Ella Shields’ Burlington Bertie From Bow was a parody of a parody. Like Vesta Tilley’s Burlington Bertie, Ella Shields’ stage character also harbors lionly aspirations and dreams. But his “people” are very different.
Tilley’s Bertie was the social-climbing son of a prosperous middle class father who earned his living “in trade”: a mortally embarrassing pedigree for a would-be man-about-town attempting to lead the lordly life of a lion comique.
Shields’ Bertie also attempts to projects a false front of lionly elegance. But her stage character was secretly penniless, shirtless and empty-bellied. For a brief clip of Shield’s doing her famous signature number
For the complete verses to this very influential song [click on]
Shields’ Bertie is a member of the shabby gentility. And since he hails from Bow, he is—by definition--a true Cockney .
Like Cockney Charlie’s Little Tramp, Burlington Bertie (from Bow) also combined the ambiguous social status of the has-been and would-be dandy. He is an impecunious gent who is stranded temporarily in lower class circumstances. But he either aspires to an upper class status which he has not yet enjoyed or else he is a former “aristocrat” who has fallen on hard times. It was this well-established comic convention of the ambiguously resonating has-been and would-be dandy that Charlie Chaplin borrowed from the proletarian theatrical traditions of British music hall and smuggled into his signature screen character the little tramp by way of his precursor film character in Making A Living (see next essay).