Continuing our ‘history of burlesque’ series, today’s post is all about the historical comedy of Wilson, Keppel and Betty.
A popular music hall and variety act in the 1930s until they retired in the early 1960s, Wilson and Keppel were most famed for their parody of all things Egyptian. As outlined in our previous history of burlesque feature on Little Egypt, Middle Eastern influences had already began to filter through to mainstream entertainment and with Egypt becoming a popular travel destination (thanks to Thomas Cook who had started taking holiday-makers there in the late 1800s) and the 1920s marking the ‘era of discovery’ in Egypt following Howard Carters famous excavations in the Valley Of The Kings, 1922, there was a fashion and excited curiosity for all things Egyptian.
Liverpool-born Jack Wilson emigrated to the USA at a young age, making his stage debut as a high kicking dancer in 1909. Soon after he joined an Australian circus. After serving with the Royal Navy in WWI and returning to Colleano’s Circus, he met Joe Keppel a County Cork native who had also emigrated to the States and had performed as a tap dancer and the duo travelled across the USA as a comedy acrobatic and tap dancing act.
Their most famous act, The Sand Dance parodies the Egyptian heiroglyphics (with Keppel and Wilson facing side-on!)
Finding their niche with burlesquing everything Egyptian, in the late 1920s they were joined by Betty Knox (the first in an apparent ‘long line of betty’s’) and in ’32, the trio brought their act to the London Palladium, where they found a home for the next few years. Wilson, Keppel and Betty continued to parody their perception of the ancient Egyptian’s postures and styles as in this clip which is Betty’s parody of the Dance Of The Seven Veils – in fact, it wouldn’t look out of place in the modern burlesque arena!