Skip

Haaaaah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! The Laughing Policeman!
February 11, 2007 12:05 PM   Subscribe

When I was a kid, my dad, who grew up in London, during the Blitz, used to play this old record: a song called "The Laughing Policeman." It always put a smile on my face. According to Wikipedia, it was written in 1922 by Charles Jolly, who wrote "numerous other laughing songs (The Laughing Major, Curate, Steeplechaser, Typist, Lover, etc)." If you want to hear the happiest policeman ever, here's the mp3. The song has inspired cartoonists, mystery novelists (great series, by the way!), filmmakers, a more-recent recording (mp3), and, inevitably, some scary people on youtube. Speaking of youtube, this is how I remember the song.
posted by grumblebee (41 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is the best thing I've ever heard.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 12:08 PM on February 11, 2007


And what a bizarre subculture of people lip syncing to it.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 12:12 PM on February 11, 2007


THISISMOSTSINGULARLYEXCELLENT

I'll definitely add this to my list of songs to listen to when I'm not feeling all that swell. What a wondrous track. I can perfectly understand the impulse to upload a video of oneself lipsyncing or singing it, though I personally would spare the world that sight. The guy in the bathrobe (the "scary" link) reminds me of Andy Kaufman's Mighty Mouse bit.

Let me repeat, this is a supremely excellent post.
posted by Kattullus at 12:24 PM on February 11, 2007


How have I lived into my fifties without knowing this song? Thanks for this bizarre slice of musical history! (And yes, those people on YouTube are scary, especially the one in the pig mask.)
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on February 11, 2007


Nice find.
Being fortunate enough to have never experience a bombing, I can somehow imagine this song playing in the background to bombs bursting in the distance.
posted by jmd82 at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2007


My dad has to stop and listen to this whenever they (rarely) play this on the radio in SA.
posted by PenDevil at 12:41 PM on February 11, 2007


Hilarious song. Fun post.

These days when policemen laugh it might not be so funny.

That fun old song might have been a kind of British (John Cleese visiting the Bombay Laughter Club) laughter yoga.

The wonderful mud, mud glorious mud...Flanders & Swann's Hippopotamus Song is also an oldie but goodie.
posted by nickyskye at 12:48 PM on February 11, 2007


I just think it's cool someone videotaped a record playing .. and it's actually watchable (last link).
posted by stbalbach at 12:54 PM on February 11, 2007


There's a TV ad in the UK where a guy is painting his fence with some kind of sprayer and the ad uses this song. Nice to know where it came from.
posted by gfrobe at 12:55 PM on February 11, 2007


Now I know one more thing about the bizarre world my mum grew up in. Thanks.
posted by Listener at 1:13 PM on February 11, 2007


And don't forget the Laughing Policeman Wireless Society. It's a group of anarchistic UK radio hams who thrive on winding up other hams and the authorities by various childish, anti-social and illegal means. Given how up their own dipoles many UK radio hams are, and the traditionally rather petty and authoritarian attitude of some of those who try and regulate same, you may be forgiven for finding the whole thing hilarious (as I do). It's situationalist slapstick.

Some of the activities of the LPWS membership have included designing tiny unattended jammers that go off at odd times, playing music through repeating stations (including the Laughing Policeman, hence the name), and publishing how-tos for those who may be tempted to join in.

Of late, officialdom appears to have stopped taking too much interest in what goes on on the amateur bands, the licensing regime has become a lot more relaxed and the LPWS has become a lot less active. But it's still out there, and the web site points to some audio treats that keep the jolly roger flying atop the 5-ele tribander.
posted by Devonian at 1:29 PM on February 11, 2007


I remember this from my own childhood (in the late 70s/early 80s). Fantastic stuff.
posted by athenian at 1:32 PM on February 11, 2007


what a bizarre subculture of people lip syncing to it

No more bizarre than that idiotic air-band sh*t. At least this is pure fun. That idiotic airband sh*t is such overdone pointlessness. (Gee, I probably don't need those asterisks here, do I.) I don't think you meant bizarre in a bad way.
posted by Listener at 1:34 PM on February 11, 2007


