PERFORMERS: CICELY COURTNEIDGE and JACK HULBERT

Cicely Courtneidge
born: April 1 1893       died: April 26 1980

Jack Hulbert
born: April 24 1892     died: March 25 1978

by PETER TATCHELL (copyright 2011)

Between the wars, they were Britain’s leading musical comedy duo, appearing in a string of successful West End stage productions and, with the coming of sound films, stars of a series of popular movies … Jack Hulbert and his wife Cicely Courtneidge. Ironically, in most they were not seen as a traditional team, but as individuals whose singing, dancing and comedic talents kept the storyline moving at a cracking pace.

Gangly Hulbert (with a chin like Mr. Punch) went from being a member of the celebrated Cambridge Footlights to a career on the stage as a debonair nimble-footed comedian. Cicely Courtneidge (born in Sydney, Australia where her English father was managing a touring stage production) wasn’t a statuesque beauty but was laden with vitality, to quote one of her song hits. Cis and Jack married in 1916 and their mutual love of show business kept them together for over sixty years.

The 1920s was an exciting era for “flesh and blood” theatre and the Hulberts were part of it all. Like their contemporaries Jack Buchanan, Beatrice Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward success on the West End stage led them to Broadway (with a revue called By the Way) before returning home to Lido Lady, Clowns in Clover and The House That Jack Built.

By 1930, the depression was curtailing stage productions everywhere so Jack and Cicely transferred their talents to the new film sensation “talkies” (the arrival of which was amazingly fortuitous). The technicolor revue Elstree Calling showcased their movie debuts (though the pair had been seen in a short a couple of years before) and led to a decade of hit musicals and comedies, appearing together or separately.

Hulbert’s Jack’s the Boy, Jack Ahoy!, Bulldog Jack, The Camels are Coming and Jack of All Trades were all crowd-pleasers and his wife was equally popular in Soldiers of the King, Aunt Sally and Things Are Looking Up. Many were also released to American audiences (often under other titles) and by the mid-1930s M.G.M. decided to bring Cicely to Hollywood to star in a production called The Perfect Gentleman with Frank Morgan. It was an interesting experiment, but not successful enough to warrant a follow up.

By then, the live theatre had recovered sufficiently to entice Jack and Cis back to the West End with shows like Hide and Seek and Under Your Hat.

From their early days, Jack and Cis were also prominent recording artists (for Columbia and later H.M.V.) and so preserved many of the songs and sketches from their shows and motion pictures. Two Courtneidge routines Laughing Gas and Double Damask became classics while Hulbert’s creative interpretations of The Flies Crawled up the Window, My Hat’s on the Side of My Head and Who’s Been Polishing the Sun? were enormous hits of the day. Jack also recorded a number of sides with his younger brother Claude (1900 – 1964), a silly ass style comedian popular on stage and as movie support for his brother and the likes of Will Hay and Sid Field.

The coming of the Second World War changed the world of show business forever and the now middle-aged Mr. and Mrs. Hulbert switched from movies to the radio to star in a number of series for the B.B.C. They were still active on the stage and in 1943 appeared in a morale booster Something in the Air. After the war Cicely headed to the land of her birth to tour in a version of her stage success Under the Counter and while there she also starred in a radio series for the local A.B.C. (though a dispute led to the series being curtailed after only four episodes).

It was a busy time for the lady of the house, with a West End triumph in the 1950 musical Gay’s the Word and writing her autobiography in 1953. Early the following year Cicely took over as summer season host of the BBC’s prestigious Variety Playhouse and six months later headlined her own half hour comedy series Calling Miss Courtneidge (which ran for three seasons over a year and a half).

Jack and Cicely were then reunited on the air with a regular weekly spot on Variety Playhouse and stayed with the series for the next six years (almost until the end of its run).

There were also occasional forays on to the small screen but television wasn’t to be their metier (though Cicely appeared as Mum in the first season of the long-running On the Buses in 1969).

