Tuesday 2 April 2013

The Last of the Knuts

A lovely Google doodle today to celebrate Maria Sybilla Merian - but also born on this day, in 1891, was Jack Buchanan, one of the great comic actors and song and dance men of his time, and, to quote no less an authority than The Times, 'the last of the knuts'. The what? you might well ask. Perhaps you never heard the music-hall song Gilbert the Filbert...

'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.'

A 'knut', then, we can take to be a raffish, well connected and debonair chap-about-town, perhaps not entirely safe in taxis. And this was certainly the image Jack Buchanan happily projected in the countless now forgotten musical comedies through which he drifted in his elegant, languid way. He also made a few Hollywood movies and, late in his career, starred with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charise in The Band Wagon (1953), the film by which he is still best remembered (if remembered he be). Here he is holding his own (no one could do more) with Fred Astaire in I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan. Bear in mind when watching it that Buchanan has severe spinal arthritis - what a trouper!
  Buchanan, unlike many in showbusiness, was notably generous with his money, even investing some in John Logie Baird's mechanical television. Whenever one of his shows was running on Grand National Day he would cancel the day's performances and take everybody, cast and crew, to Aintree, feeding and watering them lavishly, and even giving them each a fiver to place a bet or two.
  Buchanan was married twice, and one of his many affairs was with the actress Coral Browne, whose visit to the exiled Soviet spy Guy Burgess in Moscow was the subject of Alan Bennett's An Englishman Abroad. Miss Browne mentioned to Burgess that she had 'nearly married' Jack Buchanan. Among the very few mementoes of his earlier life that Burgess had managed to keep was a 78rpm recording of Buchanan singing Who? He played it repeatedly throughout Coral Browne's visit. 
  Jack Buchanan also sang the definitive version of Everything Stops For Tea. Note the reference to Schubert in the last verse - probably not historically sound...  


  1. But no Bird eating Spider in the Google doodle?Maria Sybilla Merian pretty much sinngle-handedly popularised the idea of big hairy spiders dragging birds from the nest.


  2. Thanks Banished - no shortage of drama in her pictures!