Fred Karno's Army

Posted by ESC on January 18, 2004

In Reply to: Fred Karno's Circus posted by Chris on January 18, 2004

: Can anyone tell me, please, why we say Fred Karno's Circus to describe something which is chaotic?
: I know Fred Karnow made his fame & fortune from Fred Karnow's Circus and his list of recruits to his troupe was extensive including Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel etc etc. Any idea? Thank you. Chris

FRED KARNO'S ARMY - "A humorous nickname applied to the new British army raised during the First World War, in allusion to Fred Karno, the comedian and producer of stage burlesques, whose real name was Frederick John Westcott (1866-1941). At the time Fred Karno's company was a household name through its high-spirited and eccentric performances. The well-known Army chorus, sung to the tune of 'The Church's One Foundation,' runs:

We are Fred Karno's army,
Fred Karno's infantry;
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
So what damn good are we?
But when we get to Berlin
The Kaiser he will say
Hoch, hoch, mein Gott
Vot a bloody fine lot
Fred Karno's infantry.

There are variations, of course, and in the Second World War 'Old Hitler' was substituted for 'The Kaiser.' The name is also applied derisely to other nondescript bodies. Karno himself adopted his stage name, when he and two gymnast colleages filled in at a music hall for an act called 'The Three Carnos.' His agent Richard Warner, suggested they change the 'C' to a more distinctive 'K.' See also Harry Tate's Navy." From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).