‘In olden days, a glimpse of stocking / Was looked on as something shocking,’ caroled the company of Cole Porter’s 1934 Broadway smash Anything Goes. When the musical opened at London’s Palace Theatre in 1935, the lyric to ‘Anything Goes’ was altered to suit local conditions. Out went Porter’s lines about Rockefeller and Max Gordon. In came a couple of couplets on current parliamentary antics: ‘When in the House our legislators / Are calling each other, “Traitors” / And “So and So’s” / Anything Goes.’
Eighty-five years on, in the age of Love Island, what wouldn’t you give for a retooled version of ‘Anything Goes’? Let us note in passing that ‘goes’ rhymes with ‘Bercow’s’, as in the outgoing and meddlesome Speaker of the House of Commons, and that Porter, ears ever pricked for a double entendre, would have had a ball with Boris Johnson’s last name.
Those amended London lyrics were the work of one P.G. Wodehouse. It’s a measure of the level of Porter’s humor that it was Jeeves’s man who was drafted in for the translation. Many a Broadway lyricist could crack wise, but none, not even Lorenz Hart, had wit to burn. Porter did. He could slot gags into the most torrid and tremulous of numbers. Hart might conceivably have come up with the lines in ‘All of You’ about how the singer loves ‘The eyes, the arms, the mouth of you / The north, east, west and the south of you’. But Hart would never have thought of working them into a straight love song.