I saw a special screening of Showmen of the Streets tonight – a 45-minute documentary about street performers of the 1930s-1960s and their precursors. People like The Earl of Mustard, The Road Stars, The Amazing Blondini, Prince Monolulu, The Man with X-Ray Eyes, The Happy Wanderers (who I just about remember playing Oxford Street in my erstwhile youth) and Don Partridge aka ‘King of the Buskers’, who actually managed to get into the UK hit parade and who hired the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 to stage a show called The Last of The Buskers with some of the great street performers of that and previous eras.
A couple of characters not in the film whom I remember are Don Crown and ‘Little Legs’.
Don Crown used to perform an act with budgerigars in Leicester Square and various other places. I used him on TV programmes a couple of times but, the last time I met him, he was a broken man: he had become allergic to feathers.
True and sad. Though I see from his website that he seems to have recovered and performs on the South Bank in London.
The other character I remember was a dwarf called Roy ‘Little Legs’ Smith who was a busker himself, but he also used to collect money for street performers. A busker would play the queues in Leicester Square and Little Legs would go along collecting money in, as I remember it, a hat. The theory – which proved true – was that it is almost impossible not to give money to a dwarf collecting for a busker.
Little Legs appeared in the Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour. He died in 1989 and, according to his obituaries, he had worked for the Kray Twins as an ‘enforcer’ in the 1960s. Indeed, a book Little Legs: Muscleman of Soho was published in 1989 which traced, among other things, “his long career as a street entertainer and card-player”. In 1999, his nephew stood as a candidate for Mayor of London.
I merely pass this on.
The DVD of the documentary Showmen of the Streets is being released in a couple of weeks time.
Director John Lawrenson – who used to perform the ‘ball and cup’ magic routine in London’s streets – is currently preparing a new film about great hoaxers, including William Donaldson (aka Henry Root) who wrote to prominent public figures with unusual or outlandish questions and requests and published their replies.
Also in the film will be the late but glorious Fleet Street hoaxer Rocky Ryan who, among other career highlights, persuaded major British newspapers to print stories that sex and drug orgies were taking place on Mount Everest and that the Yorkshire Ripper was being let out of Broadmoor to go to the local disco as part of his rehabilitation into society. He also managed to persuade several Israeli newspapers that Adolf Hitler was alive and well and living in Golders Green… a famously Jewish London suburb.
It makes you proud to be British.
Although Rocky Ryan was Irish.
But let’s not get into that.