEY GOT OUT OF IT at Terry's Theatre, London, where he was spotted by Alfred Butt, who ran variety shows at the Palace Theatre. Lester made an immediate impression with his monologue ‘The Sceneshifter’, in which a gloomy stagehand gives his ideas for the improvement and brightening of HAMLET. He was booked for further monologues and sketches by Butt, and in 1906 he appeared at the Gaiety Theatre in London as the Lost Constable in George Grossmith Jr.'s musical THE NEW ALADDIN, in which the reviewer in THE TIMES judged his performance the funniest thing in the show. At the same theatre he played Nix, the bo'sun, in another musical HAVANA in 1908; again, his performance received critical praise as the best thing in the piece.
THE ARCADIANS in 1909 confirmed Lester's reputation as a leading West End performer. In a cast that included Phyllis Dare, Dan Rolyat and Florence Smithson, he was singled out by THE TIMES, which found him ‘more hilariously melancholy than ever: the audience rocked to hear him sing that his motto was 'always merry and bright.' In 1912 he played Vodka in THE GRASS WIDOWS, and the following year was Byles in THE PEARL GIRL. Between runs in musical comedy he returned to his music hall monologues. WHO'S WHO IN THE THEATRE noted that Lester had ‘the unique distinction of being the only person who has been selected to appear at both the Royal Command Theatrical and Music Hall performances’.
In May 1915 Lester reprised his original role in a revival of THE ARCADIANS, and among his most celebrated shows of the First World War years was a revue, THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916) in which he and George Robey co-starred with Violet Lorraine. THE OBSERVER commented, ‘Nothing so funny in revue has ever been seen in London … the three together are almost too much to endure for three hours’.
His later roles in musical comedy were Umpicof in ROUND THE MAP (1917), Hu-Du in SHANGHAI (1918), George in THE ECLIPSE (1919) and Miggles in a revival of THE SHOP GIRL (1920). He starred in four more revues: PINS AND NEEDLES (1921), FUN OF THE FAYRE (1921), RATS (1923), and his final show, THE PUNCH BOWL (1924). THE TIMES considered the last, ‘with its brilliant changes of character in the various scenes, was technically perhaps better than anything he had ever done’.
During the run of the THE PUNCH BOWL Lester was taken ill and had to leave the cast. Suffering from a chest complaint he was recommended to go to a warmer country, and spent some weeks in Morocco. Feeling considerably better he began the journey home by train, but he was taken ill again en route and died of pneumonia at a nursing home in Madrid.”
“If you are interested in what original audiences of early 20th century English operetta and musical comedy heard, there is a great source for such recordings – the record label Paleophonics. Dominic Combe prepares CDs for them from his huge collection of shellacs and a few cylinders.
I came across these somewhat hard-to-find CDs on the website of the mail-order company NORBECK, PETERS AND FORD, (norpete.com) which is specialized in historical performances from the beginning of recorded sound all the way through to the 1960s.
There are now over fifty Paleophonics CDs, and more are being prepared or scheduled for future release. Each CD comes with a lavishly illustrated program booklet with reviews, information about the shows and fantastic publicity photographs, and artwork from the original London productions, in the form of reproductions of the magazine PLAY PICTORIAL.”
- Thomas Krebs, OPERETTA RESEARCH CENTER - PALEOPHONICS - A JOURNEY TO THE DAWN OF RECORDED SOUND IN MUSICAL COMEDY, 1 July, 2020