The Western Brothers
Kenneth Alfred Western and his second cousin Ernest George Western (“The Western Brothers”) became famous in the late 1920’s for their vaudeville act lampooning the establishment of the times. They perfected the aloof affectations of two disdainful upper-crust society members so well that they became a instant hit in the entertainment industry.
By 1924 George Western was already a successful "Entertainer at the Piano" and "Composer" in the Roosters Concert Party in London. Although he lived in London not far from his Western cousins, he had never met his second cousin Kenneth Western. Kenneth was working at the Ministry of Transportation, and was having some small successes as a song writer. A family member noticed the shared interests and suggested the two of them get in touch. Subsequently Kenneth sent George a copy of a song he had written. Fortunately George's original written reply has been kept and has been transcribed below.
And the rest, as they say, made musical history!
During WWII, Lord Haw-Haw (the Irish-American Nazi sympathizer), was often mocked by the British media. This phenomenon grew widespread and the Western Brothers were quick to create a song based on an “Uncle Boohoo of Moscow”. It contained the lines:
“Uncle Boo-Hoo of
and Lord Haw-Haw of Zeesen, Moscow
We may be two Britishers, but three cheers for treason!”
The song was so popular with the audiences that the Western Brothers had to move it the end of the show to not interrupt the flow of the skits. Subsequently British Columbia Records issued a recording of their song with the unusual distinction of having the Western Brothers “logo” Old School Tie on the label.
Kenneth and George took their act on the road throughout the late 1940’s, and although their popularity was in decline, they continued to appear as late as 1962. They shared the billing with Julie Andrews, and Enso Toppano, in Harold Fielding’s “Music For The Millions” in August 1950 at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth.
Several of the Western Brothers most famous songs can be found on several ‘Music Hall’ CD’s. Tony Barker of the Music Hall Magazine has issue a single CD (Cylidisc 517) containing 21 of their songs arranged chronologically from 1932 through 1941. That CD can be found at the Music Hall web site.
The Western Brothers first appeared on film in a number of 1 and 2 minute long films from British Pathe Films. Their first known film short was in in December 1931 and simply was a recording of their stage act. They continued making film shorts in 1932 and 1933. By 1934 they were acting in character roles in "Mr. Cinders".
Year Title Role 1931 (Dec 14) Full Short: "Gala! Filmed at the Cafe de Paris. On with the dance, and the more crowded, the merrier, even though pretty frocks are submerged in the scene. Eddie Gross-Bart's Boys are playing." British Pathe films.
Intertitle reads: "And the inimitable Kenneth & George Western explained how "It was bound to happen in the end!"
The famous comedy singing team of the Western Brothers are seen singing a topical song "It Was Bound To Happen In The End", involving several well-known people of the day, including Winston Churchill changing political parties. Kenneth Western tells a joke about the two hikers who went into the woods to pick bluebells and found so many other hikers there that they had to pick bluebells.
1932 (Feb 29) Film short: "Now Pathetone presents The Western Brothers, (Kenneth & George) of Radio, Gramophone & Variety fame - ". Kenneth Western introducing their song as 'It Was All Hushed Up' or 'She Was Only A Woodcutter's Daughter But She Was Oak'. In the middle of the song Kenneth tells a joke about a man retreating from the front line trenches, who came across a Staff Officer and said "Have I come as far back as all that?". 1932 (Apr 4) Film short: "FAMOUS LONDON CABARETS - 'Playtime at the Piccadilly Hotel.'" (British Pathe) Intertitle reads: "A bright verse or two from Kenneth & George Western." Tthe two brothers (one plays the piano while the other stands next to him) sing a comical song called 'It was Agony !'. Several shots of the audience watching the two entertainers (they are quite upper class looking).
