Charles Coborn

Colin Whitton McCallum (4 August 1852 23 November 1945), known by his stage name Charles Coborn, was a British music hall singer and comedian. In a long career, Coborn was known largely for two comic songs: "Two Lovely Black Eyes", and "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo."

Charles Coborn
As The Man Who Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo
Colin Whitton McCallum

(1852-08-04)4 August 1852
Stepney, London, England, UK
Died23 November 1945(1945-11-23) (aged 93)
London, England, UK
OccupationMusic hall singer and comedian


He was born in Stepney, east London,[1][2] and adopted his stage name from Coborn Road, near Mile End. He made his music hall debut on the Isle of Dogs in 1872, and by 1879 was being billed at the Oxford Music Hall in London as "The Comic of the Day".[3] In 1886, he heard American William J. Scanlan's song "My Nellie's Blue Eyes". Liking the melody but not the words, Coborn rewrote it as "Two Lovely Black Eyes", and began performing it regularly wearing a faded frock coat, carrying a battered umbrella and with two blackened eyes.[4] He premièred it at the Paragon Theatre, in the Mile End Road,[5] and the song was instantly successful.[4]

In 1891, he bought the rights to Fred Gilbert's song, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo". When Gilbert first offered the song, Coborn was reluctant to adopt it. In his autobiography he stated: "[I] liked the tune very much, especially the chorus, but I was rather afraid that some of the phrasing was rather too highbrow for an average music hall audience." But when he found that he could not get the chorus out of his head, he changed his mind.[5] The song became a staple of his act, and he performed it on tour in different languages throughout the world. Coborn later estimated that he had performed the song 250,000 times in the course of his career, and could sing it in 14 languages. Coborn confirmed that Gilbert's inspiration was the gambler and confidence trickster Charles Wells, who was reported to have won one-and-a-half million francs[6] at the Monte Carlo casino, using the profits from previous fraud.[7][8]

Coborn's other, less successful, songs included "Should Husbands Work?", in which he took up the music hall tradition of (normally conservative) social comment; "I've Loved Another Girl Since Then";[5] "He's All Right When You Know Him"; and "I've Never Turned Money Away", which created controversy when Coborn performed it in the stereotyped manner of a Jew in a Jewish-owned theatre. He apologised afterwards, but was banned from appearing at the venue again.[4]

He toured extensively, and performed in New York City and Toronto in 1900. Described as a 'literate man of high principles', he was never fully accepted by the music hall establishment, but undertook much charitable work in the First World War and later in efforts to improve the conditions of music hall entertainers.[4] He continued to make occasional appearances, including a performance in the 1943 film Variety Jubilee at the age of 91. He died in London in 1945.[3][1] He is buried with his wife in Brompton Cemetery, London.

Recordings that he made in the 1920s can be found on the Chairman's Choice - Music Hall Greats album.[9]

His eldest son, Major Duncan McCallum, became MP for Argyll.

Selected filmography


  1. "Charles Coborn". Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  2. "Whitton and Ritch Genealogy from Scotland". 23 November 1945. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  3. Gammond, Peter (1991). The Oxford Companion to Popular Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 122. ISBN 0-19-311323-6.
  4. Baker, Richard Anthony (2014). British Music Hall: An Illustrated History. Barnsley: Pen & Sword. pp. 228–230. ISBN 978-1-78383-118-0.
  5. "cockney history, tower hamlets, east end of london, Charles Coborn, music hall, Bow, Mile End, Victorian". 30 October 2007. Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  6. The Times, 13 July 1893
  7. Michael Kilgarriff (1998) Sing Us One of the Old Songs: A Guide to Popular Song 1860–1920
  8. Coborn, C.: The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (pp. 227–8): (London: Hutchinson, c. 1928)
  9. Bill Clark. "Chairman's Choice - Music Hall Greats - Windyridge CDR22". Retrieved 11 April 2017.

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