Ballet Egyptien

Richard Murdoch portraitThis fragment of verse is all I have of Richard Murdoch's "Ballet Egyptien" parody - it's from a gramophone record rather than a BBC recording. He did several different versions of it in the BBC programme, "Much Binding-in-the Marsh". This is a little like reconstructing a Dead Sea Scroll of comedy...

Having collected snippets from other examples of Richard Murdoch's near-genius for parody, I have now assembled them into their own page.

I said in my original post that I'd love to have more bits and pieces... and as you can see, people are still sending me snippets that they recall. Wonderful!

My aunt's name is Ella Wheeler Waterbutton,*
She lives down in Burton-on-Trent.
When she goes out shopping on her bicycle
She always gets her handlebars bent.

Steak and kidney, seven and a tanner's worth,
A little bit of chicken on a marlin-spike.
Hutch and Ted Ray at the Metropolitan
Are doing even better than at Heckmondwyke.

Sabotage at Poole in Dorset,
Camouflage my uncle's corset ...

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,
Saturday, Sunday, Monday ...

Plastic pyjamas,
Are never quite what they ought to be.
Gentlemen farmers,
Are never quite what they're taught to be.

Seventeen fiddles in a second-hand suitcase
Semolina pudding in a very old flute-case
Cabinet Ministers shout
"What a very silly song" - I'm out!

* or 'Waterbottle'. A reference to the authoress of “Poems of Passion”, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, of course


A kind lady named Julie Foster supplies me with this alternative verse - 13th April 2005

Late night final, put another penny on
And win a little money on the football pools
Climbing up Mount Popocatapetl
Is a little bit above a boy at boarding school

And Dave Allen (no, not that one) remembers the couplet:

"Aberdeen has lovely houses, Gaberdine makes lovely trous'es!"
(28th February, 2007)

Mike Walker contributes:

Corned beef and mustard are not the [right] things to eat in bed,
Rhubarb and custard are just the [right] things to eat instead,
Seventy two fiddles in a second-hand suitcase
Uncle's raving cos he's broken his bootlace,
What a silly song to sing, Goodnight.
(21st April 2007)

Thanks too for further variants to Keith Francis, who marshalls his memories in New York:

Climbing up Mount Popocatapetl
With a funny little hat on and a boy scout's knife
(Something something something something)
And carrying a letter for the parson's wife.
(25th April 2007)

And still they come -- Sue Timmins has a poke around in her memory banks and comes up with this, the first two lines of which I too remember well:

Forcemeat balls are very indigestible
Unless you eat them covered in cheese;
When you eat roast mutton in a restaurant,
Remove your gloves and cover your knees....
(1st June 2008)

A new couplet arrives today, from Peter Jay - new to me at any rate! Peter remembers:

Everybody loves a barman
Orchestrated by John Sharman
John Sharman
John Sharman

John Sharman was an ex professional entertainer who had worked for the BBC in production since the Savoy Hill days.
(6th November 2008)

26th December, 2008 - and a present comes from Ian A B Wilson. He recalls these fragments...

Climbing up Mount Popacatapetl
Is a bit above a little boy from boarding-school
Aberdeen has lovely houses - gaberdeen makes lovely trousers..
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor
Rhubarb and custard are not the right thing to eat in bed...

I particularly like this one...

Bathroom taps need very little polishing
Unless they have been covered in glue...

Thanks, Ian... that last is completey new to me!

April 2009 brings forth a couple of interesting fragments recalled by Andrew Kinna — he has an Aussie email address so I presume that's where he lives!

My Aunt Fanny had a haberdashery
But now she lives in Burton on Trent

Andrew also quotes a line remembered by Steve Race:

Clergymen eat tripe on Thursdays

I wonder what THAT rhymed with?

