Fred Karno

Abstract from Wikipedia : Frederick John Westcott (26 March 1866 – 18 September 1941), best known by his stage name Fred Karno, was an English theatre impresario of the British music hall. Karno is credited with inventing the custard-pie-in-the-face gag. During the 1890s, in order to circumvent stage censorship, Karno developed a form of sketch comedy without dialogue. Cheeky authority-defying playlets such as "Jail Birds" (1896) in which prisoners play tricks on warders and "Early Birds" (1903) where a small man defeats a large ruffian in London's East End can be seen as precursors of movie silent comedy. Among the young comedians who worked for him were Charlie Chaplin and his understudy, Arthur Jefferson, who later adopted the name of Stan Laurel. These were part of what was known as “Fred Karno's Army”, a phrase still occasionally used in the UK to refer to a chaotic group or organisation. The phrase was also adapted by British soldiers into a trench song in the First World War, as a parody of, or rather to the tune of, the hymn The Church's One Foundation. In the Second World War it was adapted as the Anthem of the Guinea Pig Club, the first line becoming “We are McIndoe's Army …”.

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