1932 (Jun 20) Film short : "Now we meet the well known Broadcasters & Variety Artists, THE WESTERN BROTHERS, (Kenneth & George)." (British Pathe Films) They play themselves. Mostly shots of George playing the piano, while Kenneth stands next to him. They sing `In the Parlour when the company's gone'. Several good shots of the pair singing. 1933 (Mar 11) "The Western Brothers (Kenneth & George) of Variety, B.B.C. and Cabaret fame." They play themselves singing "Play the Game, you Cads!" 1933 (Oct 16) Film short: Titles read: "Now we present The Western Brothers (Kenneth & George) of Variety & B.B.C. fame in another of their well-known numbers." The Western Brothers play themselves. It opens with a shot of Kenneth, introducing their song, saying "Hello, You Cads". They sing 'She Does It All For Me', with George playing the grand piano. 1933 One Precious Year The Western Brothers sing "Wearing his old school tie" 1934 The Way of Youth Uncredited 1934 Mr. Cinders Kenneth and George Western were both writers on this movie in addition to playing the characters Lumley and Guy Lancaster. 1934/5 The Radio Parade of 1935, a.k.a. Radio Follies They played themselves as announcers for the acts. 1936 Soft Lights and Sweet Music The Western Brothers played themselves as hosts of the new medium of television. 1938 Old Bones of the River They played themselves as "The Voice of Reproach"
The Gaitskell libel broadcast on October 9th, 1948
Sometimes the Western Brothers' jokes allegedly crossed the line into libel. The following joke was broadcast by the BBC on the night of October 9th, 1948. The Mr. Gaitskell referred to in the joke was the Minister of Fuel and Power and had some influence over the National Coal Board (NCB) at the time.
Mr. Gaitskell's papers (currently available at the Special Collections, University College, London), show the flurry of complaints written to the BBC and the resultant government response.
The Solicitor-General was asked for an opinion based on a written copy of the script. The Solicitor-General writes "... there was actionable slander for which Mr. Gaitskell is entitled to recover [non pecuniary] damages." The Treasury Solicitor (Sir Thomas Barnes) brought this legal opinion to the attention of the Lord Chancellor, who was "... inclined to consider very seriously the issue of a writ against the Western Brothers. Comedians of all kinds were constantly poking fun at the government and this would be a good opportunity to teach them a salutary lesson."
However the Lord President suggested an alternative plan: "I think if they offer ample apology - fully published - it meets the case. If not, I would favor a writ (on competent legal advise), but in either case the PM should be asked for concurrence."
The following apology was subsequently drafted and sent to the BBC and to the Western Brothers.
The Western Brothers responded with a signed letter (shown to the right) agreeing to this apology and avoided a libel suit. The letter reads:
The Solicitor-General writes back to the Western Brothers and their solicitors on 16th October, 1948:
Apparently the apology was broadcast and the matter came to a rest.
Kenneth and George were actually second cousins. Their grandfathers were Devonshire brothers who came to Islington in the early 1860's. One might say the grandfathers were the original "Western Brothers".
Ernest George Western (as he was more formally known) was born
23 July 1895, the middle child of the three children of Thomas Norman Western (born 28 January 1867) and Rebecca Sarah Stevens.
George's grandfather, Richard Western (born around 1831 in Thorverton, Devon) migrated with his younger brother, Charles Western, to Islington in the 1860's.
The aforementioned Charles is the grandfather of Kenneth Alfred Western. Charles, also a Thorverton native, married Sarah Jane Neithercott in 1857 and they had 6 children. Their second child, also named Charles, was born in Exeter, Devon, but within a few years Charles senior and Sarah Jane uprooted their small family and came to Islington. Charles, the younger, grew up in Islington and married Emily Westley at the
Cross StreetBaptist Chapel in Islington on Christmas 1884. Charles and Emily’s first son was Kenneth Alfred Western of the "Western Brothers" fame.
In the photo above left (circa 1943), Kenneth is in the centre in the back row. The other four people in the back row are unidentified. In the second row on the left is Kenneth's wife Beatrice Florence Crowley (arm in sling). To her left is Kenneth's older sister, Doris Elizabeth Western. On the extreme right in the second row is Joyce Western (aged about 17), the oldest daughter of Kenneth and Beatrice. In front of Joyce is her younger sister Judith (aged about 9), gazing at Charles Western (seated), her grandfather, aged about 82. On the other side, in front of her mother, is Jane Western, aged about 7.
