Cinema Purgatorio CP13

Cinema Purgatorio #13 regular cover, art by Kevin O’Neill

Annotations for “The Last Temptation of Old Mother Riley” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #13

Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill

>Go to overall Cinema Purgatorio annotations index
Go to Moore-O’Neill Cinema Purgatorio stories annotations index

Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.

General: This issue explores the life and work of British actor Arthur Lucan (1885-1954) who created the comedic drag role of Old Mother Riley. Lucan was highly successful with his Old Mother Riley character, playing her on stage for decades and in 15 films. Lucan had a tempestuous relationship with his wife and co-star Kitty McShane, who Mother Riley’s daughter Kitty Riley. Off-screen, McShane was unfaithful and drained Lucan’s money, leaving him essentially bankrupt.

There are some Lucan/Old Mother Riley videos (and audio recordings) available online, including the full 1952 movie Mother Riley Meets the Vampire.

In an unpublished interview, Moore called Lucan a “proletarian genius” and mentioned that his research for this issue included the book The Man Who Was Old Mother Riley by Robert V. Kenny. These annotations rely on details from Kenny’s excellent TMWWOMR. For Lucan details available online, try Wikipedia pages (which have some errors), book information at Bear Manor Media, and a Wembley History Society 3-page flier. Those interested in another fictional treatment of Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane might want to check out “On Your Way, Riley“, a 1985 TV Movie on the subject.


  • The cover includes actors and characters from the Old Mother Riley films. Left to right are:
    – The woman is actress Kitty McShane (arguably mostly just as herself, but also perhaps in role as the character Kitty Riley.) McShane was Lucan’s co-star and wife. Their marriage was tempestuous; according to various accounts “offstage she made Arthur’s life a misery.” McShane and Lucan fought a great deal. McShane’s eye swollen shut may be a reference to a 1934 “facial injury” (a black eye) that McShane reportedly received in a car crash, though some speculate may have been from a fight with Lucan (TMWWOMR, pages 151-152). McShane’s purse seems to reference when she ran on-stage and “swung her heavy crocodile handbag” hitting Lucan’s face. (TMWWOMR page 251-252)
    – The man reclining in bed is McShane’s live-in lover Billy Breach. Breach was an actor and singer, who later went by the name Willer Neal.
    – The older woman is the character Old Mother Riley played by Lucan
    – The man being punched is actor Arthur Lucan, depicted in poverty (hole in sock), clutching his bank book to try to keep it away from McShane, who spent essentially all of Lucan’s money
  • “Take 10” likely refers to the repetitive nature of McShane’s abuse of Lucan.
  • May 17, 1954, is the day Lucan died of a heart attack. He was in Mother Riley costume in the wings of the Tivoli Theater in Hull – depicted on page 6 below.
  • The bottles allude to alcohol usage by all of these people, especially heavily by McShane and Breach.

Page 1

panel 1

  • This is the least obscured look that the reader has had of the still-unnamed protagonist.
  • Moore used a lipstick-on-mirror motif in the first chapter of Lost Girls.

panel 2

  • “Mothra Does Dallas” combines the kaiju giant moth Mothra (which first appeared in the 1961 film Mothra) with the 1978 porn movie Debbie Does Dallas.

panel 3

panel 5

  • RSI pictures is not clear. The most similar reference found would be “Rock Studios Elstree” – the site where Old Mother Riley in Business (1941) was filmed (TMWWOMR, page 174).
  • “The last temptation of” refers to The Last Temptation of Christ – a 1988 film based on a 1955 novel.
  • Old Mother Riley” is a recurring character played in drag by the actor Arthur Lucan in a series of 15 Old Mother Riley comedic movies. Lucan developed the ‘dame’ role on stage, and continued to perform on-stage throughout his life. Old Mother Riley utilizes a broad range of verbal and physical comedy; Moore and O’Neill imitate her relentless comedic manner.
    Mother Riley appeared briefly earlier – on movie posters/titles in the framing pages of issues #6 and #8.
Arthur Lucan (as Old Mother Riley) and Kitty McShane. Photo via Wikipedia

