Sparrows Can't Sing

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Sparrows Can't Sing
"Sparrers Can't Sing" (1962).jpg
UK quad poster
Directed by Joan Littlewood
Produced by Donald Taylor
Written by Stephen Lewis
Cinematography Desmond Dickinson
Mutz Greenbaum
Edited by Oswald Hafenrichter
Distributed by Elstree Distributors
Release dates
26 March 1963 (1963-03-26)
Running time
94 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Sparrows Can't Sing[1] is a 1963 British film.[2] Based on a 1960 play, Sparrers Can't Sing, it was directed by Joan Littlewood and was from a story by Stephen Lewis. The producer was Don Taylor and the original music by James Stevens, incidental music was composed by Stanley Black. The play, also by Stephen Lewis, was first performed at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in the Theatre Royal Stratford East.


The play was first performed at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1960, using cast from the Theatre Workshop, who later appeared in the film. While the script is by Stephen Lewis, the play was developed using improvisational theatre techniques during performance. In common with much of Joan Littlewood's direction, it was an ensemble piece.

The production made a successful transfer to the West End at Wyndham's Theatre in 1961.


The film was made on location, in Limehouse, Isle of Dogs, Stepney and around the theatre in Stratford. Sets were occasionally visited by nearby Vallance Road residents The Krays, who also made a cameo appearance towards the end of the film.[3]

Sparrows Can't Sing is a comedy attempting to provide a representation of Cockney life in the East End of London in the early 1960s. A collection of typical characters such as people at the local pub, local tarts, Jewish tradesmen, spivs and others are portrayed, (and possibly larger than life).

The dialogue is a mixture of Cockney rhyming slang, London Yiddish, and thieves' cant. The New York Times, in its review said "this isn't a picture for anyone with a logical mind or an ear for language. The gabble of cockney spoken here is as incomprehensible as the reasoning of those who speak it."[4] It was also the first English language film to be released in the United States with subtitles.[5]


Cockney sailor Charlie comes home from a long voyage to find his house razed and his wife Maggie missing. Actually, she's now living with bus driver Bert and has a new baby--whose parentage is in doubt. Charlie's friends won't tell him where Maggie is because he's well known to have a foul temper. But he finally finds her and, after a fierce row with Bert, they are reconciled.



Barbara Windsor was nominated for the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role by the British Academy Film Awards in 1963, for her performance as Maggie.


  1. ^ BBFC: Sparrows Can't Sing, 21/01/63
  2. ^ BFI film database
  3. ^ Sparrows review accessed 5 May 2007
  4. ^ New York Times, 7 May 1963, at IMDb.
  5. ^ "Stephen Lewis, actor - obituary". Daily Telegraph (London). 13 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  • "Film Review" by Maurice Speed – Publisher: MacDonald, 1964

External links[edit]