Abdul Abulbul Amir

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Ivan Skavinsky Skavar (Stephen Fry)[1] and Abdul the Bulbul Emir (Tony Cosmo), as depicted in a "Whitbread Best Beer" advert of 1982.[2]

"Abdul Abulbul Amir" is the most common name for a music-hall song written in 1877 (during the Russo-Turkish War) under the title "Abdulla Bulbul Ameer" by Irish songwriter Percy French, and subsequently altered and popularized by a variety of other writers and performers. It tells the story of two valiant heroes—the titular Abdulla, fighting for the Turks, and his foe, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar (originally named Ivan Potschjinsky Skidar in French's version), a Russian warrior—who encounter each other, engage in verbal boasting, and are drawn into a duel in which both perish.

Percy French wrote the song in 1877 for a smoking concert while studying at Trinity College Dublin. It was likely a comic opera spoof. "Pot Skivers" were the chambermaids at the college, thus Ivan "Potschjinski" Skivar would be a less than noble prince, and as Bulbul is an Arabic dialectic name of the nightingale, Abdul was thus a foppish "nightingale" amir (prince).

Variant names[edit]

The names of the principal characters have been transcribed in a variety of ways in different versions of the lyrics. The title character's last name appears as both "Ameer" and "Amir", and the syllable break between his first and middle names varies from version to version (originally "Abdulla Bulbul", as seen below, but often rendered as "Abdul Abulbul").

His Russian opponent's name has been more drastically modified over time. First given as "Ivan Potschjinski Skidar", the character is perhaps best known today as "Ivan Skavinsky Skivar", with considerable variation in the spelling of both the middle and last names.


A great many versions of the lyrics exist, with the names of the principal characters spelled in a variety of ways. The following, presented by French's biographer James N. Healy, appears to be the most authoritative available text. According to Healy, French sold his rights in the song for five pounds while failing to register his copyright to it, and subsequently discovered that a London publisher had produced an altered and unauthorized version which failed to identify French as the author.[3][4]

Abdulla Bulbul Ameer[edit]

Oh, the sons of the Prophet are hardy and grim
And quite unaccustomed to fear
But none were so reckless of life or of limb
As Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.
When they wanted a man to encourage the van
Or to harass the foe in the rear
Or to take a redoubt they would always send out
For Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

There are heroes in plenty, and well known to fame
In the ranks that were led by the Czar,
But the bravest of all was a man by the name
Of Ivan Potschjinski Skidar.[A]
He could imitate Toole, play Euchre and Pool
And perform on the Spanish guitar.
In fact quite the cream of the Muscovite team
Was Ivan Potschjinski Skidar.

One morning the Russian had shouldered his gun
And assumed his most truculent sneer
And was walking down town when he happened to run
Into Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.
"Young man," says Bulbul, "can your life be so dull
That you're anxious to end your career?—
For, infidel, know—you have trod on the toe
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer".

"Take your ultimate look upon sunshine and brook,
Make your latest remarks on the war;
Which I mean to imply you're going to die,
Mr. Count Cask-o-whisky Cigar."
Said the Russian, "My friend, my remarks in the end
Would avail you but little, I fear,
For you'll never survive to repeat them alive,
Mr. Abdulla Bulbul Ameer."

Then the bold Mameluke drew his trusty chiboque
And shouted "Il Allah Akbar"
And being intent upon slaughter, he went
For Ivan Potschjinski Skidar.
But just as his knife had abstracted his life
(In fact he was shouting "Huzza!")
He felt himself struck by that subtle Calmuck,
Count Ivan Potschjinski Skidar.

The Consul drove up in his red-crested fly
To give the survivor a cheer,
He arrived just in time to exchange a goodbye
With Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.
And Skobeleff, Gourko and Gorsechekoff too
Drove up on the Emperor's car
But all they could do was cry "och-whilliloo!"[B]
With Ivan Potschjinski Skidar.

There's a grave where the waves of the Blue Danube roll,
And on it in characters clear
Is: "Stranger, remember to pray for the soul
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer."
A Muscovite maiden her vigil doth keep
By the light of the true lover's star
And the name that she murmurs so sadly in sleep
Is Ivan Potschjinski Skidar.

— original limited edition privately published by Percy French and Archie West
  1. ^
    Pronounced like a sneeze.
  2. ^
    some versions substitute "Daz v'dan-yu" (variation of 'Goodbye') as the Russians' lament.

Abdullah Bul Bul Ameer[edit]

Various versions varied to a greater or lesser degree from French's original. For instance, the lyric in the 1896 New Harvard Songbook makes several changes including the names of the principals:[5]

The sons of the Prophet were hardy and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest of all, at least so I am told,
Was Abdulah Bul Bul Ameer.

If you wanted a man to encourage the van,
Or harass the foe from the rear,
Or to storm a redoubt, you had but to shout
For Abdulah Bul Bul Ameer.

There were heroes in plenty and men known to fame
In the army then led by the Czar,
But not of more fame than a man by the name
Of Ivan Petrovsky Skavar.

He could imitate Irving, tell fortunes with cards,
He could play on the Spanish guitar.
In fact quite the cream of the Muscovite team
Was Ivan Petrovsky Skavar.

One day this bold Russian had shouldered his gun
And with his most cynical sneer,
Was looking for fun when he happened to run
Upon Abdulah Bul Bul Ameer.

"Young man" said Bul Bul "is existence so dull
That you're anxious to end your career?
For, infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdulah Bul Bul Ameer."

