Like other songwriters of his day, Jack wrote under several pseudonyms. This allowed him to experiment with different styles and be protected from flooding the market under his own name. The highly controversial ‘Colonel Campbell and Mr Lang’ (1932), attributed to John Quinlan, was published by Jack O’Hagan Music. The format of two verses and three choruses was refreshing but that wasn’t why it took off.
The New South Wales Labour Party Premier, the Honourable John ‘Jack’ T. Lang (1876-1975), Australian writer and poet Henry Lawson’s brother-in-law, had borrowed heavily to fund the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This extensive public work had been under construction since 1924, employed 1,400 men for eight years and carried the state through the Great Depression. The government spent $4.2 million building the steel bridge, the symbol of modern Australia, and reached a point where it could not pay interest on the loans. Things were so tough that the Government Savings Bank of NSW was forced to close. Public servants were instructed not to make payments to the Federal Treasury, effectively directing them to act against the law.
On 19 March 1932, Jack Lang was to officially open the bridge, now ready to carry trams and traffic. Colonel Campbell, head of the extreme right-wing paramilitary group the New Guard, and Captain Francis De Groot, believed a member of the Royal Family should open it. In a breathtaking stunt De Groot rode up on horseback and dramatically slashed the official opening ribbon with a sword. It was re-tied so that Lang could ‘officially’ cut the ribbon but the scandal was the talk of the town Australia-wide.
Quick to seize the day, Jack wrote, published and recorded ‘Colonel Campbell and Mr Lang’ within three and a half weeks, but dared not put it out under the name of Jack O’Hagan. He used his mother’s maiden name. Singers Len Maurice and Jack Lumsdaine wouldn’t use their names either, recording as Quip & Quirk.
Jack’s knowledge of vaudeville came to the fore. The song is based on the style of 'Mr Gallagher and Mr Shean', the theme song of a popular American vaudeville double act of the 1920s, Ed Gallagher and Al Shean, first recorded in July 1922 and featured in Ziegfeld’s Follies. Shean was an uncle of the Marx Brothers. ‘Mr Hoover and Mr Smith’ written by Bob King and recorded by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare in July 1928 is another duet in the same style.
The politics in Sydney were so bitter that if you wanted to buy the record, shop owners would say ‘Yes we’ve got it, just a second’, dive under the counter and supply it in a paper bag. They simply weren’t game enough to put it on the shelves. They could have a brawl on their hands.
In 1982, the Sydney Harbor Bridge’s 50th anniversary, Jack commented on 3LO’s Ralph Rickman Show,
‘Sydney was really laughing about all this…in fact all Australia were when it happened…I thought, I’ll cash in on the comedy of it.’
The highly controversial ‘Colonel Campbell and Mr Lang’ was a masterstroke, selling over 30,000 copies, the equivalent of a gold disc. Author and music historian Peter Burgis, previously researcher and archivist for the National Film and Sound Archive, called it the most notorious recording of the time.
1st Verse I had a dream last night, ‘twas such a funny dream,
I dreamt about two men we know, and it was just a scream;
Now one was Mister Lang, I near fell out of bed;
The other one was Colonel Campbell and this is what they said:
Chorus Oh, Colonel Campbell – Yes, Mister Lang –
Why don’t you scramble your precious gang?
They have been a source of worry
Since we opened up The Bridge
And the way they cut that ribbon,
It was downright sacrilege!
But Mister Lang, you were astute
You prosecuted my friend de Groot;
Then for doing what he did,
Why the Court fined him five quid.
Did that please you, Colonel Campbell?
It was worth it, Mister Lang.
2nd Verse Now should my dream come true it simply would be grand
If maybe in the future we could see them hand in hand.
When all is said and done, it hardly seems worthwhile
And if there would pull together, why, we’d all buck up and smile.
2nd Chorus Oh, Colonel Campbell – Yes, Mister Lang –
Just see your actions don’t boomerang,
There’s a matter in the papers
Where it seems that you’ve been lax,
Though I wouldn’t hurt your feelings,
It concerns your income tax.
Now, Mister Lang, why bring that up?
Our little quarrel is but a pup.
If remarks like that you pull,
I’ll remind you of that “Bull”.
Do you mean that, Colonel Campbell?
Absolutely, Mister Lang.
3rd Chorus Oh, Colonel Campbell – Yes, Mister Lang,
The celebrations went with a bang.
Though you sent off a petition,
Still, I opened up The Bridge.
All your efforts couldn’t stop me
For that was my privilege.
But Mister Lang, you surely see
The world is laughing, but not at me.
And that ribbon stunt you see
Will go down in history.
See you later, Colonel Campbell.
At the talkies, Mister Lang.