By David McCallum
“Tons of Money” was written by Will Evans (1873-1931), a well-known music hall performer and comedian, and Arthur Valentine (1876-1961), who wrote under the name ‘Valentine’ and was the father of the legendary Fanny Cradock.
It was the first production managed by Tom
Kirby Walls (1883-1949), a popular character actor and comedian who became
indelibly linked to the Alwych Farces of the 1920s and 30s. Although largely
forgotten now, he was one of the most influential figures in British comedy.
Starring Leslie Henson (the father of actor Nicky Henson) as Aubrey Allington, “Tons of Money” became one of the most successful farces of its time, opening in 1922 and running for two years at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Walls and Henson collaborated to produced a silent film adaptation of “Tons of Money” in 1924 with Henson resuming his role of Aubrey and Flora Le Breton playing Louise. Le Breton was known to cinema audiences as “the English Mary Pickford” and shortly after appearing in this film headed to the United States of America where she became a star of Broadway. One of her previous films, although also a silent film, was named “Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay “, after the song which also features as a running gag in “Tons of Money”.
Owing to the lack of dialogue, much of the humour of the original play failed to translate to the silent screen, so when talking pictures arrived, Walls himself took the opportunity to direct a new version in 1930. This time the role of Aubrey was taken by another great farce actor, Ralph Lynn, who had enjoyed considerable success in Walls’ production of “Rookery Nook”, another of the most celebrated farces which the pair had also just filmed. This new version reunited a number of the original stage cast including the much loved French actress Yvonne Arnaud (who starred as Louise) and Robertson Hare, (Chesterman), while veteran actress Mary Brough, resumed her role of Miss Mullet after appearing in both the original stage production and the earlier silent film.
Frankie Howard played Aubrey in a
television adaptation broadcast live by the BBC on Boxing Day 1954. The
production was directed by Graeme Muir who later went on to produce and direct
a number of comedy productions over the years including “Steptoe and Son”, It Ain’t
Half Hot Mum”, Life Begins at Forty”, “That’s My Boy”,
Alan Ayckbourn adapted the play to suit a modern audience and it is this version that we present, as originally presented by the National Theatre in 1986. This production starred Michael Gambon as Sprules and Simon Cadell as Aubrey and was also directed by Ayckbourne.
“Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay” was a vaudeville song which was introduced to Boston as part of a minstrel show called “Tuxedo”, in 1891, although its earliest known performance dates back to the 1880s when a black singer Mama Lou performed it as part of her routine in a well-known St Louis brothel! The song became best known in the version sung by Lottie Collins in London music halls in 1892 and indeed it became her signature tune. According to reviews at the time, Collins delivered the suggestive verses with deceptive demureness, before launching into the lusty refrain and her celebrated "kick dance", a kind of can-can.
The song inspired the character of Tarata, the “Public Exploder”, in the 1893 Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “Utopia, Limited” and it was later used as the theme to the American children’s show “Howdy Doody”. Back in Britain, John Steed of “The Avengers” would often be heard to cry “Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay” in reference to his (then current) sidekick Tara King.
The comedian George Carlin once asserted that the words "Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay" was followed by "Did you get yours today? I got mine yesterday, that's why I walk this way."
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