Tuesday 6 September 2016

The Knuts in WW1

The Knuts came to fame in the review “The Passing Show” which starred Basil Hallam (1889 - 1916) as “Gilbert the Filbert”.  Knuts - nuts with a K - were Edwardian men-about-town, usually the younger sons of wealthy families.   In his Jeeves and Wooster novel “Joy in the Morning”, P.G. Wodehouse described the typical Knut as “humble, kindly, and lovable”. 
"The Passing Show" introduced the American actress Elsie Janis to British audiences and opened in London at the Palace Theatre in April 1914.   At around that time, Elsie and Basil became secretly engaged and set up home in Liverpool.   

Possibly for medical reasons (he had a steel plate in his foot from an old injury) , Basil didn't volunteer to serve immdiately when war broke out.  However, after being given several white feathers, which were often thrust upon him at the stage door of the theatre, he decided to enlist. Basil became a Balloon Observer with a Kite Balloon Section of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and his duties were to reinforce the work of observers working for Corps Squadrons. He was killed on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme.  In the afternoon of 20th August 1916 on the Northern part of the Somme battlefield he was manning a tethered un-powered observation balloon watching the German line near the village of Gommecourt, when its steel cable tether snapped and the balloon, caught in an Easterly wind, began to drift towards enemy lines out of control. To avoid capture, Hallam bailed out of the balloon's basket but he was obstructed from jumping clear, and fell several hundred feet to his death after his emergency parachute failed to deploy.  Basil was buried in a British military cemetery at the nearby village of Couin.
Jack Buchanan the actor (1890 – 1957) was not passed as fit to join the armed forces during WW1 and continued with his acting, singing and dancing career.  He became known as ‘the last of the Knuts’.  
Elsie went on to entertain the troops on the Western Front during WW1 and then had a career as an actress and writer. 
Jack Buchanan made his name as a film actor as well as a musical comedy star.

Photo:  Basil Hallam as Gilbert the Filbert.
Here is a cartoon relevant to the Knuts drawn by Martin Anderson (1854 - 1932), better known by his alias Cynicus – Scottish artist, political cartoonist, postcard illustrator and publisher.

Postcard - The Kernel of the Knuts  

The Passing Show – original Broadway review by Arthur Wimperis: Music by Herman Finck; Lyrics by Arthur Wimperis
The first revue entitled The Passing Show was staged at the Casino Theatre, New York, in May 1894. The name was revived on Broadway for a similar production, The Passing Show of 1912 (Winter Garden, 22nd July 1912). Thereafter there was a Passing Show every year until 1919, and the last of the series was The Passing Show of 1921 (Winter Garden, 29 December 1920). 
In London the format was reproduced by Alfred Butt at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus, where The Passing Show was produced on 20th April 1914 with Elsie Janis, a young Broadway star making her first appearance in London, Basil Hallam, Clara Beck, Gwendoline Brogden, Winifred Delavanti, Marjorie Cassidy, Jack Christy, Mildred Stokes, Florence Sweetman, Nelson Keys and Arthur Playfair.
Palace Theatre, London – 20th April, 1914 (ran for 351 performances)
The Cast included:  Clara Beck, Gwendolin Brogden, Jack Christy, Winifred Delavanti, Basil Hallam, Elsie Janis. Nelson Keys, Arthur Playfair, Florence Sweetman.

The Programme included:

You're Here and I'm Here
Gilbert the Filbert
Florrie Was a Flapper
I'll Make a Man of You
I've Got Everything I Want But You
A la minuette
A la gavotte
Valse Joyeuse
The Showman's Song
Matrimonial Bureau
Dances from Venice
Waltz Song

Musical Director: Herman Finck

Elsie Janis and her partner Basil Hallam were an immediate hit. They recorded their two duets from the show, ‘You’re Here and I’m Here’ (HMV 4-2401; 1.20mb Mp3 file) and ‘I’ve Got Everything I Want But You’ (HMV 04116) in London on 4th June 1914.
The Passing Show proved so popular that Butt repeated his success the following year with The Passing Show of 1915 (Palace, 9 March 1915, with a second edition on 12 July), again starring Elsie Janis and Basil Hallam.

 I am known round Town as a fearful blood
For I come straight down from the dear old flood
And I know who's who, and I know what's what
And between the two I'm a trifle hot
For I set the tone as you may suppose
For I stand alone when it comes to clothes
And as for gals just ask my pals
Why everybody knows.

Chorus: I'm Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with a K
The pride of Piccadilly the blasé roué
Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert the Colonel of the Knuts.

You may look upon me as a waster, what?
But you ought to see how I fag and swot
For I'm called by two, and by five I'm out
Which I couldn't do if I slacked about
Then I count my ties and I change my kit
And the exercise keeps me awfully fit
Once I begin I work like sin
I'm full of go and grit.

Chorus: I'm Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with a K
The pride of Piccadilly the blasé roué
Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert the Colonel of the Knuts.

Lyrics by Arthur Wimperis & music by Herman Finck - 1914
Performed by Basil Hallam