No more bizarre than that idiotic air-band sh*t. At least this is pure fun. That idiotic airband sh*t is such overdone pointlessness. (Gee, I probably don't need those asterisks here, do I.)

you're air-swearing.
posted by jonmc at 1:48 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


One of the rarest Flying Lizards recordings is a cover of this song, actually, done under the pseudonym "The Suspicions". I'd love to hear that...
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 1:51 PM on February 11, 2007


They've recently been playing this song on RTE Lyric FM. I've found it very annoying and creepy. For some reason it makes me think of the Wizard of Oz. But this is a good post.
posted by Slothrop at 2:00 PM on February 11, 2007


That was a fun video to watch! I almost felt as if I was visiting you and you had played the song for me. Previously, I only knew "The Laughing Policeman" as the title of a movie, which was based on a novel of the same name, which was in turn taken from the title of the song. Your mention of The Blitz made me think of the first time I became aware of the profound impact WWII had on England and its people. Pink Floyd's song, "Vera," sent chills up my spine when I first heard it. Through my research, I came to know Vera Lynn, and her war-time classic "We'll Meet Again," which was put into ironic use by Stanley Kubrick as his film Dr. Strangelove comes to a close. So many bands, starting with The Beatles, realized the world had changed after the War and deliberately rejected traditional mores. The Fab Four wouldn't directly phylosophize about it in song, but others did, particularly The Kinks, in their song "Living On A Thin Line."
posted by RayOrama at 2:12 PM on February 11, 2007


Sorry. I just realized the link to "The Laughing Policeman" movie link may not work for all, since you'd have to sign up (although it's free). However, for those who may not be interested in doing that, here is a more accessible source.
posted by RayOrama at 2:41 PM on February 11, 2007


nickyskye: "The wonderful mud, mud glorious mud...Flanders & Swann's Hippopotamus Song is also an oldie but goodie."

I guess you have to be a certain age to remember Children's Favourites with Uncle Mac, but Laughing Policeman, The Hippopotomus Song, Nellie the Elephant (the Mandy Miller original, not the Toy Dolls cover), Little Red Monkey, Arthur Askey's The Bee Song and scores of similar others.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:09 PM on February 11, 2007


Ugh. Insert 'they always played' before Laughing Policeman
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:11 PM on February 11, 2007


Well that was delightful. Makes me yearn for simpler times. My Dad, in his 70's, can still play fun little songs like this on a ukelele. Was the world ever so innocent? sniff.
posted by vronsky at 4:01 PM on February 11, 2007


There's a Toots and the Maytals song, called "When I Laugh," that ends with cadences of synchronized laughter. Always gets me smiling. Great post. Thanks, grumblebee.
posted by breezeway at 4:11 PM on February 11, 2007


That really is fantastic. Wow...

Here's my fav laughing song: Laughing in Rhythm by Slim Gaillard [mp3].
posted by moonbird at 4:18 PM on February 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Goodness, I haven't heard or thought about this song in 25 years. And it's just as much fun now as it was when I was little!

Also, I love the YouTube user who films 78s - John Henry's Wireless Elephant is amazing.
posted by jack_mo at 5:23 PM on February 11, 2007


Either "the laughing policeman" or "the smiling policeman" was the signature of the leader of the unaccountable police death squad in the Hellblazer story arc "The Fear Machine", an old favourite of mine. I imagine it's inspired by the same song, Hellblazer had a Thatcher-era distrust of authorities that would quite obviously lead to that kind of reinterpretation of the phrase.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:14 PM on February 11, 2007