The two branches of the Western family were quite large. Kenneth had two older sisters, Doris and Edith, and a younger brother Leonard Frank Western, all born in Islington. Kenneth’s father, Charles, had three younger brothers (Francis Richard Western; Henry Toogood Western; and Alfred William Vincent Western) and a younger sister, Emily Jane Western, likewise all born in Islington. Several of these uncles also had large families in Islington and Highbury, and many family members have recalled gatherings of dozens of Westerns in the 1920’s and '30s.
The photo to the left shows George’s parents (Thomas Norman Western and Rebecca) at a family gathering in the mid-1890’s. It’s uncertain if the baby in his mother’s lap is George himself. George had an older sister, Elsie Ada Western, born in 1892, and this is possibly her.
Coincidentally both Kenneth and George had younger brothers named Leonard. George’s younger brother was Leonard Evelyn Charles Western (born
14 July 1902), and Kenneth’s was Leonard Frank Western (born 18 January 1905). Several family members recall George's Leonard managing to claim he was a ‘Western Brother’ (which he was - genealogically speaking) and gaining a little fame for himself.
Many family members remember George and Kenneth as close family men, quite in contrast to their stage characters, and they often visited their
Devonand cousins. London
The photo to the right shows the Western Brothers visiting their cousins at Tuxton farm in
Devon. Kenneth, on the left, has the arm of Alice Wenmouth. Alice (nee Western) is a first cousin, once removed, of Kenneth and George. Seated in the middle is Alfred Wenmouth, ’s husband, while George Western stands on the right. Alice
Kenneth married Beatrice Florence Crowley on
14 June 1924, at the in Islington, Christ Church , and they had four daughters; Joyce, Jill, Judith and Jane. London
George married Irene Lilian Palmer on
21 October, 1922, at the in Stroud Green Parish Church . They had three children; Pamela (1926), Robert (1932), and Patricia (1933). Edmonton, England
Autographs and other Ephemera
The Western Brothers autographs were quite in demand during their 20 years of fame. They were very accessible to their audiences, and many autographs are still available today from collectors.
The rare triple autograph to the left contains the signature of George’s 16 year-old daughter, Pamela, from their performance at the Albert Hall in 1943. Although Pamela did not appear with her father on stage, she had a speaking role as "Dierdre" in the 1943 movie "Dear Octopus"
The Western Brothers had several of their catch phrases become wildly popular. It was ‘Play the game, you cads!’ that propelled them into the national spot-light. They tried out many other phrases during their career. The photo above right shows George promoting 'So What?' as a expression of indifference to calamities.
Kenneth and George were featured on several cigarette cards. An Ardath cigarette card reads:
“It was a happy stroke when Kenneth and George (“the cads!”) hit on the “Old school tie” as the key-note of their burlesques. The marked success of these London-born cousins in so short a time is astonishing. Kenneth – sleek, debonair and monocled, and George – cleverly caustic, began as authors and entered vaudeville with a revue which they wrote and produced themselves. Soon they were singing those brilliantly conceived “Aren’t We All” songs. The wireless and the screen, whereon they appeared in the film Mr Cinders, widened their popularity. Gramophone records of their inimitable items are in big demand, the brothers recording exclusively for Columbia. In such respite as they get from radio, stage, film-studio or private parties, Kenneth and George seek the solace of the golf course (“Play the game, you cads!”).
A similar cigarette card gives a different view of their life:
“Kenneth and George Western are not really brothers; they are first cousins. They have built up a radio reputation as blasé club-men; actually they are real family men with a love of the open air, and sports that are just a little dangerous – high speed motoring and flying. Quite recently they have scored another success – as film stars in the photo-play ‘Mr. Cinders’. Kenneth was once at the Ministry of Transportation, and George in a London Insurance Office.”
