Setting the opera in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satirize British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. Gilbert used foreign or fictional locales in several operas, including The Mikado, Princess Ida, The Gondoliers, Utopia Limited, and The Grand Duke, to soften the impact of his pointed satire of British institutions.
...I have been continually keeping down the music in order that not one [syllable] should be lost.... I should like to set a story of human interest & probability where the humorous words would come in a humorous (not serious) situation, & where, if the situation were a tender or dramatic one the words would be of similar character.
Gilbert was much hurt, but Sullivan insisted that he could not set the "lozenge plot." In addition to the "improbability" of it, it was too similar to the plot of their 1877 opera, The Sorcerer. The parties were at a stalemate, and Gilbert wrote, "And so ends a musical & literary association of seven years' standing – an association of exceptional reputation – an association unequalled in its monetary results, and hitherto undisturbed by a single jarring or discordant element. However, by 8 May 1884, Gilbert was ready to back down, writing, "...am I to understand that if I construct another plot in which no supernatural element occurs, you will undertake to set it? ... a consistent plot, free from anachronisms, constructed in perfect good faith & to the best of my ability." The stalemate was broken, and on 20 May, Gilbert sent Sullivan a sketch of the plot to The Mikado. Gilbert eventually found a place for his "lozenge plot" in The Mountebanks, written with Alfred Cellier in 1892.
It would take another ten months for The Mikado to reach the stage. A revised version of their 1877 work, The Sorcerer, coupled with their one-act Trial by Jury (1875), played at the Savoy while Carte and their audiences awaited their next work. Cellier and Bridgeman (1914) first recorded the familiar story of how Gilbert found his inspiration:
Gilbert, having determined to leave his own country alone for a while, sought elsewhere for a subject suitable to his peculiar humour. A trifling accident inspired him with an idea. One day an old Japanese sword which, for years, had been hanging on the wall of his study, fell from its place. This incident directed his attention to Japan. Just at that time a company of Japanese had arrived in England and set up a little village of their own in Knightsbridge.
The story is an appealing one, but it is entirely fictional. Gilbert was interviewed twice about his inspiration for The Mikado. In both interviews the sword was mentioned, and in one of them he said it was the inspiration for the opera, but Gilbert never said that the sword had fallen. Moreover, Cellier and Bridgeman are incorrect about the Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge, which did not open until January 10 1885, almost two months after Gilbert had already completed Act I.
Jones notes that "the further removed in time the writer is from the incident, the more graphically it is recalled. Leslie Baily, for instance, tells it this way:
A day or so later Gilbert was striding up and down his library in the new house at Harrington Gardens, fuming at the impasse, when a huge Japanese sword decorating the wall fell with a clatter to the floor. Gilbert picked it up. His perambulations stopped. 'It suggested the broad idea,' as he said later. His journalistic mind, always quick to seize on topicalities, turned to a Japanese Exhibition which had recently been opened in the neighbourhood. Gilbert had seen the little Japanese men and women from the Exhibition shuffling in their exotic robes through the streets of Knightsbridge. Now he sat at his writing desk and picked up the quill pen. He began making notes in his plot-book.
The story was dramatized in more-or-less this form in the 1999 film, Topsy-Turvy. However, even though the 1885-87 Japanese exhibition in Knightsbridge had not opened when Gilbert conceived of The Mikado, the English craze for all things Japanese made the time ripe for an opera set in Japan. Gilbert said, "I cannot give you a good reason for our...piece being laid in Japan. It...afforded scope for picturesque treatment, scenery and costume, and I think that the idea of a chief magistrate, who is...judge and actual executioner in one, and yet would not hurt a worm, may perhaps please the public.
The Japanese were ambivalent toward The Mikado for many years, not knowing for certain whether it was making fun of them or of the English. Some Japanese saw the depiction of their ruler as offensive, particularly its depiction of the title character, which was seen by some as a disrespectful representation of the revered Meiji Emperor. Gilbert wrote, "The Mikado of the opera was an imaginary monarch of a remote period and cannot by any exercise of ingenuity be taken to be a slap on an existing institution." G. K. Chesterton compared it to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels:
Gilbert pursued and persecuted the evils of modern England till they had literally not a leg to stand on, exactly as Swift did.... I doubt if there is a single joke in the whole play that fits the Japanese. But all the jokes in the play fit the English.... About England Pooh-bah is something more than a satire; he is the truth.
