Friday, August 26, 2005
"My father was a very clever comedian. At present he's in hospital. He broke two of his fingers cracking jokes to a deaf and dumb man."
"His father was John 'Jock' Bennett of 'Bennett and Martel', a knockabout double act on the English music halls at the turn of the century. The son followed the father into show business after a brief spell working in insurance. He trained as an acrobat, then ran away and joined the army, serving in World War One and being decorated. During the war, he became a canteen comic and, on his return to the halls in 1919, he performed a soldier act, complete with martial airs and songs like It's a Long Way to Tipperary. This was not appreciated at the Theatre Royal Dublin by the audience or the manager and Bennett felt obliged to resort to disguise for his own safety. Thus, the false moustache and the plastered quiff of hair. Soon, the army clothes went in favour of ill-fitting evening dress. The army boots remained.
Apparently, he had written parodies when a schoolboy for his father's music hall friends, so naturally he continued, producing monologues which were, in the main, skits on well-known Victorian monologues and poems, such as Robert Service and Cuthbert Clarke's The Shooting of Dan McGrew, Kipling's Road to Mandalay, George R Sims' Christmas Day in the Workhouse and Amy Woodforde Finden's Kashmiri Love Song from 'Indian Love Lyrics', which became, in Bennett's hands, the impenetrable and insane parody Ogul Mogul - A Kanakanese Love Lyric. No matter that many of the originals have faded into obscurity ("Years have rolled on since that happened"), the surrealist imagery of the Bennett rewrites live on - literate, audacious and screamingly funny."
So says Dan Quinn on the re-release of the Topic LP "Almost A Gentleman". A friend sent me several Bennett tracks not on that CD that he dubbed from his 78 collection , hence the rather scratchy sound quality. Despite this the humour and wonderful surreal wordplay shines through.
Billy Bennett - The Call Of The Yukon
Billy Bennett - The Foreign Legion
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