The Picture Post story – A new song for 1948
The January 3, 1948, Picture Post magazine featured a short story about the Western Brothers and a new song they had composed for the occasion. The article reads in part:
We have started many a New Year by asking political leaders for a message. The years have proved no better for the messages. This year we decided on a change. We asked the Western Brothers to write us a special New Year song as an inspiration to the human race. Here it is. And much good may it do to 1948!
They have given many an inspiring message to mankind: “Play the game, you cads!”, “Jolly good show”, and others. Will this year’s be another footprint in the sands of time?”
The story continues with a copy of their song:
Here's a a song of Empire! Our Commonwealth of Lands!
Remember all you Britishers, the future is in your hands!
If only in this New Year we show the Nelson touch,
Britons shall never be slaves! Well, not so very much!
Forward with the People! Or the News of the World!
Don't forget what Bruce said to the spider in the past,
Force on, chaps, with never a backward glance!
He who laugh laughs, laugh laughs and laughs last!
Force on, chaps, with never a backward glance!
The Forum, Jersey, 1948
The Western Brothers played at the The Forum, Jersey, from September 27 to October 2nd, 1948.
The Western Brothers ("Those Radio Cads") shared the billing with the poet Edward O'Henry, the MariaJano's dancers, Alfred Swain, Anne Shelton, and the pianists Rawicz and Landauer.
As always they were very accessible to their audience as the autographed program below shows.
The TV Mirror article - 1953
The December 12th, 1953, TV Mirror magazine had a small story about the Western Brothers ushering in the Age of Television. Ironically it was television that began the inevitable end to their era of live stage performances.
The article is titled "We'll want the BIG SCREEN, Cads!" and is credited to Kenneth Western.
"Take your feet off the table, cads. Your new 24-inch size prefects are among you. Kenneth speaking. That's George at the ivory keyboard. The white notes and his shirt front are all due to chlorophyll. Marvelous isn't it? But then, he grows his own grass, y'know. Keeps a top hat full of the stuff ....
Thank you George. A few major chords,
We'll want the big screen, cads;
Now that Dior's clipped off inches
Eyeballs hurt where small screen pinches,
As we watch those girls on TV
Showing more and more of Eve-e--
We'll want the big screen, cads."
Evergreen Quarterly - Winter 2003/4
The Evergreen Quarterly magazine had an article in their Winter 2003/4 issue describing the career of the Western Brothers. The unaccredited article was surprisingly in depth with many details of their life. It is reproduced below.
"'Speed up old chap' shouted Kenneth and George to their driver, but the car was incapable of going any quicker and its' engine expired noisily in a cloud of smoke. Suddenly, with 20 miles still to go, it seem that accepting an engagement at Sevenoaks in between two performances at the London Palladium was not such a good idea after all.
"The first vehicle they flagged down for a lift turned out to be a police car and the second refused to believe who they were until they put their trademark monocles. "Hop in and we'll go for it" was the response from the two naval officers who were later disciplined for returning late to their ship. With seconds to spare the Western Brothers rushed from the car onto the stage!
"Amazingly, although real blood cousins, these two hugely popular pre-war entertainers never actually met until they were adults. Even then they were initially suspicious of each other until they discovered they felt and behaved as if they were twins.
"Great storytellers, especially about their respective school careers, it was always difficult to know what was fact and what was fiction. Kenneth definitely wrote the words of their sharply satirical songs, however, while George played the piano.
"Kenneth initially tried his luck in the theatre as a singer-songwriter, but after he failed an audition during the early Twenties, an aunt suggested he should go to meet his cousin George who was already an accomplished pianist with the Roosters Concert Party, a group which had started life in Palestine during the First World War. Originally named the Rooseters, after two commanding officers called Roose and Cockerell, they dropped the extra letter 'e' after repeatedly being told they could not spell.
