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Sparrows Can't Sing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sparrows Can't Sing
UK quad poster
Directed byJoan Littlewood
Written byStephen Lewis
Produced byDonald Taylor
CinematographyDesmond Dickinson
Mutz Greenbaum
Edited byOswald Hafenrichter
Music byJames Stevens
Stanley Black
Carthage Productions
Distributed byElstree Distributors
Release date
  • 26 February 1963 (1963-02-26)[1]
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Sparrows Can't Sing is a 1963 British kitchen sink comedy film directed by Joan Littlewood and starring James Booth and Barbara Windsor.[2][3][4] It was written by Stephen Lewis based on his 1960 play Sparrers Can't Sing, first performed at Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in the Theatre Royal Stratford East. The producer was Donald Taylor.

The plot is loosely based on the stage musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, written by Frank Norman with music by Lionel Bart, at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1960, using members of the Theatre Workshop company, many of whom later appeared in the film.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • BARBARA WINDSOR - 'Sparrows Can't Sing' - 1963 45rpm
  • Sparrows Can't Sing (1963) - Trailer
  • Barbara Windsor - "Sparrows Can't Sing" - '62



Cockney sailor Charlie comes home from a 2-year long voyage to find his house in East London demolished and his wife Maggie missing. She is in fact now living with bus driver Bert and has a new baby – whose parentage is in doubt. At first, Charlie's friends and family won't tell him where Maggie is because he is known to have a foul temper, although he hears gossip that she has been living with another man. She eventually meets him and they have an uncomfortable conversation. Later, after a confrontation with Bert, Maggie and Charlie leave together, still bickering.



The film was made on location during the summer of 1962 in Limehouse, Isle of Dogs, Stepney, around the theatre in Stratford, and at Elstree Studios.[citation needed] Sets were occasionally visited by nearby Vallance Road residents the Kray twins.[citation needed] Some sources claim the Krays made a cameo appearance towards the end of the film,[5] but film historian Richard Dacre states this is not the case.[6]

The dialogue is a mixture of Cockney rhyming slang, London Yiddish, and thieves' cant. The New York Times said in its review: "this isn't a picture for anyone with a logical mind or an ear for language. The gabble of cockney spoken here is as incomprehensible as the reasoning of those who speak it."[7] It was also the first English language film to be released in the United States with subtitles.[8]

The original music was by James Stevens, incidental music was composed by Stanley Black.


The world premiere was held on 26 February 1963 at the ABC cinema on the Mile End Road, and was attended by the Earl of Snowdon. Post-film drinks were had at the Kentucky Club, owned by the Kray twins, before the party moved on to another Kray establishment, Esmeralda's Barn in the West End.

The film opened at the Rialto Cinema in the West End on 27 February 1963.[1]


The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: "It is easy to be antagonised by one's first impression of this film. Full of jerky movements and sudden cuts, it doesn't seem to hang together at all. One senses a kind of desperation, paralleled by technically uneven sound and lighting, and something outsize about the acting, particularly James Booth's, that a minimal plot can scarcely jusily. Then an amused affection sets in. ... Frantic cutting may have spoilt the surface, but Joan Littlewood's first film remains fresh, vigorous and alive beneath. One hopes, that she will pursue her cinematic career in the same irrepressible spirit as that of the Cockneys she so remarkably depicts."[9]

Variety wrote: "Joan Littlewood, who at the Theatre Workshop in London's East End, thumbed her nose cockily at most legit convention and brought a breath of fresh air into the general stuffiness, has now tackled her first film. Her lack of experience stands out like Jimmy Durante's schnozz. At times it irritates. But Sparrows Can't Sing also gains by the sheer ebullience of Miss Littlewood's 'don't give a heck' attitude, at least in certain scenes. ...This is a highly colored and exaggerated version of the Cockney in which everybody is a larger than life character. But the camerawork, straying carelessly around the actual East End streets, is vital and vivid. And the whole effect is one of sheer exuberance."[10]

Leslie Halliwell said: "Relentless caricatured cockney comedy melodrama, too self-conscious to be effective, and not at all likeable anyway."[11]

The Radio Times Guide to Films gave the film 1/5 stars, writing: "You can't capture the sights and sounds of East End life simply by packing the cast with cockneys and touting a camera round the streets of Stepney. James Booth is eminently resistible as the sailor searching for wife Barbara Windsor and her bus-driving fancy man, George Sewell. Missing both social statement and fond characterisation, director Joan Littlewood has succeeded only in being patronising."[12]


Barbara Windsor was nominated for the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role by the British Academy Film Awards in 1964.[13]

Home media

A region B Blu-ray was released on 12 October 2015.[14]


  1. ^ a b Sparrows Can't Sing
  2. ^ "Sparrows Can't Sing". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 13 April 2024.
  3. ^ BFI film database
  4. ^ "Sparrows Can't Sing". British Film Institute Collections Search. Retrieved 13 April 2024.
  5. ^ Sparrows review. Retrieved 5 May 2007
  6. ^ 2015 Studio Canal DVD locations featurette
  7. ^ The New York Times, 7 May 1963, at IMDb.
  8. ^ "Stephen Lewis, actor – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. 13 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  9. ^ "Sparrows Can't Sing". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 30 (348): 45. 1 January 1963 – via ProQuest.
  10. ^ "Sparrows Can't Sing". Variety. 230 (6): 7. 3 April 1963 – via ProQuest.
  11. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1989). Halliwell's Film Guide (7th ed.). London: Paladin. p. 947. ISBN 0586088946.
  12. ^ Radio Times Guide to Films (18th ed.). London: Immediate Media Company. 2017. p. 865. ISBN 9780992936440.
  13. ^ "Film, British Actress in 1964". BAFTA. Retrieved 13 April 2024.
  14. ^ "Sparrows Can't Sing Blu-ray (Vintage Classics) (United Kingdom)".

External links

This page was last edited on 11 May 2024, at 12:53
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