By the 1970s, despite some heart troubles for Jack, the pair was still appearing on stage and in supporting roles in the occasional movie. In 1972 Cicely was created a Dame of the British Empire and three years later her husband (of some sixty years) wrote his autobiography The Little Woman’s Always Right.

Jack Hulbert died in 1978 and Dame Cicely Courtneidge in 1980.

FILMS

JACK HULBERT and CICELY COURTNEIDGE
1928    British Screen Tatler #10 (short)
1930    Elstree Calling
1931    The Ghost Train
1932    Jack’s the Boy (aka Night and Day)
              Happy Ever After
1933    Falling for You
1937    Take My Tip
1940    Under Your Hat
1955    Miss Tulip Stays the Night
1960    The Spider’s Web
1972    Not Now Darling 

CICELY COURTNEIDGE
1933    Soldiers of the King (aka The Woman in Command)
              Aunt Sally (aka Along Came Sally)
1934    Things Are Looking Up
1935    Me and Marlborough
              The Perfect Gentleman (aka The Imperfect Lady)
1936    Everybody Dance
1962    The L-Shaped Room
1965    Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
1966    The Wrong Box 

JACK HULBERT
1931    Sunshine Susie (aka The Office Girl)
1932    Jack’s the Boy (aka Night and Day)
              Love on Wheels
1934    Jack Ahoy!
              The Camels Are Coming        
1935    Bulldog Jack (aka Alias Bulldog Drummond)
1936    Jack of All Trades (aka The Two of Us)
1937    Paradise for Two (aka The Gaiety Girls)
1938    Kate Plus Ten
1948    Highwayman (short)
1950    Into the Blue (aka The Man in the Dinghy)
1951    The Magic Box
1972    The Cherry Picker

RADIO

HULBERT FARM
BBC Forces Network Sunday 6-30pm September 14 to October 5 1941 (40 min)
with Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Diana Morrison, Hugh Morton

UNDER THE COUNTER
BBC Light Programme Monday 7-10pm September 2 1946 (50 min)
with Cicely Courtneidge, Hartley Power, Cyril Raymond, Thorley Walters

THE CICELY COURTNEIDGE SHOW
ABC Radio (Australia) January 23 to February 13 1948
with Cicely Courtneidge, Thorley Walters, Wilfrid Thomas

HULBERT HOUSE
BBC Home Service Tuesday 8-30pm March 2 to May 25 1948
with Jack Hulbert, Claude Hulbert, Mary O’Farrell, Jack Melford, Dick Francis

LEAVE IT TO ME
BBC Home Service Tuesday 9-30pm September 16 to November 4 1952 (Wed 10-00pm Oct 15, instead of Oct 14)
with Cicely Courtneidge, Thorley Walters, Norman Shelley

CALLING MISS COURTNEIDGE
Series 1: BBC Home Service Thursday 8-30pm October 21 to December 9 1954
with Cicely Courtneidge, John Carol, Gene Crowley, Terry Scott, Harry Dawson, Gladys Cooper
Series 2: BBC Home Service Wednesday 7-00pm March 16 to May 4 1955
with Cicely Courtneidge, Miriam Karlin, Gene Crowley, Peter Sellers, John Horvelle, Donald Sinden
Series 3: BBC Home Service Monday 7-00pm October 24 to December 12 1955
with Cicely Courtneidge, the Hedley Ward Trio, Gene Crowley
A short package of early editions was issued by TS. Archive kept 1 edition from the first season.

