The story of Wallop Mrs Cox . . . .

Was it really down to Grandad?

Laurie Hornsby wrote the music for Brummie musical Wallop Mrs Cox, seen above in 2010's Hippodrome production, and Euan Rose wrote the script. But where did it actually start? LAURIE HORNSBY (pictured below) has a word to say for his grandfather. 

IT was a warm, sunny afternoon in July, 1975. There I was, lazing in a deckchair in my garden, transistor tuned to the newly-launched BRMB radio station while I strummed along on my acoustic guitar to whatever 45 record Ed Doolan happened to have on the turntable.  

If my memory serves me well, at one point I was trying to busk along to Minnie Riperton's Loving You' That's the one that has all the birds twittering away in the background.

“Why can't I write songs like that?” I asked myself. 

Then it happened. Through the tiniest of speakers crackled a little ditty that would change my whole approach to songwriting. Why? Well it was the first rock 'n roll record I'd ever heard that was sung in a true English accent and glorified its Cockney working class origins.

The lyric just blew me away:  

I came 'ome this evenin' and the law 'ad nicked me brovva.

I've 'ad a bleedin' nuff, what with one thing and anovva. 

Suddenly Mr Doolan was back on air. “Ada from Ward End is on the line. Hello, Ada. Oh, and that was a new London act called Chas and Dave.” 

“I can write songs like that”, I said and promptly turned off the radio. Strumming away on guitar and searching frantically for inspiration, I closed my eyes and was instantly transported back to the old Bull Ring. I saw the steps up to the old fish market that I'd known as a kid. There was the old blind lady with her carrier bags and I immediately started singing the chorus hook. ۥAndy carriers for sale!  

I heard the yell of the man selling goldfish trying to outdo the newspaper vendor's cries. Whop bop balloons! Hey 'spatch 'n Mail!  

For some strange reason a comical spiv was muscling in on the action and that was when Uncle Ernie was created. I simply strummed a chord and out popped the lyric. 

When I grow up I wanna be like my uncle Ernie.

He's the kind of man that I admire.

And if I ask him nicely he will learn me

How to spit correctly in the fire. 

In my imagination I'd seen Uncle Ernie many times. Ernie was the illegal bookie Joe Smith on Soho Road. Ernie was the shady Maltese Joe from Highgate who, just after the war, had the petrol coupon market sown up. Ernie was Alfie Burns, the fence, who had a shop in Edward Road, Balsall Heath, but no one ever found out what he sold. 

With the afternoon sun still warming the cockles, I gazed up to the heavens and thanked my Grandad for all his help in the creation of these two songs. To my amazement, from above came Grandad's enthusiastic reply. Whenever he wished to express himself in bursts of exhilaration he would always do so by way of an old Brummie saying and his spiritual message hit me like an express train. Wallop Mrs Cox! 

There was to be no stopping for tea now. Just pass the notepad! The next song that I wrote during that late afternoon was not to be included in the final score, but – and thanks to my Grandad, the late Alfred Arthur Davis – the title did indeed make the show! 

That evening, as I reflected on my afternoon's work, the idea of a theatrical production came to mind and I decided there and then that Wallop Mrs Cox was the most perfect of titles to carry a musical that would be set in Birmingham's Bull Ring. It would revolve around the Coxes, a family of fruit and vegetable traders, and the fatherly figure would be Lenny Cox. Lurking around like the Red Shadow would be the illegal bookie/black marketer and lovable rogue Uncle Ernie.


My work at that time in the mid-seventies involved getting out on the road to promote various products for the Special Projects department of Mitchells and Butlers Brewery. Products like Brew XI and Breaker Beer. I'd write appropriate novelty jingles for advertising purposes then whiz around the pubs performing them.  

However, before that, in my hippier days, I'd performed a fair few times at the Bush pub, Shepherds Bush, London, and had witnessed what I believed to be the birth of pub theatre.

With this in mind I not only sold the idea of creating pub theatre in Birmingham to Malcolm Powell, who was Projects Director at M and B, but also the idea to stage Wallop Mrs Cox, when I'd finished writing it, in their pub venues.

Sadly, because none of us really had a clue what theatre was all about, the idea was put on the back burner – but in 1984 Mitchells and Butlers decided to finance an album of my Brummie songs to be retailed around its pubs. During the recording sessions I did an interview with Malc Stent at Radio WM. Malc caught me unawares by asking what the title of the new album was and I didn't have one – other than Wallop Mrs Cox. 

“You should see Laurie Hornsby sitting here, folks”, he said. “He's got a face as long as Livery Street.” Not only did I have an album title but I also had another song, should a chance to put on Wallop Mrs Cox ever present itself! 

By the mid to late 1990's Malc Stent and Carl Chinn had established themselves as the absolute force to be reckoned with in the massive Brummie nostalgia market.

They had numerous sell-out concerts at the Town Hall, the Hippodrome and the Rep under their belt, so I was very privileged to be invited into their setup. A CD recording of my songs that would feature us as a team was planned, recorded and quickly released. With a full “whistles and bells” launch by the Birmingham Mail, the CD, The Brummagem Air was incredibly successful and had healthy worldwide sales. 

On this album my songs 'Andy Carriers For Sale, The Back Of Rackhams, A Face As Long As Livery Street, Uncle Ernie and Red Hat No Drawers were featured, as was Wallop Mrs Cox.Prof Carl Chinn's input into the recording was that of narrator and what is interesting about Carl's introduction into Wallop Mrs Cox is his reference to this fictional lady as “Mrs Birmingham”. Indeed, Carl paints a picture of Mrs Cox that is so very near to what we saw in the stage productions of Wallop Mrs Cox. 

In 1998, during the writing of my first book, Brum Rocked, Euan Rose very kindly agreed to give me an interview about a pop group he had once been a part of, Carl and the Cheetahs.

I knew that Euan was a prominent member of the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham and so at the end of the interview I told him that I had ideas for a musical that was set in the Bull Ring. Would he like to write the script – or as they say in the luvviest of circles, the book! 

Euan set to work and his first port of call was Carl Chinn who was simply magnificent in his input as historian, providing Euan with pretty well every scrap of information needed. With Euan's connections at the Crescent, the show premièred there in July 2000, with Carl Chinn taking the role of narrator. 

From the Crescent to two sell-out seasons at the Rep and finally on to the Birmingham Hippodrome, Wallop Mrs Cox has hit audiences like it hit me back in 1975, like an express train. 

So that is the story of how a lazy sunbather, with an image of the blind old lady selling carrier bags, strummed a couple of chords on his acoustic guitar and then layered the melody with memories of an escapologist, a news vendor, a man selling goldfish that were probably dead already and a banana man shouting, “Come on ladies, five a bob!” And all this became the musical that Brummies embraced so warmly.  

So who was the man behind Wallop Mrs Cox?  Euan Rose? Oh please, don't make me laugh, I've got a split lip. Laurie Hornsby? What on earth have songs got to do with a musical? 

Alfred Arthur Davis? Grandad? Now you're talking!   

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