"Starting out together professionally in 1925, they were perfect for live theatre but it was the new medium of radio which saw their rapid rise to fame. Playing the role of two silly asses (but not pronounced that way!), the unlikely duo were senior prefects in the mythical 'Cad's College' a BBC radio comedy show first broadcast in 1937. As the Chief Cads they excelled in humour connected with the aristocratic old school tie... 'Very important don't yer know!'
"Although born in London they liked to claim descent from a Devon family who moved to London, thus tracing their ancestry back to the Great Western! Often pictured in flying gear, they were genuinely fond of aviation and George was a qualified pilot who often dressed in a dark blue shirt and spotted muffler!
"On one notable occasion they were employed to fly over a carnival in a biplane and shoot down a large gas-filled balloon shaped like a tuna fish. Unfortunately, the power of the wind caused them to discharge their guns prematurely, missing the balloon, puncturing the fuselage and wings, and deafening the pilot!
"At the London Palladium they often appeared with the Crazy Gang, every one of whom was capable of the most outrageous jokes, even against each other. When invited to enter Bud Flanagan's dressing room they were drenched with water from a cold tap which the arch-joker had cunningly placed above the door. On the second occasion they were ready for it and it was Bud who got wet because Kenneth and George had surreptitiously arranged for a third party - but they never said who - to drive several holes in the pipework, thus soaking the whole room when Bud turned the tap on!
"The sardonic humour of the Western Brothers was ideal at a time when social barriers were well-defined. Everyone liked to laugh at the snooty upper classes, the aristocracy included, because they never actually saw themselves as the comical caricatures which Kenneth and George painted.
"When the Second World War arrived the duo were perfect for a send up of "Uncle Boo Hoo of Moscow, Lord Haw Haw of Zeesen, and Von Ribbentripe ... er ... trop!" They were a great morale booster to both troops and civilians alike.
"After the war it was a different story, however. The old order had passed away and with the declining number of nobs to poke fun at they decided to retire. Kenneth passed away 1963 and George died six years later. 'Remember the old school tie and play the game you cads!".
The Final Years
Kenneth, shown to the right, died first and his obituary in the January 25, 1963, Times reads:
"Mr. Kenneth Western, who died suddenly in Bedford yesterday, was the taller and bulkier of the two Western Brothers, who stood erect but wearily blousy by the piano at which his "brother" accompanied him for more than 35 years. He was 63.
"The partners, immaculately dressed and inseparable from their monocles, developed the traditional English humour of the young man about town, raffish, unscrupulous, cynical, but in reality harmlessly good-natured, descended from Burlington Bertie and a long line of knuts and mashers; among their not-too-distant relations is Bertie Wooster. Their catchwords, references to the "the good old school" and stern injunctions to the other cads to "play the game" became part of the national vocabulary.
"Kenneth Western was born in London on September 10, 1899, and, in spite of his professional devotion to the mockery of traditional notions of the public school, was educated at a London secondary school. Originally a civil servant, he turned to the world of entertainment and, in 1925, met and formed his partnership with Mr. George Western, actually his cousin although the two, "the two cads" or "the perfectly polite pair", were always billed as "the Western Brothers". Between them, with Kenneth Western providing the music, they created more than 400 songs for their act.
"Active in variety, cabaret, broadcasting, and television, the Western Brothers first appeared together at the London Palladium for the pre-war National Sunday League and in the same year, 1925, began their association with broadcasting which continued uninterruptedly until very recently and made them indispensable to any series of broadcast variety programmes. In 1935, playing before King George V and Queen Mary, they made the first of their two appearances at Royal Command variety performances.
"Kenneth Western leaves a widow and four married daughters."
