16 February 2014

The Laughing Policeman, Charles Penrose Cawse (1873-1952)

Growing up in England in the mid half of the last century it was impossible to avoid the infectious novelty song, The Laughing Policeman. Charles Penrose (his stage name) first released this in 1922, after shamelessly poaching both the melody and the laughter from a much earlier effort by American George Johnson.

Clearly they didn't get out much in those days! Penrose went on to record a multitude of broadly similar laughing songs, singing and chortling his way around the Music Hall venues of Britain until his demise. Are the songs funny? Well, a little lame really, but they are sweetly evocative of those gentler times.

On an expeditionary trawl through my thousands of pages of UK Census returns I alighted on the entries for a family of Oldings headed by widow, Elizabeth Louiza. You'll see how deeply I am diving in my gene pool when I explain that Louiza was the wife of my First Cousin, four times removed - that is to say, her husband's Grandfather was my Great (x5) Grandfather on my paternal side.

Okay! I hear you. Enough of this genealogical nonsense. Well, as I browsed a jpeg of the very page on which distant Louiza had written her household details in 1911, I was struck by the wide range of occupations among her adult children and the five boarders lodging with her. I believe Louiza must have handed the form to her boarders and asked them to pen their own details because her neat hand gives way to a series of scrawling, thick-nibbed inscriptions. Among the odd skills my research has honed is decyphering old handwriting. The boarders are:
Eric Lenars            23 single     Music Hall Artiste
Charles Pen Caws 35 married   Comedian
Hettie Pen Caws    32 married  Comedienne
Arthur Ewart          24 single     Music Hall Artiste
Bottom of the list is a son of two of the boarders, Charles Alexander Penrose Cawse age 5y 5m.

You don't come across fancy occupations like this too often. Maybe they were famous? So I Googled the married couple and, bingo! Despite the theatrical licence with his spelling, Charles is definitely the rascal who would eventually entertain the masses with his Laughing Policeman. 'Hettie' is his first wife Harriett Lewcock. (Modern comediennes would doubtless consider hers a name to conjure with!) Neither Ewart nor Lenars seem to have left traces but the Penrose star shone brightly for several decades. All thanks to some slightly hilarious giggling and chuckling.
I'm assuming the troupe of entertainers were lodging in Peterborough during a tour of shows. For a while, at least, evenings at 12 Cromwell Road must have been a riot, considering the heady mix of residents, Commercial Traveller (Rep for a stationery company on closer inspection), Pianoforte Teacher, Railway Labourer, Tailor, two Music Hall Artistes, a Comedian and a Comedienne. Or did Louiza sigh with relief and bolt the door firmly when they left, trailing jocularity and mirth in their wake?

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