Feed the Birds - 1964

History
Today at the Cathedral View More
Temporary closure of Stone and Golden Galleries
7:30am Morning Prayer
8:00am Eucharist
8:30am Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Choral Evensong
6:30pm St Paul's Adult Learning - Forgiveness: a Journey to Freedom?

Feed the Birds - 1964

The story of a no-nonsense nanny, chimney sweep, some pigeons and St Paul's

Having been an iconic part of London's skyline for more than 300 years, St Paul's has regularly found its way into popular culture and part of some great stories.

From Canaletto's oil paintings of the 1700s to Doctor Who's Cybermen invading the City in the 1960s, Wren's great dome has provided a fitting backdrop to many a scene.

But one of the most-cherished moments for many, is the use of the Cathedral's steps in the set for the iconic Feed the Birds song from the Disney film version of Mary Poppins.

Released over half a century ago in 1964, Mary Poppins has remained one of the silver screen's most enduring classics, a story of  a no-nonsense nanny, widely thought of as Walt Disney's crowning achievement.

And right at the very heart of the movie, highlighting the merits of giving to charity, is Feed the Birds - a song which shows the Bird Woman sitting on the Cathedral steps selling crumbs for tuppence a bag.

 
Written by Richard and Robert Sherman, the famous tune recurs throughout the film, but features most prominently when Mary, played by Julie Andrews, sings to the Banks children about the Bird Woman.

Referring to the numerous statues atop the Cathedral, one verse is sung:

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares
Although you can't see it, you know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares

Although the part of the Bird Woman only has one line in the film, far from being an obscure actress, the role was played by Oscar winner Jane Darwell, who picked up the award for Best Supporting Actress in 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath. Talked out of retirement by a persistent Walt Disney, her appearance in Mary Poppins would be her last, at the age of 84.

It is reputed that Feed the Birds became Walt Disney's most loved song and also that it was a part of the film that Mary Poppins' author, P L Travers, did not object to.

Watch Victoria Coren Mitchell talk about Feed the Birds in a BBC Culture Show special, The Secret Life of Mary Poppins, broadcast in 2014.

Today, St Paul's association with Mary Poppins remains as strong as ever. Although visitors are now encouraged not to feed the pigeons on the steps, many come to have their photos taken in the same spot as the Bird Woman.

And the Cathedral shop continues to sell a number of Feed the Birds inspired gifts.