Page 2

panel 1

  • This setting may be a scene from a specific OMR movie – suggest??
  • Left to right are:
    Barnacle Bill is a sailor from a traditional folk song. In Old Mother Riley Overseas (1943), Riley goes to Portugal riding in “Barnacle Bill’s rickety old boat” (TMWWOMR, page 200). That book (p. 235) also mentions Barnacle Bill as Riley’s “old flame” in a 1950 stage performance.
    – The sailor is McShane’s live-in lover Billy Breach later re-named Willer Neal. Breach is shown with a red nose and liquor bottle, representing his heavy use of alcohol. Breach’s sailor uniform references the outfit he wore in his on-stage performances performing getting married to McShane.
    His hat reads “HMS Nob” which is possibly a reference to the battleship HMS Noble, with nob being slang for ‘penis’ and ‘influential person.’
    Kitty Riley/McShane – McShane the actress who plays Old Mother Riley’s daughter Kitty Riley. She was married to Lucan.
    Old Mother Riley
    – standing couple?
  • “Mangling me language” has a double meaning. Mother Riley makes lots of mangled language jokes: spoonerisms, malapropisms, etc. A mangle is also a laundry pressing machine.
  • “Old Mother Riley” as “one of those names you’d hear in playground songs or skipping rhymes” likely refers to Old Mother Hubbard nursery rhymes.
  • Riley address – from Mother Riley Meets the Vampire

    “Ration Row SE 19” references OMR’s Ration Row address, shown in Vampire (and probably elsewhere.) There is no actual Ration Row streets in London; the joke references rationing during wartime.

  • “No tick here” essentially means “no credit.” This usage of “tick” is British. (There may be double meaning, commenting on OMR’s physical comedy resembling a tic – in the sense of a spasm?)
  • “Witker’s hand laundry” – ??

panel 2

  • The joke here has double meanings. Bread dough rises, of course, but “made of dough” means rich, having lots of money. McShane was wasteful with Lucan’s money, driving him to bankruptcy.

panel 3

panel 4

  • OMR is playing with the Shakespeare phrase “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Old Mother Riley in Paris references this with the line “O how sharper than a serpent’s thingummy it is to have a thankless child.”
  • “Ejaculating” (likely for “evacuating”) is a malapropism, common in OMR humor. It also hints at OMR’s identity as a man in drag.
  • The liquor bottle hints at heavy alcohol usage by McShane, Breach, and Lucan.

panel 5

  • “Penile” plays with OMR’s identity as a man in drag.
  • “It’s a wise tin of milk that knows its own cow!” is a play on “‘Tis a wise child who knows his own father“.
  • The face on the right appears to be Bela Lugosi (from Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire).

Page 3

George Formby – image via

panel 1

  • This setting may be a scene from a specific OMR movie – suggest??
  • The man holding the ladder is British actor/musician George Formby.
    From 1931-32 Formby performed with Lucan and McShane in a theater piece called Dick WhittingtonTMWWOMR credits Lucan for a crucial role in “re-launching” Formby’s career.
  • “Royal command performance” refers to Lucan’s 1934 Royal Command Performance in London.
  • A “public convenience” is British euphemism for a public bathroom.
  • A “blot on me escutcheon” is a phrase meaning damage to one’s reputation. (This may have sexual connotations, as escutcheon means either a coat-of-arms shield, or a woman’s pubic hair.)
  • “I stand before you as a lady” is something a woman would say more-or-less meaning “I have a good reputation” (as a well-mannered lady vs. perhaps an uncouth commoner.) Here, Moore is using it to play with OMR as a man in drag.
    OMR makes similar jokes – for example, at minute 50 of Mother Riley Meets the Vampire she states “I’m a lady and I defy you to prove it.”

panels 2-5

  • These form a fixed-camera sequence. This slows down the frantic pace of Old Mother Riley allowing Arthur Lucan to emerge. TMWWOMR (page 9) mentions an account (by Ray Carradine) contrasting the two:

In real life, Arthur Lucan was shy and sensitive, nothing like the garrulous, argumentative character that he portrayed on stage and screen….

panel 5

  • “How long has it been since we’ve gone to bed together and had it off?” is out of character for OMR, and is Lucan talking. It refers to Lucan and McShane’s estranged marriage. They married in 1913 and separated in 1951, though McShane had several affairs.
    The sailor’s response to this statement is surprise, as, in character, OMR is Kitty’s mother.
  • “Had it off” has a clever double meaning. To “have it off”(or to “get off”) is slang for having sex. The sexual connotation is the most surface meaning of what OMR/Lucan is saying, but it also can mean for Lucan to take off the wig, make-up, and costume, all of which make him into Old Mother Riley.

Page 4

panel 1

  • “First name’s Arthur” refers to the character Old Mother Riley being played by actor Arthur Lucan.
  • Starting here and through the end of P5, OMR recounts Lucan’s life.

panel 2

  • Arthur Lucan was born Arthur Towle. He changed his name around 1913, according to this account, getting the idea from a sign on a milk cart for “Lucan’s Dairies”. (It is probably obvious, but “Towle, as in the bathing hut” is a play on the word “towel” – pronounced the same as “Towle.)
  • “Boyish girlhood … theatrical incriminations [a play on ‘inclinations’]” refers to Lucan’s (then Towle) experience as a child actor.

panel 3

  • “Visited Dublin in 1910” continues Lucan’s life story, recounting where he met McShane.
  • Arthur Lucan (top right) with the Musical Cliftons c.1904-05. Photo via Lucan Facebook page

    “As a Musical Clifton” refers to Lucan performing with a group called “The Musical Cliftons” circa 1903-1910.

  • The “whimsical shift on” is not entirely clear. Shift could be in the Irish slang sense of sexual petting. Of it perhaps refers to the Pierrot costume, though there’s no indication that “shift” means costume, but it is perhaps artistic license to complete the rhyme with Clifton.
  • “Chipper chap of 25” tells Lucan’s age when he met 13-year-old Catherine McShane in 1910.
  • “Liked his mash and worshipped his sausage” contains a couple of sexual meanings. Mash is informal British English for mashed potatoes, commonly part of a traditional “bangers and mash” dish: sausage and mash potatoes. To mash is to pound something, so it has a sexual connotation, including sexual predation as in North American English’s masher. Sausage is food, of course, but also slang for penis.
    (FYI – the spelling “worshipped” is British.)
  • “I mistook a cow for a lamb” plays on the slang meaning of cow as a stupid or annoying woman.
  • For “ended up mincemeat” the mincemeat means destroyed.
  • “She” is Kitty McShane, the actress Lucan married when she turned 16 in 1913. Lucan and McShane acted as a comedy duo “Lucan and McShane”, with Lucan as Old Mother Riley, and McShane as OMR’s daughter Kitty Riley.
  • “Underage” refers to McShane being 13 when Lucan and McShane met.
  • “Under me” has a double meaning; it could refer to McShane acting under Lucan’s direction, though it also refers to their bodies during sex.
  • “In [November] 1913” Lucan married McShane.
  • “A son” is Donald Daniel Towle born in October 1915.
  • The “Easter uprising in 1916” is the Easter Rising, a short-lived Irish armed rebellion.
  • “Oh, what a tangled wig…” is a play on the phrase “Oh, what a tangled web…”
  • The car/bike/motorcycle/horse crash depicted references the madcap vehicle sequences of OMR films, including near the end of Vampire.
  • “BAP 731” license plate – ??? (bap could stand for baptized, 731 could be July 31??)

panel 4

  • Interestingly, “pantomime” has a somewhat different meaning in British English. In America, it is typically just an exaggerated non-verbal performance, but in England it can mean: “a theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, that involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.” Lucan and McShane performed pantomime together from early on, and Lucan’s final performances in Hull (see below) were billed as pantomime.
  • Punch and Judy are, of course, the protagonists of a traditional violent puppet show.
  • Lucan and McShane were known to have been physically violent to each other, and though, sometimes Lucan harmed McShane, contemporary accounts more often credit McShane with harming Lucan, hence “she often provided me with a punch.”

panel 5

  • Max Wall” was an influential British comedian, popular in the 1930s. According to TMWWOMR, in 1933, Wall performed on a bill with Lucan and McShane. Wall later recalled being able to hear, through the walls of their lodgings, McShane “battering” her husband Lucan.