‘Curtain Down on a Great Act’
by Barry Norman
“The death of Kenneth Western finally brings to an end one of
’s most famous and most popular comedy acts. At their peak, a peak which lasted 20 years, he and his cousin, George, now 65, earned ₤400 a week in music-halls and on the radio. But as music-hall began to die out their fame and popularity began to fade. In the last year (1962) they had made only about 20 public appearances. George, now a licensee at Weybridge, said last night: “We were more or less retired. Not from choice but because of necessity. When variety began to go there was not the work any more.” Britain
Monocled and immaculately dressed in white tie and tails, the Western Brothers were one of the first radio teams to earn the description of ‘house-hold names’. Their satirical songs – Kenneth wrote the music, George the lyrics – at the expense of the Old School Tie and the Empire caught on so successfully that questions were asked about them in the House of Commons. Once on successive days, they sang one of their most successful numbers, Wearing the Old School Tie, at a
Harrowspeech day and in MaidstoneJail. It was equally well received in both places. After the war things became more difficult. Kenneth said once: ‘Old school tie jokes have lost their point since they gave away the Empire.’
But still they kept up to date, writing their material from the morning papers. The focus for their gentle satire changed from targets like Lady Astor and Lady Baldwin’s hats to Bessie Braddock. Said George: ‘But TV finished us off in the end, although we kept our hand doing shows for charities and private parties. Most of our big earnings went to the income tax people, but I think Kenneth was fairly well set up financially’.
George, shown to the right, died six and a half years after Kenneth. The
following obituary is from the "Times" of
"Mr. George Western, the piano-playing member of the Western Brothers variety partnership, died at Weybridge, Surrey on Saturday. He was 74 and had been ill for some weeks.
"His partner Kenneth, who was really his cousin, created the lyrics for their act, while George composed the music. Their partnership, started in 1925, lasted until Kenneth's death in 1963. Their stock-in-trade comprised immaculate evening dress, the school tie, monocle and the catch phrase "Play the game, you cads", uttered in a drawling voice.
"The humour of the Western Brothers depended on a social situation which no longer exists. They were, they pretended, the bad boys who had succeeded in passing through a public school unaffected by its character-training, its ethos and its moral code. They had not themselves been educated at public schools, but their mockery of public school standards was admiringly affectionate. Their elegance, their monocled arrogance and their class, deliberate rather than phoney, accents lost their amusing relevance at some point in the late 1940s.
"George Western, the shorter and less bulky than his stage 'brother', matched his partner's lyrics with catchy if not very memorable tunes which owed a great deal to the tradition of the music hall. He sat at the piano against which his partner negligently leaned. George shared with Kenneth the ability to convince audiences in the days before television "satire" but their entirely good-humoured, cleverly timed act, innocent of any possible effect, was somehow an impudent mockery of the establishment. At the same time they showed that even the raffish n'er-do-well found its standards inescapable.
"The real criticism, though it was neither profound nor violent, was aimed at those who did not accept the loyalties and the codes which social tradition had sanctified. To them, their act was all a joke, but it was a joke growing out of social realities which they shared with audiences of all classes. George's music meant much to it, for it was entirely static and as effective by radio as it was in the theatre.
"Six years ago, with the death of his stage brother, George started a new career, a far cry from the glamorous microphone or stage years - he took over a sweet and tobacco kiosk at Weybridge station. He was still running the kiosk until his last illness."
Stephen Sylvester wrote An Appreciation of George Western that appeared in a local paper:
“The surviving Western Brother, George Western, died last Saturday, 16 August, aged 74. He and his cousin, Kenneth, who died seven years ago, build up an act between the Wars which took them to the top of the profession. The Western Brothers – monocles, evening dress, grand piano – live in the memory of anyone over 40. One has only to hear their name to remember the drawled unison, or to picture Kenneth yarning to George’s discreet piano till-ready.
Many of George’s old friends will recall his great days, but perhaps fewer people knew him during his last quiet years at Weybridge (in the heart of Old School Tie country), where he lived happily with Betty, and owned a small tobacconist business.
His eyes would sparkle as he told a gag, or thought back to the time when he and Kenneth made their best-ever entrance. ‘We were on top of the bill for Jack Hylton at the Victoria Palace’ he said, ‘We came up a broad staircase, right through the centre of the stage, and marched down to the floats. What a moment!’
Inevitably, an era ends with George Western, who helped to create a legend and lived a full and gentle life.
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Last updated 13 September, 2008