Oct 03

WINIFRED ATTWELL – “The Poor People Of Paris”

Popular18 comments • 4,762 views

#45, 13th April 1956

Winifred attacks the piano with her usual demented glee, this time with a bit of quasi-operatic humming to liven things up further (or is it a Theremin? I’d put nothing past her.) A bit of research tells me that this is an instrumental version of a big ’56 musical hit, fair enough though a little disappointing, I had a vision of Winifred hammering out another one of her party tunes and dedicating it to the French homeless. Because it’s just one song this wears out faster than Attwell’s medley hits, too, but it’s hard to be harsh on tireless jollity like this. This sounds far older than its 47 years – rickety and treblesome, you half suspect it lacks lyrics because talkies haven’t been invented yet.



  1. 1
    bramble on 8 Sep 2006 #

    I think the original French tune was called ‘Pauvre Jean’.(Poor John) When this was said down the phone to whoever was touting the music sheets in England it was mis-heard as ‘pauvre gens’-thus becoming Poor People, with ‘of Paris’ added to make sure people knew it was French

  2. 2
    tim davidge on 6 Mar 2008 #

    Right about the title – and the mistranslation. My book of French song lyrics confirms the story. The French version was sung by Edith Piaf and its full title was ‘La goualante du pauvre Jean’ (poor John’s song), ‘goualante’ being a not terribly widely used term meaning a popular song. The moral of the song was: without love, we are nothing whether rich or poor, so poor John, on leaving us, instructs us to love one another “…Aimez-vous!”

  3. 3
    Marcello Carlin on 6 Mar 2008 #

    The high sound you hear is actually a musical saw; the idea of the engineer, one J Meek.

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Mar 2008 #

    also a spelling pedant writes: it’s Winifred ATWELL with one T.

  5. 5
    Mark G on 7 Mar 2008 #

    oh yeah, that’s right!

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 11 May 2008 #

    My entry point for the special sound of Winifred (and quite a few fifties pre-rock hits) was Instrumental Gold, a comp on Warwick in ’75 or ’76. It sold tons, always racked in every Woolies, and included Popcorn and Telstar as well as Poor People Of Paris, Blue Tango, Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White, Limelight, and others I can’t remember. A bit early for Autobahn, unfortunately.

    The weird jumble of eras meant that Poor People Of Paris, taken out of austerity knees-up context, and with its evocative name, came across to me in the same cinematic and genuinely thrilling way that Les Baxter would when I discovered his music a good 15 years later.

    The magic of the cheap 20 track comp for a kid – your preconceptions take longer to form. I blame K-Tel for my catholic taste.

    The peculiar thing about Instrumental Gold’s huge success was that (I think) most versions weren’t even the originals.

  7. 7
    DJ Punctum on 12 May 2008 #

    I vaguely remember Warwick actually being a record label subdivision of Woolie’s but I could be wrong.

  8. 8
    rosie on 26 May 2008 #

    Woolies’ record label was Embassy, of course, and it churned out cover versions for sale cheaply. One’s parents (well my thrifty ones anyway) would want you to buy the cheap Embassy version of your current favourite, or sometimes to your chagrin bought it for you. This was all right in the days when it was the song and not the singer that mattered – you can see this from the double hits where many people didn’t care whether it was Tommy Steele or Guy Mitchell they bought, or Eddie Calvert/Prez Prado. But times were changing, and perhaps the dawn of pop as we know it was when the performer became paramount.

    Some of the Embassy recordings weren’t too bad, if you weren’t fussy. I believe one of their anonymous singers was a certain Mr Dwight.

  9. 9
    wichita lineman on 27 May 2008 #

    Pretty sure Warwick was a stand-alone label like Arcade and Ronco. They certainly catered to my already arcane, pre-teen tastes – another comp of theirs I bought was One Hit Wonders. Redbone, Tammy Jones, Tommy Edwards et al.

    I think Mr Dwight recorded for Avenue, or whichever label did Pick Of The Pops. Embassy was long gone by the time he gave us his take on Young Gifted And Black.

  10. 10
    DJ Punctum on 27 May 2008 #

    Oh yes, Embassy, that was it.

    I too have that Warwick One Hit Wonders compilation due to its handy inclusion of otherwise near-impossible-to-get-on-CD tracks (Sunny’s “Doctor’s Orders,” the Gun’s “Race With The Devil” etc. And, er, “Ballad Of The Green Berets” but never mind)…

    Generally though I think Warwick specialised in nostalgic MoR – the Bachelors, Russ Conway, Vera Lynn, that sort of thing.

  11. 11
    Matthew on 10 Jan 2009 #

    Aha, I remember the Edith Piaf song. Can’t think of any real need for this jaunty cover to exist, though the saw accompaniment is endearingly random.

  12. 12
    Victoria on 7 Feb 2010 #

    That whistling noise is just plain weird. Not surprised to hear Joe Meek had a hand in it. It makes it sound like she’s been caught warbling along with the microphone on (either that or there’s a ghost in the studio).

  13. 13
    graham wing on 4 Aug 2010 #

    the strange eerie noise on winnie’s poor ppl of paris i always thought was an air snake thingy – common music instrument for kids in 50’s / 60’s you blew down one end & twirled it round like a helicopter

  14. 14
    Eli on 20 Jan 2011 #

    What a fun record! As Tom says, “it’s hard to be harsh on tireless jollity like this”. Although I think I enjoyed it a bit more than he did. So pleasing to think that a ‘traditional’ entertainer like Winnie could still have massive hits in the age of Bill Haley. Of course, Edith Piaf makes it sound highly dramatic, without a trace of Winnie’s light fluff. But hers has that whistling thing too…

    Just curious, what’s the source for Joe Meek engineering this? I’d never heard it before going on this site. I’ve never seen it on any list, such as this one:
    Although of course, Joe’s ‘engineering’ activities aren’t as well documented as his producing.

  15. 15
    lonepilgrim on 10 Feb 2012 #

    you can find some more Winifred here:


    there’s a whole lot of good stuff at this site

  16. 16
    Niall Garvie on 14 Jan 2019 #

    The strange warbling noise is someone playing a saw with a violin bow. A Joe Meek special!

  17. 17
    Tom on 4 Sep 2019 #

    An expanded (well, entirely rewritten) version of this entry is up on the Patreon as subscriber-exclusive content.

  18. 18
    Gareth Parker on 8 Jun 2021 #

    Another enjoyable record from Winnie in my view. 7/10.

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