"So take your last look upon sunshine and brook
Send your regrets to the Czar;
By which I imply you are going to die,
Mr. Ivan Petrovsky Skavar."

Then this bold Marmaduke [sic] drew his trusty skibouk,
Crying "Allah, il Allah, Allah"
And on slaughter intent, he ferociously went
For Ivan Petrovsky Skavar.

On a stone by the banks where the Danube doth roll
Inscribed in characters clear,
Is "Stranger, remember to pray for the soul
Of Abdulah Bul Bul Ameer."

A Muscovite maiden her sad vigil keeps,
In her home by the cold Northern Star,
And the name that she murmurs in vain as she weeps,
Is Ivan Petrovsky Skavar.

Explicit version[edit]

An obscene parody version of the song, in which Abdul and Ivan engage in a competition regarding who can have sex with more prostitutes in a given time, originated in the British military[6] and is traditionally sung in rugby clubs.[7][8]


"Mr Ameer! Now, put up your hands and fight!"

The song was adapted in 1941 into an MGM cartoon, Abdul the Bulbul-Ameer, with Fred Quimby producing and direction by Hugh Harman.[9] Voice acting for the nine-minute cartoon was provided by Johnny Murray, Harry Stanton, Leon Belasco and Hans Conried, while Frank Crumit wrote new lyrics.[10] It features caricatures of Groucho Marx, Lou Costello and Al Ritz as news reporters.

In this version, Abdul is depicted as a bully who picks on Ivan's dwarf friend, provoking Ivan into treading on the Turk's toe. He has many traits of 1930s and 1940s cartoon villains, such as Bluto, including thick lips, a beard and a big belly. There is a brief swordfight, which soon changes into a brawl, that ends with Ivan and Abdul literally "out cold", after falling through a frozen lake and emerging frozen in a pillar of ice thanks to Ivan's friend who planted a bomb on Abdul and it is unknown if they are being thawed or not. The relatively sympathetic depiction of the Russian character is unlikely to have had any connection to then-current world events, as the cartoon was in production in 1940, and was released in February 1941, before the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany, and before the alliance with the UK, in June 1941.


In the 1980s Whitbread brewery adapted the song using their own lyrics for a series of commercials on British television, suggesting that the two protagonists were great fans of their Whitbread Best beer who squabbled over trivialities such as what type of glassware to drink it from, because they had forgotten that "the best Best needs no etiquette".[2] The commercials starred Stephen Fry as Ivan, Tony Cosmo as Abdul, Tim McInnerny and Roy Castle, and were directed by Paul Weiland.[1]

A variant of the poem appeared in an ad for Springmaid cotton sheets in Life magazine, 7 January 1952.

In popular culture[edit]

In the film Tiger Shark (1932) directed by Howard Hawks and starring Edward G. Robinson, a loose adaptation of Moby Dick, the fishermen of San Diego are depicted singing the song.

In the closing scene of the 1937 film The Devil's Playground, Richard Dix (Jack Dorgan) and Chester Morris (Robert Mason) are singing verses while riding a rickshaw in China.

The comic strip Alley Oop featured the fight in a 1956 storyline, from 3–21 December. In it, Alley fights on Abdul's behalf; however, during the fight, Abdul runs away with the coffee girl. Alley and Ivan therefore stop fighting to make more coffee, but Alley is whisked away via time-machine (the sight of which sends Ivan fleeing in panic). The puzzled onlookers realize that no one will believe what actually happened, and they decide to say instead that the two original combatants, Abdul and Ivan, fought to the death.

In the 1969 Arthur Penn film Alice's Restaurant, at the introduction of the character of Ray (played by James Broderick) he is singing the second verse of the song.

Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961). Country singer Hank Thompson recorded the song on his final album, Seven Decades (2000).

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Brothers", the character Lore is heard singing verses of the song as he murders Noonien Soong, commenting "I've always loved that old ditty".[11]


  1. ^ a b Fry, Stephen (2010). The Fry Chronicles. London: Penguin Books. pp. 234–238. ISBN 978-0-7181-5483-7.
  2. ^ a b Whitbread Best Beer commercial (1982). United Kingdom.
  3. ^ Healy, James N. (1966). Percy French and His Songs. Dublin & Cork: Mercier Press. pp. 5–7. ISBN 0 85342 394-6.
  4. ^ De Burgh Daly, Mrs (1973). Prose, Poems and Parodies of Percy French. Dublin: Talbot Press. pp. vii–xv. ISBN 978-0-85452-107-4.
  5. ^ Whitehouse, Robert Treat; Frederick Bruegger (1896). The New Harvard Song Book: a collection of the latest college songs and glees sung by the Harvard University Glee Club. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Oliver Ditson. p. 139.
  6. ^ Eldredge, Sears (2014). Captive Audiences / Captive Performers (PDF). United States. p. 90. ISBN 9780615574455.
  7. ^ ""Ivan Scavinsky Scavar" Song Lyrics w/Free MP3 Download". www.horntip.com. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  8. ^ Cray, Ed (1999). The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs. University of Illinois Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-252-06789-1.
  9. ^ Barrier, Michael (25 September 2003). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. New York City, New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press US. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-19-516729-0.
  10. ^ Scott, Keith (3 October 2022). Cartoon Voices of the Golden Age, Vol. 2. BearManor Media. p. 112. Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  11. ^ "Abdul Abulbul Amir". Memory Alpha. Retrieved 9 March 2014.

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