Gilbert the Filbert

Basil Hallam
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Basil Hallam Radford was born on April 3, 1888. He attended Charterhouse School and went on to become a well known actor and light comedian performing under the name ‘Basil Hallam’. In early 1914 he created and played the character of a privileged young “Knut”, Gilbert the Filbert, for The Passing Show which opened at the Palace Theatre, London, on 20 April 1914. The composer was Herman Finck and the lyrics were written by Arthur Wimperis.

Hallam became an overnight sensation and the whole country was singing the song and young men of a certain station started to refer to themselves as “Knuts”.

I’m Gilbert, the Filbert,
The Knut with a “K”,
The pride of Piccadilly,
the blasé roué.
Oh, Hades! the ladies
who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert, the Filbert,
The Colonel of the Knuts.

The widespread popularity can be glimpsed in letters from the front, published in local newspapers, where men refer to themselves as ‘Knuts’ and further evidenced by a short article, written by P. G. Wodehouse, about the “Knuts O’ London” in the September 1914 edition of Vanity Fair.

Knuts O' London
Vanity Fair, September 1914

But, as for many others, the war got in the way of his success and on September 14, 1915 he was gazetted a probationary Second Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps.

On August 20, 1916 he was a temporary Captain and a member of No 1 Army Kite Balloon Section, stationed in France. On that day, the balloon broke away from its moorings and began to drift towards enemy lines. Following protocol, the three man crew proceeded to throw out their instruments and maps before planning to save themselves. Basil Hallam Radford did not survive the jump and is buried in the Couin British Cemetery. He was 27 years old.


The September 1914 Vanity Fair article by P.G. Wodehouse can be found here.
Details regarding the death of Captain Basil Hallam Radford can be found here.