That was Great!
posted by razzuli at 7:15 PM on February 11, 2007


The no-laughing policemen.
posted by lostburner at 7:30 PM on February 11, 2007


I prefer David Bowie's Laughing Gnome. But to each his own.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:40 PM on February 11, 2007


God damn I love laughing records.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:12 PM on February 11, 2007


Hey Rev. -- the Suspicions version is on this WFMU blog post. Although it says the files would only be up for a week, they seem to still be there. (Disc.: my better half put together this compilation.)
posted by lisa g at 11:33 PM on February 11, 2007


The song's origins might be more interesting that at first glance. Here's a recording on wax cylinder of The Laughing Song (mp3) via the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project. According to them it's from a wax series made somewhere between 1896-1901. It features George W. Johnson, the first popular African-American recording artist who also recorded other laughing songs (mp3). If I'm hearing this correctly The Laughing Song and The Laughing Policeman are the same music and melody, though the song's subject and lyrics changed significantly at some point as "a fat and jolly red-faced man" was sung as "here comes a dandy darky" instead.

The Library of Congress (via the rare book collection at Duke University) includes original images of the sheet music for The Laughing Song. It was published in 1894 nearly 30 years before the recording of The Laughing Policeman and Penrose(Lolly) does not appear to be credited.

The earlier song seems to bubble on bitter tones, Johnson's 2nd verse is darkly suggestive to me: They said his mother was a Princess, his father was a Prince/And he'd been the apple of their eye if he had not been a quince/But he'll be the King of Africa/In the sweet by and bye/And when I heard them say it why I laughed until I cried.
posted by massless at 2:24 AM on February 12, 2007 [13 favorites]


Good research, massless, that is indeed interesting. If this isn't the history of 20th Century popular music in a nutshell, I don't know what is.
posted by Kattullus at 5:04 AM on February 12, 2007


Amazing, and chalk another one up for the MeFi Detective Squad! That's definitely the same song, and somebody should edit the Wiki entries for both the song and Johnson to reflect it.

If this isn't the history of 20th Century popular music in a nutshell, I don't know what is.

Well said.
posted by languagehat at 6:24 AM on February 12, 2007


extraordinary find, massless!
posted by grumblebee at 7:31 AM on February 12, 2007


Well that was delightful. Makes me yearn for simpler times. My Dad, in his 70's, can still play fun little songs like this on a ukelele. Was the world ever so innocent? sniff.

It was never that innocent, no; but some people worked very hard to make it seem so for children, people like your dad. I don't think people work very hard these days to keep kids from growing up too soon.

did I mention I'm a dad, and have a ukulele, and have been singing innocent little songs to them since they were in utero? no matter how MegaUltraUberNetTastik the Internet becomes over time, we'll still have ukuleles...
posted by davejay at 12:37 AM on February 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Aren't we all forgetting "Hello Josephine" by the Scorpions. Sorry about the crappy video, but for me this always has been THE laughing record and actually made me pursue a career in rock 'n' roll. Too bad nobody noticed.
posted by ouke at 5:49 AM on February 13, 2007


massless, I don't know if you've seen this, but Chris Ware made a pretty excellent comic about George Johnson in this issue of The Comics Journal.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:11 AM on February 13, 2007


Possibly distant descendent in Guided By Voices' "Ha Ha Man"
posted by poppo at 11:26 AM on February 13, 2007


Just thought of one other thing too...there is a scene in that movie Road to Wellville with people laughing to music as therapy. Don't remember it well enough to provide more details, but maybe someone else will...Related?
posted by poppo at 11:27 AM on February 13, 2007


Road to Wellville Soundtrack listing has a Laughing Song
posted by poppo at 11:28 AM on February 13, 2007


"It was never that innocent, no; but some people worked very hard to make it seem so for children, people like your dad. I don't think people work very hard these days to keep kids from growing up too soon."

Well said davejay! That actually choked me up a little.
posted by vronsky at 3:02 PM on February 13, 2007


« Older Meet the Raven   |   Fool me once... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post