Raise your glass to Champagne Charlie!

Houghton Library Blog 2012-06-12

Who is Charlie??  He drinks all day, gets into trouble with his friends at night, and won’t settle down with one woman because he’s addicted to champagne!  Champagne Charlie was composed by Alfred Lee in the 19th-century British music hall scene.   Music hall  involved a mixture of popular songs, comedy, speciality acts, and variety entertainment.  Eventually it became so popular that music hall theaters were built for performances and designed so that the audience could eat, drink, and smoke in the auditorium during the show.  George Leybourne wrote the lyrics to Champagne Charlie and often performed it in music halls making it a hit and ensuring that his name thereafter would be synonymous with Charlie.  Champagne Charlie inspired a play,  a film, and even an imitation song entitled Cliquot!   Click here to see a clip of the film Champagne Charlie.  However not all music hall songs were about boozing away the days, a very different view of life is seen in the sheet music of The Ratcatcher’s Daughter.  The story is about a rat-catcher’s daughter who falls in love with a man that sells sprat, or white sand, but before they can get married she falls into the Thames and drowns.  Her fiance is so sad that he cuts his throat, as well as his donkey’s to prove his steadfast love.  One of the unforgettable verses in the song describes her death as….

‘Twas a haccident, they all agreed,

And nuffink like self-slaghter;

So not guiltee o’ fell in the sea,

They brought in the ratcatcher’s daughter!

Doodle dee! doodle dum! di dum doo-dle da!

You can hear the entire song being sung in a cockney dialect here.  To see more music hall sheet music in this collection go to our online finding aid Popular music hall sheet music, 1867-1916 (MS Thr 858).

[post contributed by Alison Harris, Archival Processor]