Page 5

panel 1

  • In 1934, Lucan and McShane performed onstage at a Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium, which Wikipedia calls the most prestigious engagement of its time.
  • “An air raid siren of the silver screen” plays on the double meaning of the word siren – as a seductive woman or a warning noise.

panel 2

  • “I joined up in 1940” refers to the 1940 movie Old Mother Riley Joins Up where OMR volunteers in the women’s branch of the British Army.
  • The “ageing alcoholic child-star” refers to McShane’s alcoholism. Lucan, McShane, and Breach are all said to have drank a great deal, though McShane’s drinking was reportedly more excessive and debilitating than  Lucan’s.
    (FYI: “ageing” is the common British spelling of what in the U.S. is generally spelled “aging”.)

panel 3

  • McShane had an extended affair with “Billy Breach” an actor/musician who later changed his name to Willer Neal. Breach moved into Lucan and McShane’s home, displacing Lucan.
  • The “Bristol Hippodrome” and “Colchester Playhouse” are historic UK theaters. Both of these venues experienced suspicious fires (in March 1948 and November 1952 respectively) while Lucan was performing solo, after ending his longtime performing partnership (though not his marriage) with McShane. Though nothing was proven, TMWWOMR (page 215-216) speculates that McShane may have been responsible for these fires.
  • “Our last outing together I was queen of the cannibals” refers to the 1951 movie Old Mother Riley’s Jungle Treasure.
  • Lucan was “facing bankrupture [bankruptcy]” at the time of his death.
  • “In 1952 I met a vampire” refers to the 1952 movie Mother Riley Meets the Vampire in which Lucan appeared in without McShane.
  • “She invaded the stage and pummelled me” refers to a 1952 incident (TMWWOMR page 251-252) at the Metropolitan Theater (London) where McShane “ran onto the stage… and swung her heavy crocodile handbag and hit Arthur across the face.”
    (FYI: “pummelled” is the common British spelling of what in the U.S. is generally spelled “pummeled”.)

panel 4

  • “I was planning a trip to Mars” refers to Old Mother Riley’s Trip to Mars, a film Lucan was scheduled to make, though died before filming.
  • “I went to Hull pretending it was Paris” refers to Lucan performing ‘Old Mother Riley in Paris’ at the Tivoli Theatre in Hull. In 1954, he died backstage at a performance there.

Page 6

Image from Lucan’s Old Mother Riley in Paris handbill – via Old Mother Riley Facebook page

panel 1

  • McShane telling that her “boyfriend’s prick was like a milkbottle” references a 1952 incident (TMWWOMR page 256) where she publicly stated “You see that milk bottle? Well, that’s nothing compared to the size of Billy’s prick!”
  • “Tits kept getting all the cream” is wordplay here where “tits” sounds like “it’s” to a listener. Tits has a double meaning as both a woman’s breasts and a type of bird. The most surface meaning is sexual: the cream is Breach’s cum ejaculated onto on McShane’s breasts. The second meaning is how birds would get cream from milk bottles. Historically milk was delivered to homes, and while it sat outside, sometimes birds would peck through the foil top to get the cream that had risen to the top.

panel 2

  • “Sailor off” may also be read as “sail her off”.
  • “Go to Hull in a handcart” is a play on the phrase “go to hell in a handcart.”
  • The poster is based on an actual handbill illustration.

