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Apr 04

LONNIE DONEGAN – “My Old Man’s A Dustman”

Popular37 comments • 3,292 views

#99, 2nd April 1960

This reputedly shifted a million copies, not an easy thing to do even when the singles market in Britain is booming. If you do manage it it’s down to one of two things – either you’ve united the British pop-buying market in approval, or you’ve managed to break out of it and get people who don’t generally buy singles (or even records!) to pick up your disc.

Clearly “Dustman” achieved the latter – reaching out to a broad audience of music-hall nostalgics and variety-show fans. The music-hall was dying if not dead by 1960, having hit a steep decline with the rise of the cinema. Shorn of the audience’s boozing and flirting, the ribald style of music hall was kept alive by light entertainment – the winking not-quite-naughtiness you hear on this record was still a going concern when I was a child, showing up every time some interminable, deferential Royal Variety Performance reached a musical number. When I first heard “Dustman”, that was the context I immediately fitted it to – its roaring audience for me will perpetually include a gin-pickled Queen Mum.

In 1960 it would hopefully have seemed fresher – surely the million owners of the record will have given the thing more plays than I can stand to (An unbridgeable cultural gap is summoned up in the delighted squeal from one audience member when Donegan says “flippin’” at 0’31″). Unlike, say, George Formby’s big hits, “Dustman” in 2004 is a remorselessly unfunny record. Donegan was a natural showman but his sledgehammer timing here is pretty excruciating – the pause before every punchline which is further telegraphed by i) being sung in a ‘dirty’ voice that sounds a bit like Roland Rat, ii) gouts of audience hysterics. Formby, to continue the slightly unfair comparison, delivers his punchlines straight, moves smoothly into the next verse and leaves the audience a split-second to work out by themselves just how filthy he’s being.

Donegan can fairly be accused of making an awful record – the sniffy charge of ‘selling out’ that hangs around “Dustman” is easier to counter. Donegan’s affinity with music hall was always apparent – the ‘two old ladies’ bit of “Cumberland Gap”; the whole of “Putting On The Style”. It was hardly surprising that he’d try his hand at more straightforward comedy numbers: the only shame is that “Dustman” is more awkward and has less wit than any of his skiffle hits.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Mark G on 21 Nov 2012 #

    It reminded me of Ernie Wise trying to do an impression of Eric Morecombe. Or something.

  2. 27
    punctum on 22 Nov 2012 #

    It really takes the biscuit; all these ladies to choose from – including Alison in “The Schizoid Man” with whom Pat would surely have had something going on in any other circumstances – and he goes for dreary, David Jacobs Collection-listening Janet Portland, who pointedly does not appear at the end of “Fall Out,” tearfully welcoming him back? And then only when imprisoned in the body of Owen MD?

    As I said somewhere else on FT (can’t remember where), the best ending for “Many Happy Returns” would have been for Mrs B to grin and say, “You can’t escape, big boy – so how’s about a little bit of close-up Village socialising?” Cue Benny Hill-style chase with Pat fleeing Mrs B, pausing only to pat Angelo Muscat on the head, Jack Wright-style.

  3. 28
    Jimmy the Swede on 22 Nov 2012 #

    As I also said at that same time, surely the most extreme example of the one Pat let get away was the extraordinarily lovely Angela Browne (aka: Mrs Captain Scarlet), who also pretty much flung herself at him but similarly received no response. It was most unmutual of Fitzy to pass up on that. And yes, Janet “Final Fitting” Portland was more placed as a maiden aunt in The Pallisers. It was ludicrous casting. Doctor Watson was welcome to her.

  4. 29
    punctum on 22 Nov 2012 #

    I have heard tales being told of Pat and the future Mrs Francis Matthews but sadly neither is still around to confirm or deny.

  5. 30
    Patrick Mexico on 20 Oct 2013 #

    Blimey, it’s Jake Bugg! 3 for making me laugh, but at it rather than with it.

  6. 31
    Another Pete on 23 Oct 2013 #

    #19 The creepiest thing in Norfolk by far is in Stow Bardolph church, an 18th century wax effigy of a deceased parishioner.

  7. 32
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jun 2014 #

    again, due to repeated exposure on Junior Showtime, I’m more positively disposed towards this. It cracks along at a frantic pace and as a kid the idea of a dad who drove a dustbin lorry seemed very appealing

  8. 33
    Mark G on 13 Nov 2014 #

    The comedy lines have been mentioned, but one remains, and it seems not to have any great context:

    Now one old man got nasty
    And to the council wrote
    Next time my old man went ’round there
    He punched him up the throat

    audience uproar, laffing, hlarious! Casual violence, jolly!

  9. 34
    wichitalineman on 13 Nov 2014 #

    The council have since sold the estate to Chinese developers. Old Man has been shunted out to Luton. Nasty Man has last laugh.

  10. 35
    Mark G on 13 Nov 2014 #

    And Bernard Cribbens wrote a song about it.

  11. 36
    wichitalineman on 13 Nov 2014 #

    Hole In The Ground? “And now he’s dead!”

  12. 37
    Mark G on 14 Nov 2014 #

    piano: “Stummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..”

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