CHAPTER 1:Up and Starts the Billy Blin
Billy Barlow – Raggedy Clown. Hey Ho. The Possible Prototypes: English Fools, Woden, Belly Blind, Blind Barlow, Burlow Beanie, Billy Blin. The Billy Blin in Folksong. Thomas Percy and the Parlour Fire. Burlow Beanie Meets King Arthur.
BILLY BARLOW~ RAGGEDY CLOWN
Once upon a time there appeared in the affairs of men a funny little round man. His clothes were tattered and worn, although often he bore the mark of a gentleman who’d seen better days. Sometimes he wore one boot and one shoe. His proclamations, often in song form, were sometimes pompous and grand, sometimes conversational, usually witty, and mostly topical. He poked fun at the world in general, and himself in particular, in an easy, friendly way. He did little dance-routines as part of his act. Sometimes he was a soldier playing a fife and drum, calling himself General Billy Barlow, and singing Follow the Drum. At other times he became, briefly — with a fast change of accessories — Paul Pry, or some other well-known character of the 19th century.
He could be seen in the taverns and the penny theatres of London, as well as on the street. In time he progressed into the bigger theatres and pleasure gardens, and became one of the first characters to perform in the newly-developed music-halls. Comic singer and actor Sam Cowell became the most famous manifestation of this clown, but many actors and singers played him. He was overall a sweet gentle clown, and the ordinary people of the London streets, the poor workers and their families, loved him. Later he was to be loved in higher places too. He was forever on the verge of making good, or had only just fallen from the better life, his present circumstances temporary.
His name was BILLY BARLOW. Like that. Aural capital letters. Loud and clear. All through his songs, so that there must be no doubt.
At the end of every verse: BILLY BARLOW !
HEY! HO! RAGGEDY-O
The refrain Hey Ho! Raggedy-O, or some close variant of it, was his trademark, and it travelled with him for close to a hundred years. Hey Ho! as part of a refrain occurs in the songs of Shakespeare’s time and before. The character Clown in Twelfth Night sings it as — Hey Ho! the wind and rain.
The earliest Billy Barlow was a Londoner by nature, and I’m as certain as I can be that London is where he was born. He was popularised by two key actors: Sam Cowell and George Coppin, but they were by no means the only actors to portray him and they were not the first.
IN THIS SECTION:
HEY HO RAGGEDY-O:
A Study of the Billy Barlow Phenomenon
(written by Joy Hildebrand)
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