Many people are familiar with the term 'Casey's Court', used to describe a gathering of unruly children. However, it is almost certain that those who use this term are completely unaware of its music hall origins. 'It's what my mum or dad used to say' is the common response when a person using this turn of phrase is asked exactly what they mean by that expression.
Silence In Court
Those who do have an inkling into the background of Casey's Court often believe it to be 'something to do with silent movies'. This is an understandable mistake, since two of the most famous members of the Court were indeed famous movie stars of the silent era. Yet the origins of Casey's Court are rooted firmly in the main form of entertainment before the advent of the silver screen, in the twilight years of the music halls in early 20th-Century Britain.
A Drag For The Gang
For it was here that the music hall star Will Murray chose to launch his twice nightly crazy show 'Casey's Court' on an unsuspecting public. The style of Casey's Court was similar to the popular 'gang show' that we still see in our theatres today. The cast was made up predominantly of children, with Murray dressed in drag and failing to keep them in order as his character 'Mrs Casey'.
First launched as 'Will Murray's Casey's Court' the show went under several slight alterations to the name. At various times the promotion posters would be for 'Casey's Court Circus', the 'Will Murray Gang' and finally 'the Casey Circus (prop Harry Cardle)'. The show ran for a surprisingly long time1, starting just after the turn of the 20th Century and finally closing some time in the early 1950s.
Imagine All The People
The travelling show had many rising stars who would become well known on the music hall circuit. Harry Beasley was in the show from the start. At one point John Lennon's father, called Alf but nicknamed Freddie, is said to have run away from an orphanage to join the troop, before later being forced to return by the authorities. Other stars who 'cut their teeth' in the show, quite literally in some cases given the age of the cast, were Billy Baggs, Tom Gamble and Harry 'Alka' Seltzer. Harry went on to become prominent in the Grand Order of Water Rats, the organisation that brings together all branches of entertainers in order to perform great works of charity. In the Rats, Harry was at various times Treasurer, King Rat2, and a Trustee for the last twelve years of his life (he passed away in 2004).
You Can't Hold Back Talent
However, the most famous cast members of 'Casey's Court' were undoubtedly the two young lads who went by the names of Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Charles Chaplin. Chaplin was recruited by Will Murray in 1906, and his sketch in the show featured him playing a fake medicine seller. However, he chose to leave Casey's Court after just a year, when he was offered a job as a clown in the slapstick comedy company 'Fred Karno's Fun Factory'. It was with Karno that he was to cross the Atlantic and find later fame in the movies. In 1910, Arthur Stanley Jefferson would also follow Chaplin to the Karno Fun Factory, finding fame in the USA, but only after a later change of stage name to Stan Laurel.