“Champagne Charlie” (1867) is the best-known of the songs sung by the music-hall artist George Leybourne (1842–1884), one of the leading lion comiquesType of popular entertainer in the Victorian music halls, a parody of upper-class toffs or “swells” made popular by Alfred Vance and G. H. MacDermott, among others. of his day, whose acts parodied upper-class toffs or “swells”; the songs they sang were satirical “hymns of praise to the virtues of idleness, womanising and drinking”.
The song was also sung by the crowd at the last public execution in England,[a]Public executions in England were abolished by the Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868Act of Parliament that put an end to public executions for murder in the United Kingdom. that of the Fenian Michael Barrett in 1867, for his part in the Clerkenwell explosion in December 1867, which killed twelve bystanders and severely injured many more.
With music written by Alfred Lee and lyrics by Leybourne himself, the song may be the first example of popular music being used for advertising. Charlie recommends “Moët’s vintage only”, and in response, Leybourne’s great rival Alfred Vance wrote and performed the song “Cliquot”, a rival champagne brand. The rivalry between Leybourne and Vance was a central theme of the 1944 film Champagne Charlie, starring Tommy Trinder and Stanley Holloway as Leybourne and Vance respectively.
The melody of “Champagne Charlie” was adopted by The Salvation Army for their hymn, “Bless His Name He Sets Me Free”.