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

Other less common variations include:

'Ee-aye Ee-aye,
don't get a bree-aye'

In place of the more common:

'Knees up, knees up
don't get the breeze up


A final, partly self-parodying refrain is often added as a chorus, particularly durng a merry session at a pub or party

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

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1964 the Disney film Mary Poppins the song "Step in Time" written by the Sherman Brothers was based on Knees Up Mother Brown.[6] According to Richard Sherman, the Knees Up Mother Brown dance was taught to Walt Disney, Tony Walton, and others by Peter Ellenshaw (the Disney Studio's head of special effects) and the Sherman Brothers witnessed them doing the dance and got the idea for "Step in Time".[7]

In 1965 Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sang an updated version on their album That Travelin' Two-Beat.

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 1980 Fozzie Bear performed this song in an episode of The Muppet Show with his mother, Emily, portraying "Mother Brown."[8]

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.

In association football[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".


  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. ^ "Step in time!" on YouTube / Mary Poppins
  7. ^ Musical Reunion with Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins 45th Anniversary Special Edition, Disney DVD
  8. ^ "Knees Up Mother Brown," on YouTube

External links[edit]