Japanese Prince Komatsu Akihito, who saw an 1886 production in London, took no offence. When Prince Fushimi Sadanaru made a state visit in 1907, the British government banned performances of The Mikado from London for six weeks, fearing that the play might offend him — a manoeuvre that backfired when the prince complained that he had hoped to see The Mikado during his stay. A Japanese journalist covering the prince's stay attended a proscribed performance and confessed himself "deeply and pleasingly disappointed." Expecting "real insults" to his country, he had found only "bright music and much fun." The J. C. Williamson G&S company toured Japan in the 1920s, likely performing The Mikado among other Gilbert and Sullivan works. After World War II, The Mikado was staged in Japan in a number of private performances. The first public production, given at three performances, was in 1946, conducted by the pianist Jorge Bolet for the entertainment of American troops. The set and costumes were opulent, and the principal players were American, Canadian, and British, as were the women's chorus, but the male chorus and the female dancing chorus were Japanese. General Douglas MacArthur banned a 1947 Tokyo production, but other productions went forward by permission of the copyright holders.
In recent decades, various Japanese productions of the work have been staged in Japan. In 2001, the town of Chichibu (秩父), Japan, under the name of "Tokyo Theatre Company", produced an adaptation of The Mikado in Japanese. Locals say that Chichibu was the town that Gilbert had in mind when he named his setting "Titipu", but there is no hard evidence for this theory. Rokusuke Ei, a Japanese broadcaster, lyricist and essayist, was convinced that a peasant uprising in Chichibu in 1884 inspired Gilbert to set the opera in Japan. Although the Hepburn system of transliteration (in which the name of the town appears as "Chichibu") is usually found today, it was very common in the 19th century to use the Kunrei system, in which the name 秩父 appears as "Titibu". Thus it is easy to surmise that "Titibu", found in the London press of 1884, became "Titipu" in the opera. Other Japanese researchers have concluded that Gilbert may simply have heard of Chichibu silk, an important export in the 19th century. In any case, the town's Japanese-language adaptation of The Mikado has been performed several times throughout Japan. In August 2006, the Chichibu Mikado was performed at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in England, and the same company continues to perform the adaptation on tour in Japan in 2007.
These lines can be taken by modern audiences to have racist, sexist, or anti-feminist connotations, although they did not have the same connotations to the original Victorian audiences. To avoid distracting the audience with references that have become offensive over time, the lyrics are almost invariably modified in modern productions; universally, the word "nigger" is not used. Gilbert himself started the tradition of replacing "the lady novelist" in revivals that he supervised, since by the early 1900s women writers were no longer "a singular anomaly." The standard replacement for "nigger serenader" is the only slightly less obvious "banjo serenader." This was suggested by lyricist A. P. Herbert in 1948 at Rupert D'Oyly Carte's instigation, after the original wording elicited concerns during one of the company's American tours. Herbert also suggested what has become the traditional wording in the Mikado's song ("A more humane Mikado") in Act II, with the words "blacked like a nigger" being replaced with "painted with vigour" in most modern productions.
There are other references in The Mikado that are sometimes altered simply to make the jokes more relevant to modern or non-UK audiences. One is the "Little List" song, which is often significantly rewritten with topical references. As Ko-Ko himself notes at the end of the song, "It really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list, for they'd none of 'em be missed!" Another frequent alteration is to Pooh-Bah's list of titles, which must be kept largely the same due to later plot references, but may be added to with modern, topical positions. Another is the Mikado's list of punishments and crimes in "A more humane Mikado", which might be made to include modern infractions.
Gentlemen of the Japanese town of Titipu are gathered ("If you want to know who we are"). A wandering musician, Nanki-Poo, enters and introduces himself ("A wand'ring minstrel, I"). He inquires about his beloved, the maiden Yum-Yum, a ward of Ko-Ko (formerly a cheap tailor). One of the gentlemen, Pish-Tush, explains that when the Mikado decreed that flirting was a capital crime, the Titipu authorities frustrated the decree by appointing Ko-Ko, a prisoner condemned to death for flirting, to the post of Lord High Executioner ("Our great Mikado, virtuous man"). Ko-Ko was "next" to be decapitated, and the Titipu authorities reasoned that he could "not cut off another's head until he cut his own off", and since Ko-Ko was not likely to try to execute himself, no executions could take place. However, all officials but the haughty Pooh-Bah proved too proud to serve under an ex-tailor, and Pooh-Bah now holds all their posts — and collects all their salaries. Pooh-Bah informs Nanki-Poo that Yum-Yum is scheduled to marry Ko-Ko on that very day ("Young man, despair").
