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 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 (originally named Ivan Potschjinsky Skidar in French's version), a Russian warrior—who encounter one another, engage in verbal boasting, and are drawn into a duel in which both perish.

Variant names[edit]

The names of the principal characters have been transcribed in a variety of ways in different versions of the lyrics. With respect to the title character, his 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 Potschjinksi 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.

Lyrics[edit]

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 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]

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!"
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.

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:[4]

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[5] and is traditionally sung in rugby clubs.[6][7]

Although there is substantial variation depending on the exact version of the song being sung,[8] the lyrics are generally along the lines of:

The harems of Egypt are fine to behold
And the harlots are lovely and fair
But the fairest, a Greek, was wed to a sheikh
Called Abdul Abulbul Amir.

A travelling brothel came into the town
'Twas run privately by the Tsar
Who wagered a buck that no-one could out-fuck
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

The peasants did shout
The announcement came out
In an ad in the Gulf Gazeteer
And plunged into debt
To get in their bet
On Abdul Abulbul Amir

For Abdul would ride
With his bride by his side
His face all flushed with desire
He had it decried
That he could out-ride
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar

It was only the Jews
Who wagered he'd lose
They believed that the prince was a queer
But the rest of the Persians
Would believe no perversions
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir

Count Ivan agreed
Prince Abdul agreed
To compete in the city's bazaar
Ten merchants were shot to secure a clear spot
For Abdul and Ivan Skavar

A day was arranged for the spectacle great
'Twas agreed on by Sultan and Tsar
And the streets were all lined with harlots entwined
'Round Abdul and Ivan Skavar

The Sultan rode by with a wide open fly
Expecting the harlots to cheer
But all eyes were fixed
On the two massive pricks
Of Ivan and Abdul Amir

Tsar Petrovich too
Attended the do
With a telescope watched from afar
While one of his band wanked him off in the sand
As a tribute to Ivan Skavar

They stood at the track with their cocks hanging slack
The starter's gun punctured the air
Both were quick on the rise, the crowd gaped at the size
Of Ivan and Abdul Amir

The harlots were shorn
No Frenchies were worn
Abdul's arse revved up like a car
But he couldn't compete
With the slow steady beat
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar

Now Ivan had won and was cleaning his gun
And bent down to polish his pair
When he felt something pass
Up his big hairy arse
'Twas Abdul Abulbul Amir

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

They needed a crane
A tow truck and chain
To rescue the unfortunate queer
Ivan said in a huff
'I've had quite enough
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir!'

Now the cream of the joke
It came when they broke
'Twas laughed at for years by the Shah
For Abdul the fool
Had left half of his tool
In the arse of Skavinsky Skavar

Upon Persian men
Old Abdul ranks high
Best ran 'neath the pale Southern star
For he shagged to a standstill
The pride of the East
Count 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

The moral, my friend
Of this pitiful end
Is plain for all to hear
When seeking your bit
Don't get stuck in the shit
Like Abdul Abulbul Amir...

Cartoon[edit]

"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 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.

Commercial[edit]

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 such as what type of glass 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 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".[12]. In the closing scene of the 1937 film "Devil's Playground", Richard Dix (Jack Dorgan) and Chester Morris (Robert Mason) are singing verses while riding a rickshaw in China.

Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961).

In the film Tiger Shark (film) (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.

References[edit]

  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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Eldredge, Sears (2014). Captive Audiences / Captive Performers (PDF). United States: DigitalCommons@Macalester College. p. 90. ISBN 9780615574455.
  6. ^ ""Ivan Scavinsky Scavar" Song Lyrics w/Free MP3 Download". www.horntip.com. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  7. ^ Cray, Ed (1999). The Erotic Muse: American Bawdy Songs. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252067891.
  8. ^ "Ivan Skavinsky Scavar - Hymns and Arias (well ok - Dirty Ditties, Rugby Songs and Chants)". web.archive.org. 6 August 2011. Archived from the original on 6 August 2011. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  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. ^ "Abdul Abulbul Amir". Memory Alpha. Retrieved 9 March 2014.

External links[edit]