NO PEACE FOR THE WICKED
BBC Home Service Wednesday 7-00pm January 19 to March 9 1955
with Jack Hulbert, Richard Vosburgh, Kenneth Connor

CLOSE UP OF … Jack Hulbert
BBC Light Programme Sunday 6-00pm March 13 1955

VARIETY PLAYHOUSE (60 min)
Series 1: BBC Home Service Saturday 8-00pm
summer season hosts:
Cicely Courtneidge (Apr 17 to July 3 1954),
Jack Buchanan (Jun 30 to Jul 21 1956) and Kenneth Horne (Jul 28 to Sep 22 1956)
            also featuring Cicely Courtneidge & Jack Hulbert (Jun 30 to Sep 22 1956)
Series 2: BBC Home Service Saturday 8-00pm January 5 to June 29 1957
with Kenneth Horne, Cicely Courtneidge & Jack Hulbert
Series 3: BBC Home Service Saturday 8-00pm October 5 1957 to March 29 1958
with Ted Ray, Cicely Courtneidge & Jack Hulbert, Ronnie Barker & Patricia Hayes
Series 4: BBC Home Service Saturday 8-00pm September 27 to December 20 1958
with Ted Ray, Cicely Courtneidge & Jack Hulbert, Ronnie Barker & Patricia Hayes (in segment: “Nidge of the News)
Series 6: BBC Home Service Saturday 8-00pm October 3 1959 to May 28 1960
with Vic Oliver, Cicely Courtneidge & Jack Hulbert,
Series 7: BBC Home Service Saturday 7-30pm September 24 1960 to March 25 1961
with Vic Oliver, Cicely Courtneidge & Jack Hulbert, Leslie Crowther, Ronnie Barker
 (* hosted by Kenneth Horne from Dec 31 to Jan 28)
Series 8: BBC Home Service Saturday 7-30pm September 23 1961 to May 19 1962 (not Jan 6)
with Vic Oliver, Cicely Courtneidge & Jack Hulbert (1961 only), Leslie Crowther, Ronnie Barker
Archives has 6 editions (5 from series 3 and 1 from series 7) and a handful of extracts.

DISCORD IN THREE FLATS
BBC Home Service Saturday 1-10pm July 7 to September 29 1962
with Cicely Courtneidge, Vic Oliver, Jack Hulbert, Joan Benham

CICELY COURTNEIDGE THEATRE
BBC Light Programme Friday 7-30pm January 22 to February 12 1965
with Cicely Courtneidge, Jack Hulbert, Sir Donald Wolfit, Francis de Wolff

tributes

THE LAUGHTERMAKERS: Cicely Courtneidge
BBC Home Service Friday 1-10pm April 26 1957

THE JACK HULBERT STORY
BBC Home Service Thursday 7-00pm June 18 1959 (60 min)

THE CICELY COURTNEIDGE STORY
BBC Home Service Thursday 7-00pm June 25 1959 (60 min)

FLETCHER’S FRIENDS
BBC Radio 2 Wednesday 10-00pm May 11 1988 (15 min): Max Miller & Cicely Courtneidge
BBC Radio 2 Wednesday 10-00pm July 12 1989: Claude Dampier, Claude Hulbert & Jack Hulbert

VITALITY! – THE CICELY COURTNEIDGE STORY
BBC Radio 2 Tuesday 9-00pm March 30 1993 (60 min)
hosted by Michael Bevis

TELEVISION

HULBERT FOLLIES
BBC fortnightly July 8 to September 29 1948 (6 x 45 min)
starring Jack Hulbert, Claude Hulbert

COMEDY PLAYHOUSE: A Little Learning
BBC1 May 31 1966
starring Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge

BEFORE THE FRINGE
Cicely guest-starred in two episodes

THE VERY MERRY WIDOW
Cicely guest-starred in some episode 

ON THE BUSES (series 1)
LWT February 28 to April 11 1969 (7 x 25min)
Cicely starred as Mum in the first season

RECORDINGS

JACK HULBERT and CICELY COURTNEIDGE

Try Again Tomorrow
Columbia 78rpm 4228 (January 6 1927)

Love’s Reawakening (2 parts)
Columbia 78rpm 9294 (January 6 1928)

The Schoolmaster and the Boy (2 parts)
Columbia 78rpm 9593 (November 14 & 15 1928)

