Fred Karno

Definition

Theater

  • (Fred Westcott; 1866 - 1941) British showman, whose troupesof slapstick comedians (Karno's Krazy Komics) kept audiencesentertained in the early 20th century. Both Charlie Chaplin and StanLaurel began their careers with Karno. Hal Roach, the US film producer,once remarked:
    Fred Karno is not only a genius, he is the man who originatedslapstick comedy. We in Hollywood owe much to him.
    As a boy Karno ran away from home to become an acrobat withGinetti's travelling circus. He later created the first famous comicduo of the musical halls - Jack Melville as Meredithand Fred Kitchen as Simpkins in The Bailiffs, a sketch firstseen in 1907 at the Argyle theater in Birkenhead. The bailiffs alwaysfound themselves in difficulties:
    Meredith Is this the house?
    Simpkins The number's on the warrant.
    Meredith Oh dear, I wish I'd brought the piano.
    Simpkins Why, what do you want a piano for?
    Meredith Well, that's where I left the warrant - onthe piano!
    By 1901 Karno had recruited the first of a series of touringcompanies that would feature, amongst others, Chaplin, Laurel, Will Hay,and Bud Flanagan. In 1913 Chaplin took Karno's sketches to KeystoneStudios in Hollywood; although he would use some of them in his films withhardly a change, his former boss never complained.

    That same year Karno built his 'Karsino' entertainment palaceon Taggs Island in the Thames. By 1926 he was bankrupt, although hemade a brief comeback in 1932 with Laffs at the London Palladium.In this show he assembled three double-acts, which became the coreof the Crazy Gang. Five years later, Karno had lost all hismoney and retired to Dorset.

    The nickname 'Fred Karno's Army' was given to the newBritish army raised during the war of 1914 - 18. The well-knownarmy chorus, sung to the tune of 'The Church's One Foundation', runs:

    We are Fred Karno's army,
    Fred Karno's infantry;
    We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
    So what damn good are we?
    But when we get to Berlin
    The Kaiser he will say
    Hoch, hoch, mein Gott
    Vot a bloody fine lot,
    Fred Karno's infantry.
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