Sparrows Can't Sing
Sparrows Can't Sing is a 1963 British kitchen sink film. Based on a 1960 play, Sparrers Can't Sing, it was directed by Joan Littlewood and was from a story by Stephen Lewis. The producer was Donald Taylor and the original music by James Stevens, incidental music was composed by Stanley Black. The play, also by Stephen Lewis, was first performed at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in the Theatre Royal Stratford East.
|Sparrows Can't Sing|
UK quad poster
|Directed by||Joan Littlewood|
|Produced by||Donald Taylor|
|Written by||Stephen Lewis|
|Music by||James Stevens|
|Cinematography||Desmond Dickinson |
|Edited by||Oswald Hafenrichter|
|Distributed by||Elstree Distributors|
|26 February 1963|
The play was first performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1960, using cast from the Theatre Workshop, who later appeared in the film. While the script is by Stephen Lewis, the play was developed using improvisational theatre techniques during performance. In common with much of Joan Littlewood's direction, it was an ensemble piece.
The production made a successful transfer to the West End at Wyndham's Theatre in 1961.
The film was made on location, in Limehouse, Isle of Dogs, Stepney around the theatre in Stratford, and at Elstree Studios. Sets were occasionally visited by nearby Vallance Road residents the Kray twins. Some sources claim the Krays made a cameo appearance towards the end of the film, but film historian Richard Dacre states this is not the case.
Sparrows Can't Sing is a comedy attempting to provide a representation of Cockney life in the East End of London in the early 1960s. A collection of typical characters such as people at the local pub, local tarts, Jewish tradesmen, spivs and others are portrayed (and possibly larger than life).
The dialogue is a mixture of Cockney rhyming slang, London Yiddish, and thieves' cant. The New York Times said in its review: "this isn't a picture for anyone with a logical mind or an ear for language. The gabble of cockney spoken here is as incomprehensible as the reasoning of those who speak it." It was also the first English language film to be released in the United States with subtitles.
Cockney sailor Charlie comes home from a long voyage to find his house razed and his wife Maggie missing. She is in fact now living with bus driver Bert and has a new baby – whose parentage is in doubt. Charlie's friends won't tell him where Maggie is because he is known to have a foul temper. But he finally finds her and, after a fierce row with Bert, they are reconciled.
- James Booth as Charlie Gooding
- Barbara Windsor as Maggie Gooding
- Roy Kinnear as Fred Gooding
- Avis Bunnage as Bridgie Gooding
- Barbara Ferris as Nellie Gooding
- Brian Murphy as Jack
- George Sewell as Bert
- Griffith Davies as Chunky
- Murray Melvin as Georgie
- Arthur Mullard as Ted
- Peggy Ann Clifford as Ted's Wife
- Wally Patch as Watchman
- Bob Grant as Perce
- Stephen Lewis as Caretaker
- Victor Spinetti as Arnold
- Jenny Sontag as Momma
- May Scagnelli as Gran
- Fanny Carby as Lil
- Yootha Joyce as Yootha
- Janet Howse as Janet
- Queenie Watts as Queenie
- John Junkin as Bridge Operator
- Harry H. Corbett as Greengrocer
- Marjie Lawrence as Girl
- Glynn Edwards as Charlie's Friend
- Gerry Raffles as Lorry Driver
- Rita Webb as Maggie's Neighbour (Uncredited)
- Georgina Mitchell gypsy flower seller in pub
The world premiere was held on 26 February 1963 at the ABC cinema on the Mile End Road, and was attended by the Earl of Snowdon. Post-film drinks were had across the road at the Kentucky Club, owned by the Kray twins, before the party moved on to another Kray establishment, Esmeralda's Barn in the West End.
The film opened at the Rialto Cinema in the West End on 27 February 1963.
A region B Blu-ray was released on October 12, 2015.
- Sparrows Can't Sing
- BBFC: Sparrows Can't Sing, 21/01/63
- BFI film database
- Sparrows review accessed 5 May 2007
- 2015 Studio Canal DVD locations featurette
- New York Times, 7 May 1963, at IMDb.
- "Stephen Lewis, actor – obituary". Daily Telegraph. London. 13 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
- "Film Review" by Maurice Speed – Publisher: MacDonald, 1964