The Ever-Open Door (2 parts)
Columbia 78rpm 9927 (December 11 1929)

I’ve Fallen in Love
Columbia 78rpm 5689 (January 8 1930)

You Don’t Understand
HMV 78rpm B 4475 (June 19 1933)

Our Greatest Successes (2 parts)
HMV 78rpm C 2868 (October 13 1936)

The Cure (Hiccoughs) (2 parts)
HMV 78rpm B 8506 (October 16 1936)

Birdie Out of a Cage / I Was Anything But Sentimental
HMV 78rpm B 8577 (May 19 1937)

If You Want to Dance / Together Again
HMV 78rpm B 8864 (January 13 & February 10 1939)

Keep It Under Your Hat
HMV 78rpm B 8865 (January 13 1939)

Something in the Air selection
HMV 78rpm B 9352 (October 28 1943)

Home (2 parts)
HMV 78rpm B 9353 (October 28 1943)

CICELY COURTNEIDGE

The Little Japanese Mama
HMV 78rpm GC 3892 (September 27 1911)

Honourable Jappy Bride
HMV 78rpm GC 3894 (September 28 1911)

Dear Little Jappy Girls
HMV 78rpm GC 3904 (November 25 1911)

A Tiny Flat Near Soho Square (with Harold French)
Columbia 78rpm 4227 (January 6 1927)

The Calinda
Columbia 78rpm 4714 (January 6 1928)

Forty-Seven Ginger-Headed Sailors / Monte Carlo
Columbia 78rpm 5176 (November 14 1928)

Three Little Hairs / High Street Africa
Brunswick 78rpm BR 208 (December 1928)

Cicely Courtneidge Plonks Her Guitar / Cicely Courtneidge Again Plonks Her Guitar
Edison Bell Winner 78rpm EBW 5275 (c. May 1931)

Laughing Gas (2 parts)
HMV 78rpm B 3995 (October 23 1931)

Ali Baba’s Camel (2 parts)
HMV 78rpm B 3984 (October 27 1931)

When It’s Milking Time in Switzerland (2 parts)
HMV 78rpm B 4002 (October 27 & November 6 1931)

I’ll Give Her a Ring / Double Damask
HMV 78rpm B 4314 (October 21 1932)

The Moment I Saw You / There’s Something About a Sailor
HMV 78rpm B 4418 (April 3 1933)

Why Has a Cow Got Four Legs?
HMV 78rpm B 4475 (June 19 1933)

We’ll All Go Riding on a Rainbow / If I Had Napoleon’s Hat
HMV 78rpm B 8067 (November 1 & 2 1933)

The Wind’s in the West / My Wild Oat
HMV 78rpm B 8068 (November 2 and 1 1933)

The Girl in the Post Office / Two Minds Without a Single Thought
HMV 78rpm C 2623 (November 4 1933)

Radio Hour in the Children’s Ward (part 2)
HMV 78rpm B 8261 (December 15 1934)

Things Are Looking Up / Gentlemen! The King
HMV 78rpm B 8314 (April 17 1935)

Humpty Dumpty / The Pleasure Cruise
HMV 78rpm B 8329 (April 17 1935)

Why Has a Cow Got Four Legs? / The South is the Place for Me
HMV 78rpm B 8588 (June 11 1937)

Maybelle / Follow the Bride
HMV 78rpm B 8674 (November 29 1937)

The Empire Depends on You
HMV 78rpm B 8865 (January 13 1939)

The Birthday of the Little Princess / The Little Toy Train
HMV 78rpm B 8941 (July 5 1939)

It’s Bound to Be Right on the Night / Bees Are Buzzin’
Columbia 78rpm DO 2805 (December 16 1950)

Vitality / If Only He’d Looked My Way
Columbia 78rpm DO 2806 (December 16 1950)

Guards on Parade + Ruritania
Columbia 78rpm DO 2808 (December 16 1950)

Jemima Puddleduck
HMV EP 7EG-110 (1960)

