Now What’s All This ‘Ere?

Now What’s All This ‘Ere?

This week’s choice is a monologue by Stanley Holloway: “Sam, Sam, Pick Oop Tha’ Musket”, which introduces Holloway’s insubordinate soldier Sam Small.

The sound of high words very soon reached the ears,
Of an Officer, Lieutenant Bird,
Who says to the Sergeant, ‘Now what’s all this ‘ere?’
And the Sergeant told what had occurred.

Stanley Holloway (1890—1982)

Poem 285. Sam, Sam, Pick Oop Tha’ Musket

It occurred on the evening before Waterloo,
And troops were lined up on parade,
The Sergeant inspecting ‘em he was a terror,
Of whom every man was afraid

All excepting one man who was in the front rank,
A man by the name of Sam Small,
And ‘im and the Sergeant were both “daggers drawn”,
They thought “nowt” of each other at all

As Sergeant walked past he was swinging his arms,
And he happened to brush against Sam,
And knocking his musket clean out of his hand,
It fell to the ground with a slam

“Pick it up” said Sergeant, abrupt like but cool,
But Sam with a shake of his head,
“Seeing as tha’ knocked it out of me hand,
P’raps tha’ll pick the thing up instead.”

“Sam, Sam, pick oop tha’ musket,”
The Sergeant exclaimed with a roar,
Sam said “Tha’ knocked it doon, reet! then tha’ll pick it oop,
Or it’ll stay where it is on’t floor”

The sound of high words very soon reached the ears,
Of an Officer, Lieutenant Bird,
Who says to the Sergeant “Now what’s all this ‘ere?”
And the Sergeant told what had occurred.

“Sam, Sam, pick up tha’ musket”
Lieutenant exclaimed with some heat,
Sam said, “He knocked it down reet! Then he’ll pick it oop,
Or it stays where it is, at me feet”

It caused quite a stir when the Captain arrived,
To find out the cause of the trouble,
And every man there, all except Sam,
Was full of excitement and bubble.

“Sam, Sam, pick oop tha’ musket”,
Said Captain for strickness renowned,
Sam said “He knocked it doon, Reet! so he’ll pick it up,
Or it stays where it is on’t ground”

The same thing occurred when the Major and Colonel,
Both tried to get Sam to see sense,
But when Old Duke O’ Wellington came into view,
Well the excitement was really quite tense.

Up rode the Duke on a loverly white ‘orse,
To find out the cause of the bother,
He looked at the musket and then at Old Sam,
And he talked to Old Sam like a brother

“Sam, Sam, pick oop tha’ musket”
The Duke said as quiet as could be,
“Sam, Sam pick oop tha’ musket,
Coom on lad, just to please me.”

“Alright Duke,” said Old Sam, “Just for thee I’ll oblige,
And to show thee I meant no offence”,
So Sam picked it up, “Gradely, lad” said the Duke,
“Right-o boys… let battle commence.”

Stanley Holloway was a well-known comedian, actor and singer who played Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady. He also performed comic monologues and songs, many of which he wrote himself, and this is the first appearance of his insubordinate, unruly but engaging rascal Sam Small, who adorns any regiment he associates with (according to himself).

This monologue describes the altercation between Sam and a succession of NCOs and officers who insist that Sam must “pick up tha’ musket” while Sam stubbornly refuses and insists that the sergeant (of whom Sam thinks “nowt”) should pick it up instead “Seeing as tha’ knocked it out of me hand”.

The initial stanzas set the scene—“It occurred on the evening before Waterloo”—with the Sergeant inspecting the troops on parade and looking for any small pretext for bawling the men out. Although this is a comic monologue, we can imagine the tensions running through an army prior to a crucial battle, and the attitudes of the Sergeant and Sam clearly demonstrate those tensions: the NCO exerting his authority over the smallest transgression and Sam, who we imagine to be a private, standing up to him and challenging the injustice.

As the monologue goes on, Lieutenant Bird (who Holloway always rendered with a slightly ridiculous falsetto voice) appears and fails to get Sam to pick up the musket despite ordering him “with some heat” and then the Captain “for strickness renowned” has a go to no avail. Even the Major and Colonel “tried to get Sam to see sense”, but there’s nothing doing until the Duke of Wellington “came into view” riding “a loverly white ‘orse”

The Duke eyes the musket and the soldier and adopts a different approach than shouting and blunt orders—“he talked to Old Sam like a brother.” Quietly but authoritatively, he asks Sam to pick up the weapon “just to please me” and Sam relents “just for thee I’ll oblige/And to show thee I meant no offence”, picks up the musket, and the Duke praises him “Gradely, lad” and signals the start of the battle.

The monologue is rendered in a mock Northern English accent, as were most of Holloway’s monologues (see The Lion and Albert and Albert’s Return in the links for other examples)—this is perhaps because it made the monologue seem funnier to audiences.

I think the message of this monologue is that a good leader adapts their approach to the people they lead. None of the officers get anywhere by blustering demands until the Duke assesses the situation and applies just the right amount of persuasion, backed by his formidable reputation amongst the soldiery, to get Old Sam to pick up his musket. Granted that this is fictional, the moral is still clear: the carrot is as useful as the stick.

Like “The Lion and Albert”, I first encountered this as an LP record of Holloway’s monologues, and I remember it fondly because I listened to it with my parents.