Sometimes if you’re blogging recent discoveries, as I do from time to time, you’re bound to get it wrong. Last week I was writing about Khaki, the 1924 play that was so disliked by the censors at the Lord Chamberlain’s office. I was misled by the file copy in the Lord C’s archive at the British Library, which seemed to imply that Ernie Lotinga (T.S.Eliot’s favourite comedian) was not only the star and producer, but had actually written the script.
Yesterday I was looking at 1924 copies of the show business weekly, The Era, and their review of Khaki calls it a “a burlesque in nine scenes, written by Herbert C. Sargent and Con West”. So there we are. As producer, Lotinga had sent the script to the Lord C, without the authors’ names, and so the play had been attributed to him. Since it was written specifically for his talents, and revolves around his stock character, Josser, the play was essentially his, anyway.
The IMDB shows that Sargent and West were prolific writers of comedy. West especially wrote not only for Lotinga, but for Fred Karno, George Robey, Gert and Daisy, Old Mother Riley and Frank Randle. He evenprovided the story for The Dummy Talks (1943) in which “A ventriloquist is murdered, leaving a show to be done. So, a midget goes undercover as the dummy. But, he always needs to find the criminal!” This is a musical, featuring Ivy Benson and her all-girl orchestra. Where is it now?
Writers like West did a vast amount to form British popular culture during the twentieth century, but not one of his films is currently available on DVD. The Americans seem to cherish their minor movie heroes; the British let mould grow over the acetate.
Anyway, I’ve now corrected the earlier attribution of Khaki‘s script to Lotinga.
The Era’s review of Khaki is wildy enthusiastic, speaking of the play’s “tumultuous reception” at the Ilford Hippodrome. One sentence that I found interesting was this:
The fact that Ernie Lotinga was able to successfully produce and to ‘put over’ with consummate skill an ‘all-war show’ no less than ten years after the event affords striking proof of his rare qualities as a comedian.
So while the censor thought Khaki risky because it ridiculed officers, theatre insiders of 1924 thought it risky because the war was old hat.
A later edition of The Era reports that the play broke existing records at the Hippodrome, Lewisham, taking £1,50117s 2d in a week.