“The Lambeth Walk” is a song from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl, with book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose and music by Noel Gay. The song takes its name from a local street, Lambeth Walk, once notable for its street market and working-class culture in Lambeth, an area of London. The tune gave its name to a Cockney dance made popular in 1937 by Lupino Lane.
The choreography from the musical, in which the song was a show-stopping Cockney-inspired extravaganza, inspired a popular walking dance, performed in a jaunty strutting style. Lane explained the origin of the dance as follows:
“I got the idea from my personal experience and from having worked among cockneys. I’m a cockney born and bred myself. The Lambeth Walk is just an exaggerated idea of how the cockney struts.”
When the stage show had been running for a few months, C. L. Heimann, managing director of the Locarno Dance Halls, got one of his dancing instructors, Adele England, to elaborate the walk into a dance.
“Starting from the Locarno Dance Hall, Streatham, the dance-version of the Lambeth Walk swept the country.” The craze reached Buckingham Palace, with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth attending a performance and joining in the shouted “Oi” which ends the chorus.
In Germany, big band leader Adalbert Lutter made a German-language adaptation called Lambert’s Nachtlokal that quickly became popular in swing clubs. A member of the Nazi Party drew attention to it in 1939 by declaring The Lambeth Walk “Jewish mischief and animalistic hopping”, as part of a speech on how the “revolution of private life” was one of the next big tasks of National Socialism in Germany. However, the song continued to be popular with the German public and was even played on the radio, particularly during the war, as part of the vital task of maintaining public morale
“The Lambeth Walk” had the distinction of being the subject of a headline in The Times in October 1938: “While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances – to The Lambeth Walk.”