American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 45

Gus Elen

1862 - 1940

by Chris Simmons

Unlike British Music Hall stars like Harry Lauder and Albert Chevalier who extended their popularity by modifying their act and their delivery for American audiences, Gus Elen remained very much the man he was born, and his stage act was a faithful impersonation of the London cockney, a coster serenader.

Costers were the vegetable and fruit sellers who peopled London’s marketplaces.  With their dialect and colorful dress, costers had long captivated performers for their inherent theatricality.  Gus Elen, however, was to the cockney manner born, and his characterizations remained authentic even as he tailored them for the stage.  “I made up my mind at the outset,” Gus Elen said later, “that my renderings of the coster character should be neither idealistic nor in the nature of a caricature, but just realistic.”

Among the songs that he wrote or popularized were “Never Introduce Your Donah (girlfriend) to a Pal,” “‘Arf a Pint ‘o Ale,” “Me an’ Er,” “It’s a Great Big Shame,” “You Could See As ‘Ow ‘E Didn’t Feel at ‘Ome,” and “The Golden Dustman.”

When he retired in the early 1930s, Gus settled down to retirement and devoted his leisure time to “The Cockney’s Garden” or “The ‘Ouses in Between”:

“Oh! It really is a werry pretty garden,

And Chingford to the eastward could be seen;

Wiv a ladder and some glasses. You could see to ‘Ackney Marshes,

If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between.”