panel 3

  • An “Anderson shelter” is a type of WWII air raid shelter.
  • “Beloved in perpetuity…” is Moore praising Lucan’s populist comic genius. He really was one of the most successful and popular entertainers of his day – and had broad appeal among youth and working class folks. Not coincidentally, Moore values this underappreciated audience for popular lowbrow arts: movies and comics. Moore has made the point that comics have been traditionally been targeted toward these same “illiterate lower classes” (see Moore’s essay “Buster Brown at the Barricades” in Occupy Comics and/or these 2012 Nottingham Contemporary remarks starting at minute 13).
  • “Madonna of the aisles” is a play on the homonyms aisles/isles, with OMR compared to Our Lady of the Isles.
  • “Mr. Lugosi” is famed horror movie actor Bela Lugosi, who played the titular vampire in Lucan’s final film.

panel 4

  • The location of Lucan’s death has been dramatized slightly here; it took place in the wings as Lucan was being called to the stage. In 1954, at age 68, Lucan, in costume, while waiting to go on at the Tivoli Theatre, collapsed and died of a heart attack.
  • Panels 4 and 5 form a fixed-camera sequence.
  • Note the way her bonnet almost flies off her head, held back only by its elastic. This visual gag was used in Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, and possibly other OMR films.

panel 5

  • Moore and O’Neill’s have taken a bit of literary license, to comment on McShane’s blatant greed – though (TMWWOMR page 256) she actually had the nerve to call the theater the evening that Lucan died – insisting that she had the rights to all of Lucan’s property.

Page 7

Lucan’s gravestone – image via nigelthedame

panel 1

panel 2

  • “Leavin’ me with only a widow’s pension” references that Lucan died nearly bankrupt – in large part due to McShane’s wasteful spending. McShane later published an article entitled “From £30,000 a year to a Widow’s Pension.”

panel 3

  • A Nancy-boy is British slang for an effeminate gay man.
  • According to TMWWOMR (page 278), at Lucan’s funeral McShane actually said “Lie there, y’aul bastard!” as she threw Lucan’s costume into his grave. (Moore has made it slightly clearer by changing “y’aul” to “y’auld” – meaning “you old.”)

panel 4

  • “When heaven is full the dead shall walk the earth” is riffing on a quote from the 1979 zombie film Dawn of the Dead: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

panel 5

panel 6

panel 7

  • With many accents (some working class) “dementia” rhymes with “adventure.”

Page 8

panels 1-5

  • The entire page resembles a mirror-reverse version of P1 above, giving the framing sequence a palindrome shape:
    – P8,p1 shows two hands, similar to P1,p5.
    – P8,p2 shows the usherette, similar to P1,p4
    – P8,p3-4 are a row split with a vertical gutter, as are P1,p1-2.
    – P8,p3 shows the same couch as was in P1,p3.
    – P8,p4 is less similar to P1,p2 than the others, but both take place with the viewer situated at the doorway to the lavatory, and the Mothra poster plane is somewhat analogous to the mirror.
    – P8,p5 is the same view of the same mirror as P1,p1.

panel 3

  • The chocolate stain on the couch is blood – see P1,p3 above. While bloodstains in movies usually remain bright red, in real life, they quickly dry to a brownish color. Or, going the other way, this may be a reference to how chocolate was used to create bloodstains in the infamous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (a black & white film).

panel 5

  • The story returns to P1,p1; the protagonist seems to be caught in a time-loop, somewhat similar to what Moore employed in Providence #5.

>Go to Purgatorio Annotations Index
>Go to Cinema Purgatorio #14 Moore and O’Neill annotations


13 thoughts on “Cinema Purgatorio CP13

  1. The cover also features Margaret Thatcher, and I think Ronald Reagan. And is that Stan Laurel in bed with a hangover for some reason? I’m sure it’ll all make sense!


    1. After reading the issue, I don’t think it’s Thatcher and Reagan – though it looks like them. I had a slightly tough time being sure that the guy clutching the book is Lucan. Theoretically his nose should be the same as Old Mother Riley’s, right? There’s nothing I saw that said that Lucan modified his nose to play Riley… but on the cover the cheekbones look similar, but the noses look different.