Ko-Ko enters ("Behold the Lord High Executioner"), and asserts himself by reading off a list of people "who would not be missed" if they were executed ("I've got a little list"). Soon, Yum-Yum appears with two of her friends (sometimes referred to as her "sisters"), Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing ("Comes a train of little ladies," "Three little maids from school"). Ko-Ko encourages a respectful greeting between Pooh-Bah and the young girls, but Pooh-Bah will have none of it ("So please you, sir"). Nanki-Poo arrives on the scene and informs Ko-Ko of his love for Yum-Yum. Ko-Ko sends him away, but Nanki-Poo manages to meet with his beloved and reveals his secret to Yum-Yum – he is the son and heir of the Mikado, but he's travelling in disguise to avoid the amorous advances of Katisha, an elderly lady of his father's court. They lament over what the law forbids them to do ("Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted").
Ko-Ko receives news that the Mikado has decreed that unless an execution is carried out within a month, the town will be reduced to the rank of a village — which would bring "irretrievable ruin." Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush point to Ko-Ko himself as the obvious choice for beheading, since he was already under sentence of death ("I am so proud"), but Ko-Ko protests that, firstly, it would be "extremely difficult, not to say dangerous," for him to attempt to execute himself, and secondly, it would be suicide, which is a "capital offence." Fortuitously, Ko-Ko discovers that Nanki-Poo, in despair over losing Yum-Yum, is preparing to commit suicide. After ascertaining that nothing would change Nanki-Poo's mind, Ko-Ko makes a bargain with him: Nanki-Poo may marry Yum-Yum for one month if, at the end of that time, he allows himself to be executed. Ko-Ko would then marry the young widow.
Everyone arrives to celebrate Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum's union ("With aspect stern and gloomy stride"), but the festivities are interrupted by the arrival of Katisha, who has come to claim Nanki-Poo as her husband. However, the townspeople are much more sympathetic to the young couple, and her attempts to reveal Nanki-Poo's secret are drowned out by the shouting of the crowd. Outwitted but not defeated, Katisha makes it clear that she intends to return.
Yum-Yum is being prepared by her friends for her wedding ("Braid the raven hair"), after which she is left to muse on her own beauty ("The sun whose rays"). She is joined by Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, who remind her of the limited nature of her impending union. Joined by Nanki-Poo and Pish-Tush, they try to keep their spirits up ("Brightly dawns our wedding-day"), but soon Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah enter to inform them of a twist in the law that states that when a married man is beheaded for flirting (the only crime so punished), his wife must be buried alive ("Here's a how-de-do"). Yum-Yum is unwilling to marry under these circumstances, and so Nanki-Poo challenges Ko-Ko to behead him on the spot. It turns out, however, that Ko-Ko has never executed anyone and cannot execute Nanki-Poo, because the ex-tailor is too soft-hearted. Ko-Ko instead sends Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum away to be wed (by Pooh-Bah, as Archbishop of Titipu), promising to present to the Mikado a false affidavit in evidence of the fictitious execution.
The Mikado and Katisha arrive in Titipu with little notice, but accompanied by a large procession ("A more humane Mikado"). Ko-Ko assumes that he has come to see whether an execution has been carried out. Aided by Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah, he gives a graphic description of the supposed execution ("The criminal cried") and hands the Mikado the certificate of death – signed and sworn to by Pooh-Bah as coroner and noting, slyly, that most of the town's important officers (that is, Pooh-Bah) were present at the "ceremony". However, the Mikado has come about an entirely different matter – he is searching for his son. When they hear that the Mikado's son "goes by the name of Nanki-Poo," the three panic, and Ko-Ko says that Nanki-Poo "has gone abroad." Meanwhile, Katisha is reading the death certificate and notes with horror that the person "executed" was Nanki-Poo. The Mikado (though expressing understanding and sympathy) ("See How the Fates") discusses with Katisha the statutory punishment "for compassing the death of the heir apparent" to the Imperial throne – something lingering, "with boiling oil ...or melted lead." With the three conspirators facing painful execution, Ko-Ko pleads with Nanki-Poo to return. Nanki-Poo fears that Katisha will order his execution if she finds he is alive, but notes that if Ko-Ko could persuade Katisha to marry him, then Nanki-Poo could safely "come to life again" ("The flowers that bloom in the spring"). Though Katisha is "something appalling," Ko-Ko has no choice: it is marriage to Katisha, or a painful death for all three.
