Knees Up Mother Brown

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"Knees Up Mother Brown" is a song, published in 1938, by which time it had already been known for some years.


The song dates back to at least 1918 and appears to have been sung widely in London on 11 November of that year, Armistice Night, at the end of the First World War.[1] The 1938 version was attributed to Bert Lee, Harris Weston and I Taylor.[2]

The song became popular in English public houses and was particularly associated with Cockney culture. During the Second World War it was performed frequently by Elsie and Doris Waters.[3] It was also later performed on television by Noel Harrison and Petula Clark singing as a duo.[4]

The expression "knees up" came to mean a party or a dance.


The most familiar version of the song is:

Knees up Mother Brown
Knees up Mother Brown
Under the table you must go
Ee-aye, Ee-aye, Ee-aye-oh
If I catch you bending
I'll saw your legs right off
Knees up, knees up
don't get the breeze up
Knees up Mother Brown


A final, partly self-parodying refrain is often added at the end of the song, particularly after a merry session at pub or party

Oh, oh, what a rotten song
What a rotten song
What a rotten song
Oh, oh, what a rotten song
And what a rotten singer too-oo-oo!

In popular culture[edit]

The song can be heard sung on match days at the Boleyn Ground by fans of West Ham United Football Club; and has also been adopted by fans of other football clubs for various chants, most recognisably with the words "Who Ate All the Pies?". More recently[when?] it has been used by Brentford supporters, celebrating that their fortunes are currently better than local rivals, Fulham who were relegated to the Championship last season while Brentford were promoted to the same division, giving the version "Bees up, Fulham Down". Fozzie Bear performed this song in an 1980 episode of The Muppet Show with his mother, Emily, portraying "Mother Brown."[6]

It was also the inspiration for the song "Step in Time" written by the Sherman Brothers for the Walt Disney film Mary Poppins.[7] According to Richard Sherman, the dance was taught to Walt Disney, Tony Walton, and others by the Disney Studio's head of special effects Peter Ellenshaw and the Sherman Brothers witnessed them doing the dance and got the idea for "Step in Time".[8]

On the 1971 Monty Python album Another Monty Python Record, the song is described as one of the "folk songs of the Spanish Inquisition." As performed by Cardinals Ximénez (Michael Palin), Biggles (Terry Jones), and Fang (Terry Gilliam), it closes out the album's last track.

In her 1983 television concert special filmed at London's Dominion Theatre, Dolly Parton is shown singing the song with a group of men in a pub during the opening credits.

In the 1986 movie "Sweet Liberty," Michael Caine's character, Elliot James, recounts a tale of singing "Knees Up Mother Brown" on the streets of London during World War II. He runs into Winston Churchill, who joins in the singing.


  1. ^ James Hilton (1941) Random Harvest
  2. ^ Michael Kilgariff (1998) Sing Us One of the Old Songs: A Guide to Popular Song 1860-1920
  3. ^ Elsie & Doris Waters - "Knees Up Mother Brown" / "Please Leave My Butter Alone" (1940) on YouTube
  4. ^ Noel Harrison and Petula Clark, "Knees Up Mother Brown," on YouTube
  5. ^ International Lyrics Playground: "Knees Up Mother Brown," Traditional Party Song
  6. ^ "Knees Up Mother Brown," on YouTube
  7. ^ "Step in time!" on YouTube / Mary Poppins
  8. ^ Musical Reunion with Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins 45th Anniversary Special Edition, Disney DVD

External links[edit]