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 a song written in 1877 (during the Russo-Turkish War) by Percy French and later set to music. It tells the story of two valiant heroes – a Russian, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, and one of the Sultan's mamelukes, Abdul Abulbul Amir – who, because of their pride, end up in a fight and kill each other.

The song was not copyrighted. It became a favourite of glee clubs throughout the English speaking world,[3] and is said to have been U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower's favorite song. The song inspired an MGM cartoon in the 1940s and a series of beer ads by Whitbread in the 1980s. Frank Crumit, who was famous for his renditions of it, wrote three sequels: "The Return of Abdul Abulbul Amir", "The Grandson Of Abdul Abulbul Amir", and "Minnie Skavinsky Skavar".[citation needed]


French's original poem reads[4]

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir.

If you wanted a man to encourage the van,
Or harass the foe from the rear,
Storm fort or redoubt, you had only to shout
For Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

One day this bold Russian, he shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer,
Downtown he did go where he trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Young man, Abdul roared, with your life are you bored
That you wish to end your career?
Vile infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

So take your last look at the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar
For by this I imply, you are going to die,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Then this bold Mameluke drew his trusty skibouk,[A]
Singing, "Allah! Il Allah! Akbar!"
And with murderous intent he ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

They parried and thrust, they side-stepped and cussed,
Of blood they spilled a great part;
The philologist blokes, who seldom crack jokes,
Say that hash was first made on the spot.

They fought all that night neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar,
And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame,
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.

As Abdul's long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he was shouting, "Huzzah!"
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

The Sultan drove by in his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer,
But he only drew nigh to hear the last sigh,
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

There's a tomb rises up where the Blue Danube rolls,
And graved there in characters clear,
Is, "Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir."

A splash in the Black Sea one dark moonless night
Caused ripples to spread wide and far,
It was made by a sack fitting close to the back,
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps,
'Neath the light of the cold northern star,
And the name that she murmurs in vain as she weeps,
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

with various versions varying to a greater or lesser degree from French's original. For instance, the lyric in the 1896 New Harvard Songbook omits several stanzas and adds one, and makes other 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.

  1. ^ The reference is obscure; presumably a weapon such as a Mameluke Sword. Not to be confused with Chibouk.

Ivan Skavinsky Skavar[edit]

An explicit parody of the song, with some variation[6] in the lyrics, is traditionally sung by some British Rugby football clubs.[7][8]

The harems of the desert are a sight to behold
And the harlots are lovely and fair
But the fairest, a Greek, belonged to a sheikh
Called Abdul Abulbul Amir.

A travelling brothel came down from the North
That was privately run for the Tsar
Who often would brag that none could out-shag
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

A day was arranged for the spectacle great
A visit was planned by the Tsar
And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar

They met at the track with cocks at the slack
A starter's gun punctured the air
Both were quick to the rise, the crowd gaped at the size
Of Ivan and Abdul Amir

They worked through the night neath the pale yellow light
Old Abdul he revved like a car
But he could not compete with the slow steady beat
of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar

The wager was won, Ivan shouldered his gun
And bent down to polish the pair
When he felt up his arse a hard pecker pass
It was Abdul Abulbul Amir

The harlots turned green, the men shouted "Queen!"
They were ordered to part by the Tsar
Twas bloody bad luck, for Abdul was stuck
Up Ivan Skavinsky Skavar

When at last they were broke, the cream of the joke
Was laughed at for years by the Tsar
For Abdul, the fool, had left half his tool
Inside Ivan Skavinsky Skavar

The sad Grecian maiden her long vigil keeps
With a husband whose tastes have turned queer
With the nights growing long, she longs for the dong
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir


"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 Cliff Nazarro, 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.[11] The more positive portrayal of the Russians could have been due to the newly formed alliance between Britain and the USSR following Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in the year of the cartoon's production and release.[original research?]


In the 1980s Whitbread 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 beer who squabbled over trivialities, 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 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Brothers", the character Lore is heard singing verses of the song as he murders his father, commenting "I've always loved that old ditty".[12]

Author Steven Millhauser, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, used a variation of the song in his first novel Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943–1954 By Jeffrey Cartwright.[13]

In the 1935 film Shipmates Forever Dick Powell's Crooner turned Midshipman character, Dick Melville is ordered by upper-classmen to sing just the first 100 verses of "Abdul...". Upon leaving the room, another upper-classman asks for help with verse 38.

In the 1949 film Task Force, Gary Cooper's naval aviation officer character "Jonathan Scott" sings a line from "Abdul..," telling Jane Wyatt's character "Mary Morgan" that all the Annapolis cadets in his day had to learn the song.

In Beau Sabreur, the 1926 sequel to Beau Geste, the novelist has a femme fatale whistle a tune (which the narrator identified as 'that popular aire') then she sings a verse to tease the French officer she calls 'Major Ivan.' She uses the words 'Ivan Potschjinski Skivah.'

A parody of the song, in which Abdul and Ivan engage in a competition for which can have sex with more prostitutes in a given time, is sung at rugby clubs, and appeared on the album Wicked Rugby Songs by The Shower-Room Squad.

In Martin Gardner's book The Magic Numbers of Dr. Matrix, the final article places Irving Joshua Matrix in Istanbul, using the alias of Abdul Abulbul Amir. He is later reported to have duelled with a KGB agent Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, with both of them perishing as a result. Seven years later, it turned out Dr. Matrix has faked his death to avoid retaliation by KGB.


  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. ^ Keats, Ed (January 2015). "A rousing ballad telling of a dispute between two fierce men". Shipmate. 78 (1): 60–61. 
  4. ^ "Abdul Abulbul Amir". All Poetry. Retrieved 4 March 2014. [better source needed]
  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. Retrieved 29 November 2010. 
  6. ^ Ivan Skavinsky Skavar
  7. ^ Variation to the lyrics
  8. ^ American bawdy songs
  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. ^ Webb, Graham (2000). The animated film encyclopedia: a complete guide to American shorts, features and sequences 1900–1979. Jefferson, North Carolina; London: McFarland. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7864-0728-6. 
  11. ^ "Banned MGM cartoon: Abdul The BulBul Ameer". YouTube: SecretNadeShiko. 17 August 2012. Retrieved 9 October 2012. 
  12. ^ "http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Abdul_Abulbul_Amir". Memory Alpha. Retrieved 9 March 2014.  External link in |title= (help)
  13. ^ Millhauser, Steven (1996) [1972]. Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943–1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright. New York: Random House. pp. 71–73. ISBN 0-679-76652-9. 

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