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
Written by Stephen Lewis
Produced byDonald Taylor
Cinematography Desmond Dickinson
Mutz Greenbaum
Edited by Oswald Hafenrichter
Music by James Stevens
Stanley Black
Carthage Productions
Distributed byElstree Distributors
Release date
26 February 1963 (1963-02-26) [1]
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Sparrows Can't Sing [2] is a 1963 British kitchen sink comedy film. [3] 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 Donald 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 film is loosely based on the stage musical Fings Ain't Wot They Used To Be, written by Frank Norman with music by Lionel Bart, at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1960, using members of the Theatre Workshop company, many of whom later appeared in the film. While the screenplay for the film was by Stephen Lewis, the stage version was partially 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 during the summer of 1962 in Limehouse, Isle of Dogs, Stepney, around the theatre in Stratford, and at Elstree Studios. Sets were occasionally visited by nearby Vallance Road residents the Kray twins. Some sources claim the Krays made a cameo appearance towards the end of the film, [4] but film historian Richard Dacre states this is not the case. [5]

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 said in its review: "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." [6] It was also the first English language film to be released in the United States with subtitles. [7]


Cockney sailor Charlie comes home from a long voyage to find his house razed and his wife Maggie missing. She is in fact 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 is known to have a foul temper. But he finally finds her and, after a fierce row with Bert, they are reconciled.


Film release

The world premiere was held on 26 February 1963 at the ABC cinema on the Mile End Road, and was attended by the Earl of Snowdon. Post-film drinks were had across the road at the Kentucky Club, owned by the Kray twins, before the party moved on to another Kray establishment, Esmeralda's Barn in the West End.

The film opened at the Rialto Cinema in the West End on 27 February 1963. [1]


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.

Home media

A region B Blu-ray was released on 12 October 2015. [8]

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  1. 1 2 Sparrows Can't Sing
  2. BBFC: Sparrows Can't Sing, 21/01/63
  3. BFI film database
  4. Sparrows review. Retrieved 5 May 2007
  5. 2015 Studio Canal DVD locations featurette
  6. The New York Times, 7 May 1963, at IMDb.
  7. "Stephen Lewis, actor – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. 13 August 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  8. "Sparrows Can't Sing Blu-ray (Vintage Classics) (United Kingdom)".