A report this day in the Kent & Sussex Courier states that the town of Tonbridge had just celebrated its Cricket Week with a smoking concert attended by 300 people at the Public Hall. A local man named Alfred Willis presided over the gathering and had used his contacts to engage some leading figures from the London entertainment scene.
Among them was Charles Coborn – acclaimed by the Courier as ‘the prince of comics’. He performed two music-hall songs, The Pretty Little Girl I Know and English as she’s Spoke, which was described as a ‘side-splitting piece’. For his finale he ‘fairly brought down the house’ with Two Lovely Black Eyes – the song for which up to this point he was best known. But this would soon change.
Within the next week Britain would see reports on how Charles Deville Wells had broken the bank at Monte Carlo. Later that year a little-known songwriter, Fred Gilbert, would take inspiration from Wells’ achievement and write The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – the song which was to become Coborn’s trademark, and which immortalised Charles Wells at the same time. Coborn went on performing the ditty for the rest of his long music-hall career, and claimed that he must have sung it a quarter of a million times. It remained one of the best-known and most frequently performed numbers for over half a century.
Late in his career, Charles Coborn recited The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo in the 1934 film, Say It With Flowers. The scene in question is probably the closest impression of a Victorian music hall (with the crowd joining in!) that we are now likely to see. Available on YouTube here
Want to know more about the golden age of the British Music Hall? Go to www.britishmusichallsociety.com