iPlayer Radio What's New?
Listen
The Georgians: Restraint, Revolution and Reform - Episode 2
Image for Wilson, Keppel and Several Bettys

Listen now 30 mins

Listen in pop-out player

Last on

Thu 17 Nov 2011 11:30 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 17 November 2011

Barbara Windsor tells the story of the popular variety act Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

Wilson, Keppel and Betty formed one of the greatest eccentric dance acts of all time. Their names are so familiar and yet amazingly their fascinating story has never been told on radio before. As with many tales of the stars of music hall and variety, it is one which is shrouded in contradictions and myth.

The programme includes new research into their early days as a duo in Australia and America - and reveals how the act was catapulted to stardom when Wilson and Keppel met Betty.

Liverpudlian Jack Wilson and Irishman Joe Keppel were doleful, gangling, moustachioed and skinny-legged. They wore parodies of Eastern dress, usually a fez and a short nightshirt, revealing their scrawny legs. The third member was the glamorous Betty - who over the years was played by several different women.

They performed a side-splitting sand dance based on poses familiar from Egyptian tomb art, with Betty as the central seductress. Their complete seriousness added to the hilarity.

From the early 1930's the trio became an established feature of British variety shows and were chosen for several Royal Variety Performances. Because the act was visual and hence instantly understandable to anyone, they received many offers from Europe.

In 1938 it was reported that whilst performing at the Berlin Wintergarden they upset Goebbels who was disgusted at the display of bare legs, calling them 'bad for the morals of Nazi Youth'. Mussolini, however, is said to have loved the act.

Contributors include Bill Pertwee, Mark Colleano, Jean Kent, Georgy Jamieson and relatives of the trio.

The programme is written by Alan Stafford and produced in Manchester by Stephen Garner.

Broadcasts

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss