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Sparrows Can't Sing[2] is a 1963 British film.[3] 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
"Sparrers Can't Sing" (1962).jpg
UK quad poster
Directed byJoan Littlewood
Produced byDonald Taylor
Written byStephen Lewis
Music byJames Stevens
Stanley Black
CinematographyDesmond Dickinson
Mutz Greenbaum
Edited byOswald Hafenrichter
Distributed byElstree Distributors
Release date
26 February 1963 (1963-02-26)[1]
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


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 Krays; whilst some sources claim they made a cameo appearance towards the end of the film[4], film historian Richard Dacre states this isn't the case.[5].

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, in its review said "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."[6] It was also the first English language film to be released in the United States with subtitles.[7]


Cockney sailor Charlie comes home from a long voyage to find his house razed and his wife Maggie missing. Actually, she's 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's well known to have a foul temper. But he finally finds her and, after a fierce row with Bert, they are reconciled.


Film releaseEdit

On the 26th of February 1963, the world premiere was attended by the Earl of Snowdon. Held at the ABC cinema on the Mile End Road, post-film drinks were had across the road at the Kentucky club before the party moved to another Krays establishment, Esmerelda’s in the West End.

The film then also opened at the Rialto cinema in London’s West End on the 27th of February 1963.[1]


Barbara Windsor was nominated for the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role by the British Academy Film Awards in 1963, for her performance as Maggie.

Home mediaEdit

A region B Blu-ray was released on October 12, 2015.[8]


  1. ^ a b Sparrows Can't Sing
  2. ^ BBFC: Sparrows Can't Sing, 21/01/63
  3. ^ BFI film database
  4. ^ Sparrows review accessed 5 May 2007
  5. ^ 2015 Studio Canal DVD locations featurette
  6. ^ New York Times, 7 May 1963, at IMDb.
  7. ^ "Stephen Lewis, actor - obituary". Daily Telegraph. London. 13 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  8. ^
  • "Film Review" by Maurice Speed – Publisher: MacDonald, 1964

External linksEdit