My Old Dutch

The recent death of Roy Hudd (1936-2020) was easy to miss amid the grievous tidal wave of death currently sweeping across the planet, so here I’d just like to put on record my appreciation of this wonderful comedian, writer, actor and human being. He was the ultimate all-rounder: his mischievous, subversive humour always passed comedy’s key test by actually making you laugh, and his range as an actor was extraordinary – from pantomime dame supreme through to gripping work as a serious actor, most notably in 1990s TV series Lipstick on Your Collar and Karaoke, two of the last works of the peerless, fearless, Forest of Dean genius Dennis Potter (1935-1994). In addition Hudd was the leading authority on the history of music hall, writing a number of definitive books on the subject as well as being a brilliant performer of music hall songs and monologues – like this poignant classic, for instance:

For me, the raw sentiment in Albert Chevalier’s 1892 cockney costermonger’s tear-jerker is just right for these sad days. These are times when upbeat cheerfulness and happy-clappy morale-boosters are grossly inappropriate and incongruous, the equivalent of playing What a Wonderful World over the tannoy on Death Row. If ever people should start sobbing and start getting serious it is now – and what’s more, the catharsis is much healthier as well as more pleasurable than the dysfunctional, vapid ‘positivity’ of imbecilic hucksters like Trump, Bolsonaro, Morrison and Johnson. The pathological optimism encouraged by capitalism stands exposed for what it always was: snake-oil sales-patter designed to induce passivity, complacency and cowed acceptance of the status quo. Optimism without justification is not just deluded; it’s dangerous and it’s insane. We should be miserable, we should be in anguish, we should be weeping – weeping the hot salty tears of disillusion and despair.

We are all anxious for our own survival, and we are all anxious for the survival of our loved ones. In my case that primarily means my partner Malcolm. We’ve just passed the landmark of 20 years together and cannot know how much longer we might have. Think about it: he’s put up with Dic Mortimer for TWENTY years! For crying out loud, the Great Train Robbers only did ten! And in all that time he’s never once so much as raised his voice to me. He’s a saint. In fact, he’s My Old Dutch*and I want to let him know how much he’s loved, just in case. At various times we have both lived in London, so how about a Roy Hudd-inspired Cockney/Cymru synthesis…

With apologies to Albert Chevalier (1861-1923) and Auguste Chevalier, aka Charles Ingle (1862-1940)



I’ve got a pal, a regular Rhondda Fach gem.
He’s my dear old Mal, and I’ll tell you all about him;
It’s twenty years since first we paired,
His hair was then a fiery red.
It’s whiter now, but he ain’t scared,
Not my old Mal.

We’ve been together now for twenty years
And it don’t seem a day too much.
There ain’t a fella living in the land
As I’d swap for my dear old Dutch.

I call him Malc, his proper name is Malcolm,
And you may find a guy as you’d call more handsome.
He ain’t no angel – he can laze
Round the house till it makes me craze.
He’s just a Welshman, bless his ways,
Is my old Mal!

We’ve been together now for twenty years
And it don’t seem a day too much.
There ain’t a fella living in the land
As I’d swap for my dear old Dutch.

Sweet fine old Mal, I couldn’t live without him,
He’s a dear good old pal and that’s what made me choose him.
He’s stuck by me through thick and thin,
When luck was out, when luck was in,
Ah what a friend to me he’s been,
Has my old Mal.

We’ve been together now for twenty years
And it don’t seem a day too much.
There ain’t a fella living in the land
As I’d swap for my dear old Dutch.

I hear you Mal – your joyful chuckle tinkling
Many years now, old pal, since our young days of twinkling.
I ain’t a coward, still I trust,
When we’ve to part, as part we must,
That Death may come and take me first
And not my Mal.

We’ve been together now for twenty years
And it don’t seem a day too much.
There ain’t a fella living in the land
As I’d swap for my dear old Dutch.
No, there ain’t a person in the whole wide world
As I’d swap for my dear old Dutch. 

Call me a soppy git, I don’t mind a bit. Returning to Roy Hudd and his love of music hall, he was well aware of Cardiff’s small but significant part in the history of what was a hugely popular authentic working class art form throughout the 19th century. It was in Cardiff that Australian-born Oswald Stoll (1866-1942) kickstarted his career as a famed theatre impresario when his mother and he bought the lease of the old Levino’s Music Hall on Queen Street in 1886 and converted it into the Empire Palace of Varieties (for more on the Cardiff Empire see https://tinyurl.com/yx8bwqgx). The theatre was a huge success in the booming coal-port, enabling Stoll to expand into Newport and Swansea and by 1895 merge his Welsh operation with the English halls of Ted Moss (1852-1912) to form Moss Empires, which rapidly became the largest chain of music halls in the UK. The rise of Moss Empires as a monetising, profit-fixated monopoly actually hastened the end of music hall. Aiming for the growing middle class leisure market, the company gradually abandoned music hall’s gritty, feisty, proletarian roots in favour of respectable, conservative, pretentious, watered-down ‘variety’, killing the whole purpose and magic of the halls. It was grovelling Stoll who founded the Royal Variety Performance in 1912 – the enduring nadir of safe, no-brow showbiz to this day. Music hall’s terminal decline then accelerated after WW1 with the coming of cinema, the gramophone and radio plus increasing censorship, clamp-downs and controls on working class culture. Both Stoll and Moss got the knighthoods they craved for services rendered to the British State and died millionaires. Chalk it up as one more shameful blot on the grubby Cardiff copybook: it was my hometown that obligingly provided the launch-pad for this cultural annihilation and class warfare.

My consolation is this blogpost: Albert Chevalier almost certainly performed My Old Dutch in Cardiff in music hall’s late Victorian heyday, and now, in the 21st century, a Cardiffian has kept it alive for whatever posterity there may be.

See the source image  Albert Chevalier

*NOTE
‘Dutch’ was a 19th and 20th century London colloquialism for partner or friend, probably derived from the cockney rhyming slang ‘dutch plate’ = ‘mate’. Today the term has almost entirely disappeared – along with the working class Londoner.
 

Audio: YouTube
Picture: Creative Commons