Jack Buchanan: Last of the Knuts

jack buchanan

Nige remembers one of the great entertainers…

The Dumbartonshire-born Jack Buchanan (2 April 1891 – 20 October 1957) was one of the great comic actors and song and dance men of his time, and, to quote no less an authority than The Times, ‘the last of the knuts’. The what? you might well ask. Perhaps you never heard the music-hall song Gilbert the Filbert

‘I am known round Town as a fearful blood
For I come straight down from the dear old flood
And I know who’s who, and I know what’s what
And between the two I’m a trifle hot
For I set the tone as you may suppose
For I stand alone when it comes to clothes
And as for gals just ask my pals
Why everybody knows.

Chorus: I’m Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with a K
The pride of Piccadilly the blasé roué
Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert, the Colonel of the Knuts.’

A ‘knut’, then, we can take to be a raffish, well connected and debonair chap-about-town, perhaps not entirely safe in taxis. And this was certainly the image Jack Buchanan happily projected in the countless now forgotten musical comedies through which he drifted in his elegant, languid way. He also made a few Hollywood movies and, late in his career, starred with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charise in The Band Wagon (1953), the film by which he is still best remembered (if remembered he be). Here he is holding his own (no one could do more) with Fred Astaire in I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan. Bear in mind when watching it that Buchanan has severe spinal arthritis – what a trouper!

Buchanan, unlike many in showbusiness, was notably generous with his money, even investing some in John Logie Baird’s mechanical television. Whenever one of his shows was running on Grand National Day he would cancel the day’s performances and take everybody, cast and crew, to Aintree, feeding and watering them lavishly, and even giving them each a fiver to place a bet or two.

Buchanan was married twice, and one of his many affairs was with the actress Coral Browne, whose visit to the exiled Soviet spy Guy Burgess in Moscow was the subject of Alan Bennett’s An Englishman Abroad. Miss Browne mentioned to Burgess that she had ‘nearly married’ Jack Buchanan. Among the very few mementoes of his earlier life that Burgess had managed to keep was a 78rpm recording of Buchanan singing Who? He played it repeatedly throughout Coral Browne’s visit.

Jack Buchanan also sang the definitive version of Everything Stops For Tea. Note the reference to Schubert in the last verse – probably not historically sound…

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

One thought on “Jack Buchanan: Last of the Knuts

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    May 15, 2014 at 10:01

    An Englishman Abroad was screened recently as part of the Alan Bennett seen through the rear view mirror season, from Leeds to Red Square. Wonderfull movie, the acting of Bates, Browne and Gray sublime and the Buchanan soundtrack sepia toned the production, the sound pure art decor, Crittall-windowed and chromium plated. My mother used to go weak at the knees, and uncle Albert but that was rarely mentioned.

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