      1. It looks pretty likely that he used putty or somesuch on OMR’s nose. I admit I didn’t really know what Arthur Lucan looked like, but now I’ve looked it up, Reagan on the cover doesn’t look much like him. Rare failure for Kevin, who’s usually pretty good at making people recognisable from life.

        And Kitty actually does look like a young Thatcher! That’s just coincidence! Coincidence that she was a horrible, selfish, vicious heartless and treacherous old harpy. And so was Arthur Lucan’s wife.


  2. I didn’t really much care for this installment. I think it’s immensely helpful if you have some familiarity with the old timey films and personalities that Moore is writing about in this series (or if you get the gist of what he’s parodying when it comes to genres as with the Fatal Officers, the Flame of Remorse or the Clue Club), and I’d never even heard of Old Mother Riley before. Reading the annotations for the issue gave me a bit more appreciation for this story, but not much.


    1. I think the annotations here and the strip itself tell you all you need to know. I’m sure most of the readers don’t know everything about the subjects of each film. In this case Arthur Lucan played Old Mother Riley, fueded with his much younger wife, who used to get drunk with her boyfriend and smack Arthur around a bit. He overworked as she nearly bankruptured him, and died at an early age, right on stage (or, actually, backstage).

      Most of the stuff, even without this site, is in the collective imagination of most people. I’ve never seen a Keystone Kops film, but I know who they are. They’re all common archetypes or actual references to well-known stuff, even from the 1930s. I’m presuming we’re all adults here, you pick up bits of random knowledge as you go through life. Well, hopefully you do.


    1. Thanks! So much for my lack of knowledge of British places – fixed Bristol. I left in where I quote Moore saying “lower class” but I changed my annotations to “working.”


  3. I think when Alan talks about the “lower classes” he’s speaking tongue in cheek, or disparaging snobbery. Nobody refers to “the lower orders” or “lower classes” sincerely, it’s incredibly rude (though I can forgive foreigners for not knowing).

    Also without meaning to go on about it too much, “dementia” rhymes with “adventure” in many non-rhotic accents (my own working-class Yorkshire included). American accents are mostly rhotic. So are many Scottish. English accents mostly aren’t. It’s to do with whether you pronounce an “r” at the end of a word or not.

    I realise, actually, there’s a lot of stuff in how Alan speaks that non-British people might not appreciate in all it’s depth, lots of nuance and unspoken suppositions in what he comes out with. I think you’d tend to get his sense of humour if you read / hear enough of him though. The interview with Stewart Lee on Youtube is very good.

    Anyway… that couch! So who WOULD make such weird films? And what’s with the Egyptian occult symbols on the projector? And the apparent Black Dahlia in the audience. It’s coming together! The final issue surely will bring an appearance from Geraldine and our protagonist. She’s going to be the star of the final film.

    I think the dead bloke along the row is just there for atmosphere, the Icy Love lollies too. But some of the audience are there by Special Invitation, whether they know it or not!

    Geraldine I’m still not sure if it’s a daughter, step-daughter (favourite theory) or mother-in-law. And that accusing look she gave our heroine. I think she killed her.

    The thing with the leaving through the back door only to come in the front, and the lipstick message, reminds me of a very famous British portmanteau horror film, “Dead of Night”. You really must watch it, just for it’s creepy black-and-white 1940s horror atmosphere. It’s still bloody creepy now!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Also… short one… “have it off” is common British slang for having sex. Has been for a long old time. I think a few of the Carry Ons might have been bold enough to work that in as a pun, in the later, smuttier ones.

    That one frame is actually really sad. Old Mother Riley had a fun and wild time in the films. In real life poor Arthur couldn’t even get his wife into bed with him. It’s a lament.

    I’d’ve divorced her, but maybe Arthur was sentimental. British people, even famous ones, weren’t very likely to divorce, even after Hollywood stars had been doing it for years. Maybe it serves him right for going after underage girls so much younger than he was. Never mind.


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