FLANAGAN AND ALLEN
Underneath the Arches; Their 27 finest, 1932-1944
RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4366 [78:36]
Underneath The Arches
Can’t We Meet Again?
Down and Out Blues
Music, Maestro, Please!
The Umbrella Man
Run, Rabbit Run!
We’re Gonna Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line
If A Grey-Haired Lady Says How’s Your Father?
On The Outside Looking In
Are You Havin’ Any Fun?
I’m Nobody’s Bay
Let’s Be Buddies
Round the Back of the Arches
Down Forget-Me-Not Lane
Rose O’Day (The Filla-Ga-Dusha Song)
What More Can I Say?
I Don’t Want To Walk Without You
We’ll Smile Again
Why Don’t You Fall in Love With Me?
Two Very Ordinary People
Shine On, Harvest Moon
Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen formed their double act in 1924 and worked
in revues until a variety debut in 1931. Underneath the Arches
immortalised them, nationally at least, (Flanagan had written it in 1927)
and they were bill toppers from the early thirties onwards, either as a duo
or with The Crazy Gang, reaching a zenith of popularity during the war
years when they made several films. Flanagan was the song writer, Allen the
straight man, and together they offered a rather down at heel English
version of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello – not least in physiognomy; the two
Buds short and stout, Allen and Costello slim and taller - though the
English duo began performing together rather earlier.
It was their songs, rather than Abbott and Costello’s quick-fire patter,
that distinguished them. Flanagan’s croaking Spitalfields singing and
Allen’s strangulated vocalising should never have worked but it reflected
their post-Depression personae perfectly; two very different blokes
underneath the arches dreaming of Sunnyside Lane.
In the academic world doubtless a PhD is to be had for analysing tropes of
Industrial-Pastoral wish fulfilment in their songs. Because of the nature
of their voices, and their inevitable limitations, the songs’ tempos
mirrored the singers’ unhurried gait. There is a predictable loping
element, a tried and tested modus operandi. Flanagan threw out the
occasional ‘bod-ee-oh-doh’ in his singing, as if enacting the ways of a
varsity crooner – a very self-aware device from an East End immigrant born
Reuben Weintrop (by rights, Brighton-born Allen should have taken that
quasi-varsity role but its reversal was thus the more poignant and the more
Their careworn but hopeful vagabonding carried with it the spirit of Robert
Louis Stevenson; they were down and out (though Allen’s relative sartorial
elegance seldom wavered) but never defeated; their songs proclaimed the
limitless romance of hope. Singing Sam Mayo’s Down and Out Blues
in 1938 they make it a kind of anthem of defiance and when they take on Music, Maestro, Please! – which was recorded so memorably and
effortlessly by Al Bowlly at around the same time – the chasm between the
divine vision of the girl of their dreams and the faded astrakhan of their
realities both subverts and elevates the genre of conventionally romantic
dance band singing.
Their brand of luckless humility irradiated wartime morale boosters such as We’re Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line though they
were less successful with straightforward band numbers, such as Why Don’t You Fall in Love with Me? – the question itself sounds
too unlikely and cloying for Flanagan and Allen. Some of the best records
were made with Harry Bidgood and his Orchestra – Shine on Harvest Moon, Run, Rabbit, Run among them -
though they invariably had luxury backing, notably from Ambrose and from
Well transferred from Columbia and Decca 78s made between 1932 and 1944,
these tracks are all very familiar and the compilation reflects others that
have similarly sourced the duo’s discs. But it’s entertainingly and
sympathetically put together and preserves a classic body of music from two
men who evoked on the stage those polar opposites of raffish South Coast
charm and mock-weary chutzpah.