Miss Popsy Wopsy
My most satisfying and well-favoured creation was POPSY WOPSY, which I performed four or five times on The Good Old Days, and with which I almost always ended my one woman shows ...often ‘by popular request’. Popsy also gave me the opportunity of singing the music hall song DEAR OLD PALS on the arm of the young Prince Charles. I had performed Popsy in the cabaret at a Lords’ Taverners charity dinner at the Grosvenor Hotel, and the reluctant royal had been prevailed upon to join us on stage for the line-up and the finale. The photograph that appeared in the press the next day shows me in the full Popsy outfit hooked onto the crook of one of the bemused Prince’s arms, while a lustily singing Anita Harris in black tie and tails hangs onto his other arm. Bernard Cribbins is beside me in a battered top hat, but you’d be hard pushed to recognize that the figure next to Anita, clad in the full regalia of a pantomime Prince, flowing cloak, wide feathered hat perched on a long blonde wig, and a very short tunic revealing a pair of legs better left unmentioned, is Hugh Laurie.
I had found the manuscript of Popsy Wopsy in an album of ‘masher’ songs, which I guess would put it in the twenties. The lyrics were clearly written for a man, singing of his longing to gain the attention of the chorus girl he’s fallen for, and I adapted the words so that instead I could sing it as the chorus girl longing to gain the attention of a sugar daddy. But the fun was had by playing her as an entertainer who couldn’t quite make it. Popsy Wopsy danced behind the beat and sang under the note; so useless was she, that she spent the entire number looking to her pianist for help and support, and he eventually had to count her in loudly. When she did eventually get it right, Popsy almost exploded with joy, and the audience always applauded their relief and delight. Dressed in a brief, over-the-top mishmash of a costume, with very yellow tights, cross-gartered shoes, and a silly feathered headdress, she would become more and more exhausted as the dancing progressed, making the pianist’s task hugely difficult. Usually an accompanist will follow the singer, but with Popsy there was nothing to follow, and had the pianist waited for any initiative from her, the routine would have ground to a dismaying halt. This went so against the grain of the musicians I worked with, that more time was spent getting Popsy wrong than getting anything else right! Popsy was choreographed (oh yes she was) by a talented friend, Doreen Hermitage. She treated the exercise seriously, and I simply did what she devised, but as unskilfully as I could, using my arms like underpowered windmill sails, and bumping and grinding on the wrong beat. Leonard Sachs had the idea of introducing Popsy as his ‘niece’ to whom he was giving her first chance to perform on stage. Instead of using my pianist to boost my confidence, I silently appealed to Leonard, and. gallantly rising to the occasion, he would dispense reassurance, blowing encouraging kisses, and a good time was had by all. All, that is, bar the orchestra and the conductor, who relinquished his baton with some relief and left it to the pianist in the pit.
Over the years, Popsy has been a good friend to me and I plan to take her and her shoes and her headress with me to eternity, while Paul Maguire plays us out with his own version of the song into which he sneeked an extraneous bar of music so that the accompaniment doesn't quite make it Popsy style.
Popsy was a singer in a little revue
Sang the sort of ditties that the people all knew
Every night they used to turn the limelight strong
On someone’s face as she sang her song.
Popsy loved her job but every once in a while
She thought it would be such bliss
If the limelight would find
A man both good and kind
And he’d murmur something like this:
Sing to me, my little Popsy Wopsy
Turn the limelight right on me
When on that stage you come
My little heart beats
Just like a drum.
I shall dream about you all night tonight
You’re the sweetest girl I’ve seen.
I would kiss you my Popsy
But there’s one thing stops me
Those footlights in between.
Popsy fixed her eye upon an old boy one night
Sitting in the stalls with not a lady in sight
When she sang her loving song he looked entranced
She knew it wasn’t the way she danced.
That same evening to the stage door he sent a note
Which read: Oh Popsy my pet,
Though I’m seventy one
We could have lots of fun.
There’s life in the old mongrel yet!
Popsy still sings ditties on that stage every night
Though she may not be a star she’s doing all right
And when Johnnies think that they are sure to score
And wait for her at the backstage door
She appears in furs to keep her safe from the cold
And if some masher should shout:
I’ve some champagne on ice,
She’ll say Well, ain’t that nice
But daddy won’t let me go out!
Sheila Steafel / Sean Davies © 2011