Richard Isaac Banks was born in Melbourne, Australia and came to Britain in the late 1890s, where he became a big star in the music halls under the name Billy Williams. The same was true of Flora Flannagan, better known as Florrie Forde – and that’s relevant because this song was essentially an answer to one of Forde’s.
In 1908, ‘Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly?’, written by Will Letters and C.W. Murphy, became one of Forde’s biggest hits, the story of a chap from the Isle of Man who gets lost while on a holiday in London. The hook was the spelling out of the character’s name: ‘K E double L Y’. (The song was later rewritten for America, with an Irishman in New York.) So big was it that it prompted a follow-up from the same writers, ‘Flanagan’, in 1910, in which the titular character is urged by his girl to go on holiday to the Isle of Man, ‘where the folks all cry, K E double L Y’.
In retaliation, Billy Williams (‘The Man in the Velvet Suit’) released a double-sided disc in 1911 with ‘I’ve Found Kelly’ and this song, ‘I’m the Man that Buried Flanagan’. It’s not particularly fearful, because Williams never was – his great stock-in-trade was chuckling his way through his songs, most famously with ‘When Father Papered the Parlour’. Indeed, he hasn’t actually killed anyone in this song. He’s just playing a gruesome practical joke on his wife:
The Missus had been grumbling at me all the day and night;
So I wrapped myself up in a sheet and gave her such a fright.
I took me garden spade and toddled up beside her bed,
And when she shouted: ‘Who are you?’ I looked at her and said:
‘I’m the man that buried Flanagan.
He’ll never see the Isle of Man again.
I laid him by with Mister McKay,
I’m the man that buried Flanagan,
And at night when the shadows fall,
Ooh his ghost will rise and he’s making goo-goo eyes
At the girl in the clogs and shawl.’