Ko-Ko discovers Katisha mourning her loss ("Alone, and yet alive") and throws himself on her mercy. He begs for her hand in marriage, saying that he has long harboured a passion for her. Katisha initially rebuffs him, but is soon moved by his pleadings ("Tit-willow"). She agrees ("There is beauty in the bellow of the blast") and, once the ceremony is performed (by Pooh-Bah, the Registrar), begs mercy for him and his "accomplices" from the Mikado. Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum then re-appear, sparking Katisha's fury. The Mikado is astonished that Nanki-Poo is alive, when the account of his execution had been given with such "affecting particulars". Ko-Ko explains that when a royal command for an execution is given, the victim is, legally speaking, as good as dead, "and if he is dead, why not say so? The Mikado deems that "Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory," and so Titipu celebrates ("For he's gone and married Yum-Yum").
It was revived again while The Grand Duke was in preparation. When it became clear that that opera was not a success, The Mikado was given at matinees, and the revival continued when The Grand Duke closed after just three months. In 1906–07, Helen Carte, the widow of Richard D'Oyly Carte, mounted a repertory season at the Savoy, but The Mikado was not performed, as it was thought that visiting Japanese royalty might be offended by it. However, it was included in Mrs. Carte's second repertory season, in 1908–09. New costume designs were created by Charles Ricketts for the 1926 season and were used until 1982.
The first provincial production of The Mikado opened on July 27 1885 in Brighton, with several members of that company leaving in August to present the first authorised American production in New York. From then on, The Mikado was a constant presence on tour. From 1885 until the Company's closure in 1982, there was no year in which a D'Oyly Carte company (or several of them) was not presenting it.
In America, as had happened with H.M.S. Pinafore, the first productions were piracies, but once the authorised American production opened in August 1885, it was a success, earning record profits, and Carte formed several companies to tour the show in North America. burlesque and parody productions, including political parodies, were mounted. Numerous unauthorised versions cropped up, and, as had been the case with Pinafore, there was nothing that Carte or Gilbert and Sullivan could do about it, since there was no copyright treaty at the time. In Australia, The Mikado's first authorised performance was on 14 November 1885 at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, produced by J. C. Williamson.
Carte toured the opera in 1886 and again in 1887 in Europe. In September 1886, Vienna's leading critic, Eduard Hanslick, wrote that the opera's "unparalleled success" was attributable not merely to the libretto and the music, but also to "the wholly original stage performance, unique of its kind, by Mr D'Oyly Carte's artists... riveting the eye and ear with its exotic allurement. Authorized productions were also seen in France, Holland, Hungary, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and elsewhere.
After the Gilbert copyrights expired in 1962, the Sadler's Wells Opera mounted the first non-D'Oyly Carte professional production in England, with Clive Revill as Ko-Ko. Among the many professional revivals since then was an English National Opera production in 1986, with Eric Idle as Ko-Ko and Lesley Garrett as Yum-Yum, directed by Jonathan Miller. This production, which has been revived several times, was set not in ancient Japan, but in a swanky 1920's seaside hotel with sets and costumes in white and black.
The following table shows the history of the D'Oyly Carte productions in Gilbert's lifetime:
|Theatre||Opening Date||Closing Date||Perfs.||Details|
|Savoy Theatre||March 14 1885||January 19 1887||672||First London run.|
|Fifth Avenue and Standard Theatres, New York||August 19 1885||April 17 1886||250||Authorised American production. Production was given at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, except for a one-month transfer to the Standard Theatre in February 1886.|
|Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York||November 1 1886||November 20 1886||3 wks||Production with some D'Oyly Carte personnel under the management of John Stetson.|
|Savoy Theatre||June 7 1888||September 29 1888||116||First London revival.|
|Savoy Theatre||November 6 1895||March 4 1896||127||Second London revival.|
|Savoy Theatre||May 27 1896||July 4 1896||6||Performances at matinees during the original run of The Grand Duke.|
|Savoy Theatre||July 11 1896||February 17 1897||226||Continuation of revival after early closure of The Grand Duke.|
|Savoy Theatre||April 28 1908||March 27 1909||142||Second Savoy repertory season; played with five other operas. Closing date shown is of the entire season.|
| Savoy Theatre|
|The Mikado||Richard Temple||F. Federici||Richard Temple||R. Scott Fishe²||Henry Lytton|
|Nanki-Poo||Durward Lely||Courtice Pounds||J. G. Robertson||Charles Kenningham||Strafford Moss|
|Ko-Ko||George Grossmith||George Thorne||George Grossmith||Walter Passmore||Charles H. Workman|
|Pooh-Bah||Rutland Barrington||Fred Billington||Rutland Barrington||Rutland Barrington||Rutland Barrington|
|Pish-Tush||Frederick Bovill||George Byron Browne||Richard Cummings||Jones Hewson||Leicester Tunks|
|Go-To||Rudolph Lewis||R. H. Edgar||Rudolph Lewis||Fred Drawater|
|Yum-Yum||Leonora Braham||Geraldine Ulmar||Geraldine Ulmar||Florence Perry||Clara Dow|
|Pitti-Sing||Jessie Bond||Kate Forster||Jessie Bond||Jessie Bond||Jessie Rose|
|Peep-Bo||Sybil Grey||Geraldine St. Maur||Sybil Grey||Emmie Owen||Beatrice Boarer|
|Katisha||Rosina Brandram||Elsie Cameron||Rosina Brandram||Rosina Brandram||Louie Rene|
²For 1896–97 revival, Richard Temple returned to play The Mikado during January–February 1896, and again from November 1896–February 1897.