Two days later in April, an e-mail from Richard Baker, in Newmarket, Ontario, arrives with a variant on the John Sharman line, above. Richard remembers:

All the barmen singing Carmen
Orchestrated by John Sharman

It seems to me that Richard Murdoch happily turned out new text for every performance, so that there can never be a single, definitive text. It's a rich seam we are working here, chums!

28th July, 2009 : yet more variants dredged up from the depths of memory. This time the rememberer is Tony Evershed, and he remembers :

My aunt's name is Emilina Winterbottom
She lives down in Stoke-on-Trent
When she goes a-shopping on her bicycle
She always gets her handlebars bent.

And :

Climbing up Mount Popacatapetl
Is a little bit beyond my boarding-school.

25th August, 2009: Katie Goldhawk (what a great name!) e-mails me, not with her memories, but those of her father. She supplied everything he recalled, with these variations :

Steak and kidney, seven and a tanner’s worth,
A little bit of chicken on a marlin-spike
Uncle Tony knows what our piano’s worth
He brought it home one evening on his motorbike.

And :

Forcemeat balls are rather indigestible
Unless you eat them covered in cheese;
When you eat smoked haddock in a restaurant,
Remove your hat and cover your knees… 
Climbing up Mount Popocatapetl
Is a little bit above a boy at boarding school
Stick a pin and pick another winner out
And have a little flutter on the football pools

Not to mention...

England expects that every man will do his duty
George Bernard Shaw’s plays are just a little bit fruity
All my acquaintances call
“What a lot of old rot” – That’s all!”

I recently (2nd December '09) had an e-mail message from Dave Mason, in which he mentioned that the producer of Much Binding, Leslie Bridgmont, had published a version of Murdoch's Ballet Egyptien in a 1949 book.

This being the Intertoobs, it didn't take more than two shakes of a Dry Martini to find a seller with a copy of said slim volume, and to place an order for it. By the way, may I recommend abebooks as a 'market-place' for old, second-hand or even rare books? I believe it is now owned by Amazon...

Be that as it may, and I'm sure it – er – be, Leslie Bridgmont Presents duly arrived, and I'm delighted to add it to my groaning shelves (who am I kidding, I've even pressed the staircase into service as a repository for books!).

The version is pretty close to that which I started out with, transcribed from a gramophone record, but there are differences:

My Aunt's name is Ella Wheeler Waterbut,
And she lives down at Burton-on-Trent.
When she goes out shopping on her bicycle
She always gets her handlebars bent.
Steak and kidney, seven and a tanner's worth,
A little bit of chicken on a marlin spike.
Hutch and Ted Ray at the Metropolitan
Are doing rather better than at Heckmondwyke.
Sabotage at Poole in Dorset,
Camouflage my uncle's corset.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
Ersatz pyjamas, are never quite what they ought to be.
Gentlemen farmers are never quite what they're taught to be.
Sixteen fiddles in a second-hand suitcase,
Semolina pudding in a very old flute-case.
Cabinet ministers shout … what a very silly song
I'm out.

So that's it from the horse's mouth, or at least from someone intimately connected with the show. But of course it is only one of the many versions that Richard M. created — at the time when the book was published the Much Binding show still had another five years to run. Incidentally, it is nice to have confirmation that the daft tenor sax and piccolo duets that were occasionally featured were actually played by Horne and Murdoch — I had always wondered!


Well, here we are in the year 2010 of the Common Era, and an e-mail arrives with a new snippet — new to me at any rate:

Peanut vendors
Often spend as
Much as ninepence
On suspenders

It came from David Kilner, who says "How about the passage… as far as I know it's original". Does it ring any kind of dim and distant bell? The rhyming scheme is unlike most of what we know, but that needn't militate against it being original to the mercurial Mr Murdoch!


Once again, The Page of Scrapbook Turns—anyone remember that BBC series?—and in September, 2011, comes a change of domicile for the lady:

My aunt’s name is Ella Wheeler Waterbucket
She’s got a cottage down in Kent

Ed Miller contributed that, a new variation to me. Many thanks, Ed!