Charles Coborn

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Not to be confused with Charles Coburn.
Charles Coborn
1892 Charles Coborn.jpg
As The Man Who Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo
Born Colin Whitton McCallum
(1852-08-04)4 August 1852
Stepney, east London
Died 23 November 1945(1945-11-23) (aged 93)
Occupation music hall singer & comedian
Known for I

Charles Coborn (4 August 1852 – 23 November 1945) was a British music hall singer and comedian born in Stepney, east London.

He was born Charles Whitton McCallum, and adopted his stage name from Coborn Road, near Mile End. In a long career, Coborn was known largely for two comic songs: Two Lovely Black Eyes (which he adapted in 1886 from "My Nellie's Blue Eyes", a song by William J. Scanlan, and premièred at the Paragon Theatre, in the Mile End Road[1]) and The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Fred Gilbert, in 1892. The latter song was bought for £10, but the rights were finally sold for £600.[1] The song quickly became a staple of his act, and he performed it on tour in different languages throughout the world. Coborn confirmed that Gilbert's inspiration was the gambler and confidence trickster Charles Wells.[2][3] Wells was reported to have won one-and-a-half million francs[4] at the Monte Carlo casino, using the profits from previous fraud.

When Gilbert first offered the song, Coborn was reluctant to adopt it. In his autobiography he states, ‘[I] liked the tune very much, especially the chorus, but I was rather afraid that some of the phrasing was rather too highbrow for an average music hall audience.' But when he found that he could not get the chorus out of his head, he changed his mind.[5] Coborn later estimated that he had performed the song 250,000 times in the course of his career, and could sing it in 14 languages.

Described as a 'literate man of high principles', he was never fully accepted by the music hall establishment, but continued to work until the end of his long life. Tracks that he recorded in his 80s can be found on Chairman's Choice - Music Hall Greats CD.

In other songs such as "Should husbands work?" he took up the music hall tradition of (normally conservative) social comment.

He appeared in the film Variety Jubilee (1943), at the age of 91, and continued to make occasional appearances, until his death in London in 1945.[6] He is buried with his wife in Brompton Cemetery, London.

His eldest son, Major Duncan McCallum, became MP for Argyll.

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b Charles Coborn biography (East London History) Archived 30 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine. accessed 29 Oct 2007
  2. ^ Michael Kilgarriff (1998) Sing Us One of the Old Songs: A Guide to Popular Song 1860-1920
  3. ^ Coborn, C.: The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (pp. 227-8): (London: Hutchinson, c. 1928)
  4. ^ The Times, 13 July 1893
  5. ^ Quinn, R. The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire (Stroud, The History Press, 2016). ISBN 9780750961776.
  6. ^ Charles Coborn biography accessed 29 Oct 2007
  • British Music Hall - an illustrated history by Richard Anthony Baker, Sutton Publishing, UK, 2005 ISBN 0-7509-3685-1

External links[edit]