The King's New Clothes

Album: Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
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  • "The King's New Clothes" was commissioned from the songwriter Frank Loesser (1910–69) for the 1952 musical Hans Christian Andersen. This is not a biopic but what might be described as a musical journey through his literary works.

    The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805–75) wrote a number of children's stories which became world famous and have stood the test of time. In April 1837, he published what is if not his most famous story then certainly one of the most memorable. Kejserens Nye Klæder known in English as The Emperor's New Clothes is about two weavers who sell a suit of clothes to a vain Emperor, a suit that is "invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality".

    Having duped the Emperor and his staff, they set about weaving the suit, which although invisible requires gold thread. When it is finished, the Emperor parades in front of his people, who having been advised that only the ignorant will not be able to see the suit, greet him, and it, with applause. The punchline is of course that a small boy, who had not been told what he is supposed to see, lets out a cry that the Emperor is naked - in the song "The King is in the altogether..."

    In Andersen's story, the Emperor keeps up the pretence; in the song, he is exposed to ridicule. Although this is a children's story, it has become a metaphor which has particular significance in the political, economic and social arenas, although even scientists have been known to see things that are not really there, such as cold fusion.

    Andersen's story is an original, but there are earlier versions dating to at least 1335, and doubtless some Roman, Greek or Jewish philosopher way back in antiquity told a similar tale.

    One final point, fifty years and more on from the film, a grown man who sang a story about a naked king to a group of young and pre-school children - as did Danny Kaye - would be greeted with more suspicion than merriment.

    This original song is not to be confused with the obviously personal contemporary song recorded by Sinead O'Connor.


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