Apr 4, 2016

Who Killed Cock Robin: The Only Gay Nursery Rhyme

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I liked science fiction, like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree, but I hated fairy tales, and I especially hated nursery rhymes.

Most of them made no sense: who would bake  blackbirds into a pie?  Who keeps a lamb as a pet?  And what the heck is a tuffet?


Those that made sense (sort of) were entirely heterosexist.  Jack and Jill go walking up that hill hand-in-hand.  Jack Sprat and his wife have the disgusting habit of licking dinner plates. Some kid named Georgie likes to kiss girls.

The only one I could stand was "Who Killed Cock Robin?", which like most nursery rhymes, was intended to teach Medieval children about death.  It's not actually a mystery -- a Sparrow confesses to the murder in the first line -- and the rest of the poem involves various birds offering to sew his shroud, dig the grave, build the coffin, and so on.




What I liked about it:

1. I didn't learn the British meaning of the word "cock" (a male bird) until much later, so it was amazing to hear about a bird named after a penis.

2. I could even get away with asking my Dad to "read me the nursery rhyme about the cock."


3. The illustration in my nursery rhyme book showed a muscular male killer, not a sparrow.

4. One of my first "British Invasion" tv programs was the episode "Who Killed Cock Robin?" on Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), about a pair of swinging detective buddies (Mike Pratt, Kenneth Cope), one a ghost.







5. An episode of Matinee at the Bijou in the 1970s featured a murder mystery entitled Who Killed Cock Robin (1938).  It starred the handsome Charles Farrell, who would go on to play the dad in My Little Margie in the 1950s.  I didn't know it at the time, of course, but Farrell was: a former nude physique model; and rumored to be gay.

6. The nursery rhyme is reputedly about William II, the King of England, who was gay.  He was shot with an arrow by Walter Tyrell, probably his lover, while hunting in the New Forest on August 2, 1100.  In The Golden Bough,  Sir James Frazier argues that his death was no accident, but a sacrifice to the Old Gods in a remnant of an ancient fertility rite.

See also: The Joy of Saying "Cock"