|The Mikado||Leicester Tunks||Darrell Fancourt||Darrell Fancourt||Darrell Fancourt||Darrell Fancourt|
|Nanki-Poo||Dewey Gibson||Charles Goulding||Charles Goulding||John Dean||Neville Griffiths|
|Ko-Ko||Henry Lytton||Henry Lytton||Martyn Green||Grahame Clifford||Martyn Green|
|Pooh-Bah||Fred Billington||Leo Sheffield||Sydney Granville||Richard Walker||Richard Watson|
|Pish-Tush||Frederick Hobbs||Henry Millidge||Leslie Rands||Wynn Dyson||Alan Styler|
|Go-To||T. Penry Hughes||L. Radley Flynn||L. Radley Flynn||Donald Harris|
|Yum-Yum||Elsie McDermid||Elsie Griffin||Kathleen Frances||Helen Roberts||Margaret Mitchell|
|Pitti-Sing||Nellie Briercliffe||Aileen Davies||Marjorie Eyre||Marjorie Eyre||Joan Gillingham|
|Peep-Bo||Betty Grylls||Beatrice Elburn||Elizabeth Nickell-Lean||June Field||Joyce Wright|
|Katisha||Bertha Lewis||Bertha Lewis||Dorothy Gill||Ella Halman||Ella Halman|
|The Mikado||Donald Adams||Donald Adams||John Ayldon||John Ayldon|
|Nanki-Poo||Neville Griffiths||Philip Potter||Colin Wright||Geoffrey Shovelton|
|Ko-Ko||Peter Pratt||John Reed||John Reed||James Conroy-Ward|
|Pooh-Bah||Fisher Morgan||Kenneth Sandford||Kenneth Sandford||Kenneth Sandford|
|Pish-Tush||Jeffrey Skitch||Thomas Lawlor||Michael Rayner||Peter Lyon|
|Go-To||John Banks||George Cook||John Broad||Thomas Scholey|
|Yum-Yum||Cynthia Morey||Valerie Masterson||Julia Goss||Vivian Tierney|
|Pitti-Sing||Joyce Wright||Peggy Ann Jones||Judi Merri||Lorraine Daniels|
|Peep-Bo||Beryl Dixon||Pauline Wales||Patricia Leonard||Roberta Morrell|
|Katisha||Ann Drummond-Grant||Christene Palmer||Lyndsie Holland||Patricia Leonard|
The Mikado has been recorded more often than any other Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Of those by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, the 1926 recording is the best regarded. Of the modern recordings, the 1992 Mackerras/Telarc is admired.Selected audio recordings
In 1939, Universal Pictures released a ninety-minute technicolor film of The Mikado. The film stars Martyn Green as Ko-Ko and Sydney Granville as Pooh-Bah. The music was conducted by Geoffrey Toye, a former D'Oyly Carte music director, who was also credited with the adaptation, which involved a number of cuts, additions, and re-ordered scenes. Victor Schertzinger directed, and William V. Skall received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.
In 1966, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company appeared in a film version of The Mikado, which closely reflected their traditional staging at the time, although there are some minor cuts.
Video recordings of The Mikado include a 1972 offering from G&S For All, the 1984 Stratford Festival video (probably their best-regarded video), the 1986 English National Opera production (abridged), and a 1988 Australian Opera video.
