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British Slang and Terms

British Slang in Billy Elliot the Musical
By Christina Knight for Great Performances

A coal-mining town in the North East of England is the setting for Billy Elliot the Musical Live (and the film it is is based on, Billy Elliot). The story of a boy fighting for what he wants and the dramatization of the infamous, year-long coal miners’ strike of 1984-1985 roils with British slang, working class insults, and references to history and personalities. To best appreciate the cheeky and barbed dialogue during the broadcast of Billy Elliot the Musical Live, we present this glossary of British slang and terms.

Pits
[two_third]The coal mines. In the musical Grandma says, “I don’t know what you want to keep the pits open for, anyway. If it was up to me, I’d close the bloody lot of them.”

Scab
A derogatory term for a strike-breaker — people who report for work a during a strike at their company, or people who temporarily take the jobs of those on strike. Billy’s older brother Tony reports, “There were 2,000 police taking six scabs to work.”

Bloody
An intensifier used in Great Britain for emphasis. Frequently used to express surprise, displeasure or anger. Billy’s father yells to turn off Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s radio address about the strike, saying “Turn that bloody witch off, will you?”

General Strike
In 1926, the General Strike in the UK involved more than a million workers who struck for nine days to protest wage cuts and unfavorable conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners. Grandma tells Billy, “I can remember the General Strike.”
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Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain May 1979 – Nov 1990. Courtesy Chris Collins, Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

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Pasty
[two_third]Meat and vegetables fill this pastry from Cornwall in the UK. Miners from Cornwall are credited with spreading the treat around the world when they migrated to other countries. In Billy Elliot, Grandma craves a pasty for breakfast.

Mank
British slang for something disgusting. Billy refers to Grandma’s moldy pasty as “mank.”

Fifty Pee
Slang for fifty pence (cents), the money Billy must pay to take a boxing class with George or a ballet class with Mrs. Wilkinson.

Trainers
British term for sneakers.[/two_third] [one_third_last]

Cornish pasty

Pasty made by Warrens Bakery, Britain’s oldest Cornish pasty maker. Photo: David Johnson

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Joe Bugner
[two_third]Born in 1950, boxer Joe Bugner won the British and British Common wealth heavyweight titles twice. The 6’4” boxer was ranked among the top ten heavyweights in the 1970s.

Bonny
A Scottish adjective that means attractive and healthy. When boxing trainer George wishes Billy well he says, “Congratulations, Bonny lad.”

Wanker
This insulting term is similar to “jerk.”

Bugger off
Bugger off means to “get lost,” “go away.”

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Billy Elliot the Musical Live at the Victoria Palace Theatre

Billy, Mrs. Wilkinson and ballet class in Billy Elliot the Musical Live at Victoria Palace Theatre. Photo: Adam Sorenson

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Shirley Bassey
[two_third]
The Welsh singer Shirley Bassey (b. 1938) became a pop star in the 1950s and recorded the theme songs to the James Bond films Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Moonraker (1979).

Margot Fonteyn
The English ballerina Margot Fonteyn (1919 – 1991) is considered one of the greatest dancers of her time. She spent her entire career with the Royal Ballet. When Mrs. Wilkinson meets Billy in ballet class, she sarcastically says, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Margo, Margot flippin’ Fonteyn.”

Leeds
Leeds is a city in West Yorkshire, England.

Wayne Sleep
Wayne Sleep (b. 1948) is a dancer, choreographer and director who was a Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet. He won a scholarship to study at the the Royal Ballet School at the age of 13.

Bent as a nine bob note
“Bent” suggests something is not right, perhaps dishonest, or that a person is intoxicated, homosexual or effeminate. A “bob” was a ten-shilling note in the UK.

Puff (also spelled Poof)
A derogatory term used to refer to man as gay.
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Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot the Musical Live

Mrs. Wilkinson in Billy Elliot the Musical Live at Victoria Palace Theatre. Photo: Adam Sorenson

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Rudolf Nureyev
[two_third]
The ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev (1938 – 1993) defected from the Soviet Union in 1961. His first appearance with the Royal Ballet in 1962 was arranged by prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn. He stayed with the company until 1970.

Royal Ballet School
This prestigious center for classical ballet training began as an academy founded in 1926. In 1956, the school and its associated company received a Royal Charter to become the Royal Ballet School and Royal Ballet Company.

“Geordie you’re a corker”
Geordie is a nickname for a person from the Tyneside region of North East England, as well as the name of the region’s dialect. George, and its nickname Geordie, was once a popular name there. “Geordie you’re a corker” is a phrase the police sing in the song “Solidarity.”

Corker
Corker is a term for an amusing or funny person or thing.
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Fonteyn and Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in his staging of Petipa/Minkus’ The Kingdom of the Shades for the Royal Ballet, 1963.

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Sod you, or Sod off
[two_third]
This rude phrase means “get lost,” “go away,” or “stop bothering me.”

Bollocks
An exclamation used to express contempt or annoyance. It can mean “nonsense!”

Camberwick Green
Camberwick Green was a British children’s TV program in the 1980s, featuring stop-motion puppets. Billy’s brother Tony argues with his father, saying “Look, this isn’t Camberwick Green Dad, man.”

“Mince and faggots, and a nice juicy Cumberland ring”
Faggots is a recipe made of pig’s heart, liver, belly fat and bacon that comes from South and Mid Wales and the Midlands of England. A Cumberland ring is a sausage coil made of pork shoulder and pork belly, typical of the county of Cumberland in the region Cumbria, in North West England. In Billy Elliot, the regional dishes of mince and faggots and a Cumberland ring are donated to the miners’ soup kitchen from a gay and lesbian group. “The Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnics Lesbian and Gay caucus…have given us some mince and faggots, and a nice juicy Cumberland ring,” George says.
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Billy Elliot the Musical Live

Billy Elliot the Musical Live at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Photo: Adam Sorenson

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Maggie’s boot boys
[two_third]
Maggie is a nickname for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the coal miners on strike called the police “boot boys,” a phrase heard in a song sung at the Christmas party in Billy Elliot the Musical Live.

Kevin Keegan
Keegan is a star soccer player (or as they say in the UK and Europe, football player) in the 1970s and 1980s. He played for Newcastle United from 1982 to 1984, when he retired. In Billy Elliot, Billy’s friend Michael gets a signed photo of Keegan for Christmas.

Bairn
A Scottish term meaning “child.” “He’s just a kid, he’s only just a bairn,” Billy’s older brother Tony sings in the song “He Could Be a Star.”

Arthur Scargill
Scargill (b. 1938) led the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) miners’ strike. He joined the NUM union at the age of 19, organized the strike in 1974 and was elected President of NUM in 1981. He was president for 20 years.
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Billy and Dad in Billy Elliot the Musical Live at Victoria Palace Theatre. Photo: Adam Sorenson

Billy and Dad in Billy Elliot the Musical Live at Victoria Palace Theatre. Photo: Adam Sorenson

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