The Cockney Alphabet

I heard this rhyme from my grandmother (Florence Parsons née West) when I was very young and had forgotten most of it. From the content and context, I presumed that it came from wartime (2nd WW) radio comedy but there were certainly earlier versions, perhaps as far back as Edwardian Music Hall or even earlier. If anyone comes across this page and knows alternatives of the rhyme or the history of it, I would love hear from you. Thanks to Neil Ramsey, 21 Sep 2001, Geoff McKee, 27 Feb 2002, Jan Stedman, 6 Dec 2002 and Michael Bromby, 24 Mar 2003 for some of these. A local shop has displayed an old poster (tea-towel?) containing a version.

Geoff thinks that the version he heard was a gramophone record, by Clapham and Dwyer (and I have since obtained a copy). Their version was called “The Surrealist Alphabet” recorded in 1934. It is highly possible that they picked it up and adapted it from an earlier version so all posibilities are left open. The list presented here is from that recording unless otherwise stated.

There are signs now that people are making up new ones. See for example [Off Site] A is for ’orses, and there are now loads on the web if you search for them, so I don't think I will update this page again unless I get some positive clues as to its early origins.

A for Horses

’ay for ’orses.

B for Mutton

Beef or Mutton.

C for ’th Highlanders

Seaforth Highlanders, a Scots regiment. Jan & the poster has “C for miles” which is good but, as I clearly remember the other one, this is strong evidence that there was more than one version around. Another is “C for yourself.”

D for ’ential

Deferential. I always knew it as D for Dumb (Deaf or Dumb) which is supported by the poster. Phil has D(eath) or Glory which is also plausible.

E for Adam

Eve or Adam. Jan & the poster has “Heave a Brick” Any votes fo Eva Peron which I have seen quoted?

F for Essence

Effervescence. The poster has F for Lump and a picture of an Elephant which is a funny alternative.

G for Police

Chief of Police.

H for Respect

Age for Respect. The poster has H for Retirement on the same theme. Another possibility is "H for Consent" (Age of Consent) but that may have been too risqué at the time. Jan provided this one, neither Geoff or I were happy with the alternatives.

I for Novello

Ivor Novello, a musical impresario, perhaps later “Ivor the engine,” a children’s book. “I for Looting" (High Falutin’ (?sp)) has been suggested.

J for Oranges

Jaffa Oranges, a treat after wartime rationing and probably before?

K for ’ancis

Kay Francis—a film star. Jan and the poster has “Café or Restaurant.” or perhaps Cafeteria. Clapham & Dwyer slip in the alternative "K for Undressing" but I don’t like it at all.

L for Leather

’ell for Leather, running fast.

M for Sis

Emphasis, I knew it as “Emva Cream”, a British sweet fortified wine but this is better.

N for Dig

Infradig. Jan has “Envelope.” The poster has N (Hen) for Eggs which is another good one.

O for the Garden Wall

Over the Garden Wall. I knew it as "O for the Wings of a Dove", a popular song at the time. Alternatively “Over the Rainbow” or the poster has Over the Fence.

P for a Penny

A cue for the straight man to respond “Yes, I’ll pass that.”. On the same theme, Jan and the poster has “Pee for Relief.”

Q for a Song

Cue for a Song or Cue for Billiards or. I knew it as “Queue for Everything,” a wartime rationing phenomenon. Jan and the poster has “Queue for a Bus.”

R for Mo

’Arf a Mo” i.e. “Just a Minute.”. R for (’Arfer) Askey would have loved that. That was the version I knew. The poster has R for Cock Linnet, an obscure one which I don't fully understand.

S for You

‘As for You”—another banter cue, the response being “As for you, too.” Jan prefers “Esther Williams,” the Million Dollar Mermaid, a film star and athlete. The poster has It's for You and a telephone.

T for Two

Tea for Two, a popular song. The poster has “Teeth or Gums.”

U for Films

“UFA Films,” A German WWI and WWII propaganda organisation which was a respected film company between the wars. Another is “You for Me,” the next line in the song Tea for Two above. Alternatively “U for Ear” (Euphoria) is another good one.

V for France

Vive La France. I had “V for Victory” but I’m outvoted

W for Quid

“Double you for a quid”, (“quid” is slang for a pound sterling, or bob—a shilling) a betting risk. Another possibility is “Double or Quits,” a last ditch bet. I heard it as “Double y’r money”, an early TV game show but this was probably a later change. Clapham & Dwyer had W for a bomb but I must confess that I don't understand it. The poster has Dub you for a Quid whis is about begging.

X for Breakfast

Eggs for Breakfast

Y for Husband

Wife or Husband or alternatively Wife or Mistress. “Y-fronts” is probably a later version. The Clapham and Dwyer version is “Y for Gawd's sake” which is a bit weak.

Z for Breezes

Zephyr Breezes (or Winds). Alternatively Zephyr Zodiac, a car by Ford, perhaps also a later change