A wide variety of popular media, including films, television, theatre, and advertising have referred to, parodied or pastiched The Mikado or its songs, and phrases from the libretto have entered popular usage in the English language. Some of the best-known of these cultural influences are described below.
Groucho Marx, a life-long fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, starred as Ko-Ko in a made-for-TV production of The Mikado in 1960. Other well-known actors who have played the role of Ko-Ko include Eric Idle and then Bill Oddie, with English National Opera's production of The Mikado. Dudley Moore played the role when the production toured the United States.
Quotes from The Mikado were infamously used in letters to the police by the Zodiac Killer, who murdered at least five people in the San Francisco Bay area between 1966 and 1970. The Mikado is parodied by Sumo of the Opera, which credits Sullivan as the composer of most of its songs. In 2007, the Los Angeles-based Asian American theatre company, Lodestone Theatre Ensemble, produced The Mikado Project, an original play by Doris Baizley and Ken Narasaki. It was a deconstruction of the opera premised on a fictional Asian American theatre company attempting to overcome perceived racism in the original through a revisionist version. Popular media have referred to The Mikado in numerous ways. For example, the climax of the 1978 film Foul Play takes place during a performance of The Mikado. A second-season episode of the TV show Millennium titled "The Mikado" is based on the Zodiac case. Mikado trading cards were created that advertised various products. "The Mikado" was a villainous vigilante in the comic book superhero series The Question, by Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan. He killed malefactors in appropriate ways – letting "the punishment fit the crime". In addition, the name was applied to the 2-8-2 railroad locomotive when an early production run of these locomotives, built in the U.S., was shipped to Japan in 1893.
A "Pooh-Bah" is a name that has been given, in the U.S., to people who take impressive titles but whose authority is limited. The expression "The Grand Pooh-Bah", first introduced in episodes of The Flintstones, denoting the head of Fred Flintstone's fraternal lodge (the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos). In the UK, the phrase is more often used to mean a person who acts in several capacities at once.
Many of the songs in The Mikado have been referenced in Broadway shows, films, comedy routines, and television. For example, in The Producers, an auditioner for the musical Springtime for Hitler begins his audition with Nanki-Poo's song, "A Wand'ring Minstrel I." He is quickly dismissed. In the 2006 film Brick, femme fatale Laura (Nora Zehetner) performs a spoken-word version of "The Sun Whose Rays are All Ablaze" while playing piano. In Blackadder Goes Forth parts of "A Wand'ring Minstrel I" are played, once on a gramophone at the beginning of the first episode, and once in the episode involving "Speckled Jim". The movie poster for The Little Shop of Horrors, shown to the right, parodies the song title, "The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring," changing the word "bloom" to "kill".
The song "Three Little Maids" is featured in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, where Harold Abrahams first sees his future wife dressed as one of the Three Little Maids. Many television programmes have featured the song, including the Frasier episode, "Leapin' Lizards," the Angel episode "Hole in the World", The Simpsons episode "Cape Feare," Alvin and the Chipmunks episode "Maids in Japan", The Suite Life of Zack & Cody episode, "Lost In Translation," and The Animaniacs Vol. 1 episode "Hello Nice Warners". The Capitol Steps also performed a parody entitled "Three Little Kurds from School Are We" about conditions in Iraq. In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode Suckers, a corrupt casino owner uses the notes from the first line ("Three little maids from school are we") to program the combination to the casino's safe.
References to "Tit-Willow" ("On a tree by a river") have included Allan Sherman's famous comedy song about a Yiddish-accented bird who comes to a sad end. On The Dick Cavett Show, Groucho Marx and Cavett sang the song. Groucho interrupted the song to quiz the audience on the meaning of the word "obdurate". A Muppet Show episode featured Rowlf the Dog and Sam the Eagle singing the song.
Sherman also did a variant on the "Little List" song, presenting reasons why one might want to seek psychiatric help, titled "You Need an Analyst". In a Eureeka's Castle Christmas special called "Just Put it on the List," the twins, Bogg and Quagmire, describe what they'd like for Christmas to the tune of the song. Richard Suart and A.S.H. Smyth released a book in 2008 called They’d none of ‘em be missed, with 20 years of little list parodies by Suart, the English National Opera's usual Ko-Ko. In Robert A. Heinlein's Hugo Award-winning novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw, discovering Valentine Michael Smith's ability to make objects (including people) disappear, mulls, "I've got a little list... they'd none of them be missed."