“Cor Blimey! It’s a Right Cockney Knees Up!” – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club


I am a big fan of a singalong, and when I was invited to this event, I was quite excited. Cockney culture! I know nothing about it, really, and I was really looking forward to an evening of good songs, good drinks, and good laughs with my good mates.

How little did I know.

When we showed up at 7, it turned out we were actually the first people to arrive. They weren’t ready to let us into the venue, so we were forced to sit – er, stand – in the lobby. We overheard that we couldn’t be let in because there wasn’t any “security” there yet (not sure exactly what this consisted of), and then I was told I couldn’t be let in without checking my purse – and that I’d be obliged to pay for the privilege! Seriously, what kind of place separates a lady from her handbag? I wound up having to go through it and pull out my wallet, my phone (since we were waiting for Josela to join us still and he didn’t know where to go, exactly), and my makeup and carry it all in my hands. It was ridiculous. The door staff was also unprofessional and didn’t handle my reservations very well.

We walk into the hall and … with about 15 tables, all but two of them were already reserved! How could that be? There was no “pre-reserve a table” option on the ticket buying form. When we had a hard time finding a non-reserved table, the women who were inside the hall were positively snarky to me. There was also a photo stall that wanted ten quid to take our picture (please! They could just email it to us for free!) and a gin punch booth, where we were obliged to stand next to the table so that they could keep an eye on the cups the gin was being served in. Meanwhile several women strolled around in pseudo-Victorian garb – as if anyone back then wore their corsets over their shirts! The whole thing came off like a very unprofessional, and yet very elitist, joke.

Well, we settled down, got ourselves a round, were joined by Josela, and waited for the entertainment to begin – deciding to skip the further expense of photographs but picking up a set of bingo tickets. What we got were some Pearly Kings singing songs off of their computers (not really so much inviting the audience to participate), a cute poetry performance by Madame Jo King (I really liked her), and … a woman doing the most horribly off-key rendition of “Mother Brown” you could imagine. At first I thought it was just a joke, as there’s a line in the song about a bad singer, but then I thought that she just couldn’t really hear the key the piano was being played in. This was supposed to be a singalong, but hardly anyone in the crowd was singing at all! We even had the lyric sheets printed up on our tables. I don’t know, maybe part of the problem was that nearly ALL of the crowd was at the back of the hall while the “reserved” tables were, nearly to a man, half-empty. So much for any kind of sense of community.

Then there was a bit more of something else (lord, I’ve forgotten, and Miss Lolly LaDiDah stole the program off of our table to give to someone else without even bothering to ask so I can’t refer to it), possibly the Pearly Kings, and then there was the very very long bingo game. I can’t believe they decided to do a blackout for the first game – even with the bizarre, tiny English bingo cards, it took a long time to get a single person’s card full. (That said the middle aged ladies at the table across from ours actually had brought bingo markers with them, bless their hearts. I wished I’d been sitting with them – they seemed to have just the right spirit, unlike most of the people there.)

After the third Bingo game was over, they announced an intermission, and we all decided to head for the hills and find our fun elsewhere, since so little was to be had in the hall. No amount of gin in the world could have made that a good night. And the friend who had brought me there, well, she felt mortally offended at the attitude of the people there, basically making Cockney into some kind of big joke for everyone to laugh at (“with the exception of the Pearly Kings and Queens and the bingo ladies”). I knew just what she meant – there’s nothing like having someone take your treasured childhood memories and turn them into something to show off for art snobs as if it were a bizarre zoo animal, “Oh, let’s play at being poor, what fun!” We even had the pleasure of watching one of the doormen turn away some South Asian kids at the door, telling them, “It’s not really your kind of thing.” Maybe he thought racism was a Cockney thing, but I think when you’re poor, you need to hang together, not set up more bullshit barriers between neighbors.

Anyway, we went around the corner to a little Indian takeaway with just three tables and were made to feel more at home than we had all night at the fake Cockney culture event, with lovely people visiting everywhere and just acting like Folks At Home. That’s the real London, not some well-monied office worker in a corset and her jammies singing songs she’s only ever heard on YouTube before. And this is what saved our evening from being a total waste. Thank God for cutting our losses and leaving when we did.

(This review is for a performance that took place Thursday, March 27th, 2008.)


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2 Responses to ““Cor Blimey! It’s a Right Cockney Knees Up!” – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club”

  1. Andrew (a west end whinger) Says:

    As you Yanks would say:

    O! M! G!

    That sounds like the

    Worst. Evening. Evah!

    Kinda wishing we had been there now.

  2. McDuck Says:

    Thank you for this review. I had been wanting to attend and introduce my German friends to some proper cockney culture. I felt the attendence of the Pearly King of Camberwell leant a certain sense of legitimacy to the evening, but it appears it was sadly lacking, the organisers missing the point of the cockeny ethos that is: ‘I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you’ve been, you just grab a corner and get stuck right in’.

    I’m glad I didn’t attend now.

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