HIGH SPIRITS
Pye LP NPL 18100 (1964), PRT Flashbacks LP FBLP 8087
Cicely can be heard on four tracks of this original London cast LP
The Bicycle Song
Go Into Your Trance
Talking to You
Something is Coming to Tea

JACK HULBERT

Reckless Reggie / Have You Forgotten? (with Phyllis Monkman)
Columbia 78rpm L 1189 (May 1917)

Hullo! (with Beatrice Lillie)
Columbia 78rpm F 1008 (October 13 1919)

I Did Feel a Dreadful Ass
Columbia 78rpm F 1011 (October 13 1919)

Nothin’ At All (with Phyllis Titmuss)
Columbia 78rpm F 1013 (October 13 1919)

The Lay of the Languid Golfer
Columbia 78rpm F 1014 (October 13 1919)

Here in My Arms (with Phyllis Dare)
Columbia 78rpm 4226 (January 6 1927)

But Not Today
Columbia 78rpm 4228 (January 6 1927)

I’ll Say to You
Columbia 78rpm 4715 (January 6 1928)

Rambling Along the Highway / I Just Roll Along
Columbia 78rpm 5177 (November 14 1928)

She’s Such a Comfort to Me
Columbia 78rpm 5689 (January 8 1930)

Don’t Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve / The First Weekend in June (both with Betty Ann Davies)
Broadcast 78rpm 5197

Jolly Good Company / It Always Starts to Rain (both with Claude Hulbert)
HMV 78rpm B 4003 (November 5 1931)

Modern Colour Poems (2 parts, both with Claude Hulbert)
HMV 78rpm B 4182 (January 4 1932)

The Flies Crawled Up the Window / I Want to Cling to Ivy
HMV 78rpm B 4263 (August 27 1932)

The Hulbert Brothers in Chicago (2 parts, both with Claude Hulbert)
HMV 78rpm B 4332 (November 1 1932)

Lovin’ You (2 parts, both with Claude Hulbert)
HMV 78rpm B 4355 (November 3 1932)

Sweep
HMV 78rpm B 4474 (June 12 1933)

I Want to Ring Bells / My Hat’s on the Side of My Head
HMV 78rpm B 8062 (November 6 1933)

Miss What’s Her Name / My Dancing Lady
HMV 78rpm B 8147 (February 13 & March 9 1934)

My Last Year’s Girl / Keep Tempo
HMV 78rpm B 8162 (March 9 1934)

What a Little Moonlight Can Do / Who’s Been Polishing the Sun?
HMV 78rpm B 8238 (September 13 1934)

Where There’s You, There’s Me / You’re Sweeter Than I Thought You Are
HMV 78rpm BD 334 (March 13 1936)

Tap Your Tootsies / Celebratin’
HMV 78rpm BD 335 (March 13 1936)

In a Paradise for Two (When a Boy Meets a Girl) / When You Hear Music
HMV 78rpm BD 494 (January 8 1938)

If You Want to Dance
HMV 78rpm B 8864 (January 13 1939)

Hold Tight / You’re Driving Me Crazy (both with The Rhythm Brothers)
HMV 78rpm B 8942 (July 5 1939)

It’s Going to Take a Lot of Getting Used To
HMV 78rpm B 9353 (October 28 1943)

reissues 

Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert
World Records LP SH 113
Riding on a Rainbow
Home
The Flies Crawled up the Window
Things Are Looking Up
My Hat’s on the Side of My Head
If I Had Napoleon’s Hat
My Last Year’s Girl
The Moment I Saw You
Vitality
Sweep
Laughing Gas
What a Little Moonlight Can Do
It’s Bound to Be Right on the Night
She’s Such a Comfort to Me
Where There’s You, There’s Me
I Was Anything But Sentimental

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cicely
by Cicely Courtneidge (Hutchinson, 1953)

The Little Woman’s Always Right
by Jack Hulbert (W.H. Allen, London, 1975)

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