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Among The Cockneys & The Mockneys

July 29, 2013
by the gentle author

“Barry Grantham & John Barnes, ‘Underneath the Arches’…”

There are two floors at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Social Club. Downstairs, where the original members who are long-term residents of the East End congregate – and upstairs, where the younger fashionable folks that arrived more recently gather to party.

Yet last Saturday night, everyone was united on the same floor as Cockneys & Mockneys rubbed shoulders to celebrate their shared affection for all things East End, at the closing party of the Cockney Heritage Festival held upstairs in the main hall. And Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I were there in the thick of it, enjoying a right old knees up with the best of them.

With its crusty carpets, ragged curtains and Christmas decorations still hung up from the three years ago, the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club is the most charismatic authentically scruffy venue for a large scale shindig in the East End. Arriving to a belting chorus of ‘My Old Man’ already resounding throughout the building, Sarah & I knew we were in for an unforgettable evening.

Notable acts in a lively programme were Barry & Joan Grantham and John Barnes. Barry Grantham told me that he and Joan had been performing together for more than fifty years, playing the variety circuit in its final years alongside luminaries such as Max Miller and Wilson, Keppel & Betty. Now in advanced age, it was an heroic feat for Joan to climb the steps onto the stage to take her place at the keyboard, but we were more than grateful when she and Barry performed ‘Any Old Iron’ in the style of local boy Harry Champion, born in Bethnal Green in 1865.

John Barnes revealed to me that he first played the ukelele-banjo in public at age twelve in 1939 and seventy-four years later, he is still going strong. “I’m not a professional, I’m just someone that people always ask to perform,” he admitted with endearing modesty. “I’m eighty-six and I’m lucky” he added with a winning smile, and when I asked what he meant, John explained, “No-one would be interviewing me at eighty-six if it weren’t for my ukelele-banjo playing.”

Josephine Shaker, more commonly seen as a tap-dancing penguin at London Zoo, brought some bravura foot-work to the proceedings with her tap version of ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow.’ “I made up the act for tonight, “ she confessed to me afterwards, “I’m wearing my husband’s suit, he’s a jazz musician.” Yet in spite of her apparent nonchalance, I discovered that Josephine has show business in her blood. “My grandmother was a chorus girl on the Tivoli circuit,” she confided to me.

As the evening progressed and more and more locals piled in from the surrounding pubs, audience participation grew livelier until the chairs and tables were swept away from in front of the stage to create a space for dancing.

The elbows were out, the knees were up. They were calling for ‘The Lambeth Walk,’ ‘My Old Man,’ ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ and ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner?’ They knew all the words and they could not get enough of it, and these were the Mockneys! It was both a vivid demonstration of the age-old principle in the East End that all those who come here eventually go native and also confirmation that the future of Cockney culture is assured.

Barry Grantham once performed with Max Miller.

Joan Grantham accompanied Barry on keyboards.

John Barnes

A short interlude for pie & mash served by Stephanie.

Barry & Joan Grantham have performed together for more than fifty years.

John Barnes first played his ukelele banjo in public at aged twelve in 1939.

Josephine Shaker’s perfomance of Burlington Bertie was a highlight of the evening.

“I’m Bert, Bert, I haven’t a shirt…”

“I’ve just had a banana with Lady Diana, I’m Burlington Bertie from Bow….”

Harry Bennett and Coster friend.

“Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I love London so…’

“Nice people with nice manners but got no money at all…”

The Mockneys give it their best shot at “Any Old Iron”

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    July 29, 2013

  2. July 29, 2013

    Oh, how wonderful! Wish I could have been there. Any chance it will happen again? Can I come!?

  3. Phil Russell permalink
    July 29, 2013

    The shot that you have titled as “Harry Bennett and coster friend” – the act was actually called “Underbling and vow” – the bloke from the audience who got up on stage with the red hat (of his own accord) is actually Leonard “Lenny” Newton.

  4. Susan Goldman permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Sounds like a wonderful evening, and pie ‘n’ mash as well! Couldn’t get much better than that!

  5. aubrey permalink
    July 29, 2013

    The mockneys resemble tourists looking in and ‘having fun’. I just hope they paid their way!

  6. danny kelleher permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Im pictured with the mockneys i aint a mockney im a true cockney lol im the big bloke in the cecked shirt but what a good do the crowd was good an all

  7. Libby Hall permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Does anyone remember ‘Cockney Land’ – an indoor market sort of place that opened in the late 60s in, I think, Middlesex Street – or perhaps it was Cheshire Street, or Brick Lane? I don’t think it survived for long. I was a press photographer at the time and I was sent to cover its launch on a Sunday morning. All sorts of ‘Cockney celebrities’ had been invited. I can remember Rita Webb, and Harry Corbett but most exciting for me was Chesney Allen (because Underneath the Arches meant so much to me).

    Even though it was early on a Sunday morning the free drinks were ‘shorts’ of whiskey or gin or vodka. The drinks were being served by the teenage daughters of the entrepreneur owners of Cockney Land, and these young girls weren’t used to pouring drinks. (I think I’m remembering that bit right.) Whatever – the drinks were very STRONG and most of us hadn’t even had breakfast. I remember taking photographs of Harry Corbett just before I started back to my paper. We were trying to hold each other up, and so the photos were all extreme close-ups because we couldn’t be more than arm’s length away from each other! It was all terrific fun and a memorable Sunday morning.

  8. Donald Carlton Burns permalink
    July 29, 2013

    Ohhh, To have had a recording of this night…………………………….

  9. stephen jackson permalink
    January 17, 2016

    cannot believe this place is still going, my dad used to sing in here in the 80s/90s there is are a couple of videos on you tube and

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