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Oh, What a Lovely War!
Music various
Lyrics various
Book Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop
Basis The Donkeys by Alan Clark
Productions 1963 Stratford and West End
1964 Broadway

Oh, What a Lovely War! is an epic musical that Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop created in 1963.[1] It is based on The Donkeys by military historian (and future Conservative politician) Alan Clark, with some scenes adapted from The Good Soldier Švejk by Czech humorist Jaroslav Hašek; it was also inspired by Charles Chilton's BBC 1961-1962 documentary radio ballad The Long Trail.[2] It is a satire on World War I (and by extension against war in general). The title is derived from the music hall song "Oh! It's a Lovely War," which is one of the major numbers in the production.

The musical premiered at the Theatre Royal Stratford East on 19 March 1963. It was an ensemble production featuring members of the theatre's regular company, which included Brian Murphy, Victor Spinetti and Glynn Edwards, all of whom played multiple roles. The sets were designed by John Bury. The production subsequently transferred to Wyndham's Theatre in June of the same year.[3] The production was a surprise hit, and the musical was adapted by the BBC for radio several times.

The musical premiered in the United States on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on 30 September 1964 and closed on 16 January 1965 after 125 performances. Directed by Littlewood, the cast featured Spinetti and Murphy. It received four Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, and Spinetti won the Theatre World Award.



The show is usually performed in pierrot costumes and features such World War I-era songs as "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," "Pack up Your Troubles" and "Keep the Home Fires Burning." Harsh images of war and shocking statistics are projected onto the backdrop, providing a contrast with the comedy of the action taking place before it.

The song "Oh! It's a Lovely War" was written by J. P. Long and Maurice Scott in 1917 and was part of the repertoire of music hall star and male impersonator Ella Shields.[4] The lyrics of first verse and the chorus are as follows:

Up to your waist in water,
Up to your eyes in slush -
Using the kind of language,
That makes the sergeant blush;
Who wouldn't join the army?
That's what we all inquire,
Don't we pity the poor civilians sitting beside the fire.
Oh! Oh! Oh! it's a lovely war,
Who wouldn't be a soldier eh?
Oh! It's a shame to take the pay.
As soon as reveille is gone
We feel just as heavy as lead,
But we never get up till the sergeant brings
Our breakfast up to bed
Oh! Oh! Oh! it's a lovely war,
What do we want with eggs and ham
When we've got plum and apple jam?
Form fours! Right turn!
How shall we spend the money we earn?
Oh! Oh! Oh! it's a lovely war.

Two renditions of the song, one from 1918, can be heard here.

Musical numbers

Based on the 1964 Broadway production
Act 1
  • Row, Row, Row (Lyrics By William Jerome, Music By James Monaco) – The Ensemble
  • We Don't Want to Lose You (Your King and Country Want You)(Music and Lyrics By Paul Rubens) – The Ladies
  • Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser (Music and Lyrics By Paddy Ellerton) – Valerie Walsh
  • Are We Downhearted – The Men
  • It's a Long Way to Tipperary (Music and Lyrics By Jack Judge and Harry Williams) – The Men
  • Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy (Music and Lyrics By Murphy and David) – The Men
  • I'll Make a Man of You (Music and Lyrics By Arthur Wimperis and Herman Finck) – Barbara Windsor
  • Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag (Lyrics By George Asaf) – The Men
  • Hitchykoo (Lyrics By L. Wolfe Gilbert, Music By Lewis F. Muir and Maurice Abrahams) – Fanny Carby
  • Heilige Nacht – Colin Kemball
  • (Lyrics By R. P. Weston, Music By Bert Lee) – Victor Spinetti
Act 2
  • Oh What a Lovely War – The Ensemble
  • Gassed Last Night – The Men
  • Roses of Picardy (Music By Haydn Wood) – Linda Loftus and Ian Paterson
  • Hush Here Comes a Whizzbang – The Men
  • There's a Long Long Trail (Lyrics By Stoddard King) – Ian Paterson
  • I Don't Want to Be a Soldier – The Men
  • Kaiser Bill – The Men
  • They Were Only Playing Leapfrog – The Men
  • Old Soldiers Never Die – Murray Melvin
  • Far Far from Wipers (Music and Lyrics By Bingham and Greene) – Colin Kemball
  • If the Sergeant Steals Your Rum – The Men
  • I Wore a Tunic (When You Wore a Tulip) – Ian Paterson
  • Forward Joe Soap's Army – The Men
  • Fred Karno's Army – The Men
  • When This Lousy War Is Over – Colin Kembal
  • Wash Me in the Water – The Men
  • I Want To Go Home – The Men
  • The Bells Of Hell Go Ting-a-ling-a-ling – The Men
  • Keep the Home Fires Burning (Lyrics By Lena Gulibert Ford, Music By Ivor Novello) – Myvanwy Jenn
  • Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts (Lyrics By R. P. Weston, Music By Herman Darewski) – Barbara Windsor
  • Chanson de Craonne (Music and Lyrics By Valliant and Couturier) – The Ensemble
  • Don't Want to be A Soldier – The Ensemble
  • And When They Asked Us (Music and Lyrics By Jerome Kern) – The Ensemble


  1. ^ Banham (1998, 645), Brockett and Hildy (2003, 493), and Eyre and Wright (2000, 266-69).
  2. ^ The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature, ed Laura Marcus & Peter Nicholls, page 478. Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0521820774, 9780521820776.
  3. ^ Milling and Thomson (2004).
  4. ^ Arthur (2001, 47).


  • Arthur, Max. 2001. When This Bloody War Is Over: Soldiers' Songs from the First World War. London: Piatkus. ISBN 0749922524.
  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0521434378.
  • Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. 2003. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0205410502.
  • Eyre, Richard and Nicholas Wright. 2000. Changing Stages: A View of British Theatre in the Twentieth Century. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 0747547890.
  • Milling, Jane and Peter Thomson, eds. 2004. The Cambridge History of British Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 397-401. ISBN 0521827906.

External links



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