WHEN bandleader Al Tabor first wrote the Hokey Cokey in 1940, he simply dismissed it as a fad. Never did he think the song would last into the next century, become a source of controversy at Scottish football matches – or even become more famous than its author.

Now nearly 70 years after people first began to “do the Hokey Cokey”, Al’s grandson and playwright Alan Balfour, who lives in Stanmore, has penned a lively tribute looking at how the song really came about and the colourful life of the man behind it.

Opening in Hampstead next week, the cast of The Hokey Cokey Man includes James Doherty (EastEnders and Doctors) as Al, and Anna Acton (The Bill) as both Al’s wife Jenny and daughter, Eileen.

Speaking ahead of the opening night next Wednesday, Alan tells me the play reveals his grandfather “had a public persona which was jovial and highly charming, but also a darker side.”

Alan explains: “He was just a very interesting man. During the 1930s he was quite a famous bandleader.

“He played at the Bagatelle Club in London during the war, where the then Princess Elizabeth would frequently go, and he also played at King George V’s jubilee celebrations.

“So at the time he was extremely well known, but behind all that he was married to Jenny, and yet had a mistress for 18 years. He also later became estranged from his daughter, Eileen.”

Born in 1898 as Alfred Taboriwsky, Al grew up in a family of Jewish Russian immigrants who had settled in London’s East End. Although they were not wealthy, Al’s parents encouraged him to pursue music, for which he had shown an early talent, and in later years Al won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music.

He went on to become a famous bandleader on both sides of the Atlantic, but surprisingly to him, “his little ditty” would endure long after Al’s fame had waned.

In recent years, the song has also been linked to anti-Catholic sentiments chanted at Scottish football matches, but Alan dismisses any notion that there were racist undertones in the song.

It had been suggested that “Hokey Cokey” comes from “hocus pocus”, which in turn is a distortion of “hoc est enim corpus meum”, the Latin words said at a Catholic mass.

“That’s nonsense,” says Alan light-heartedly. “Al actually got the phrase from when he was a boy and an ice cream vendor would shout, ‘Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump’. He changed it to ‘hokey cokey’ as it sounded better.”

The play also re-enacts how Al was asked to write the song during the Blitz “to cheer people up” and how he subsequently came up with the well-known party tune.

Alan adds: “He was really dismissive of the Hokey Cokey and would say, ‘It’s not the Moonlight Sonata!’ But during the play you actually see the song being born on stage and you think ‘wow’ even though it’s not the Moonlight Sonata.”

But Hokey Cokey aside, it is his grandfather, Al Tabor himself, that really inspired Alan to write the play.

“He was a man with flaws, but a very colourful man with three women in his life – his wife, his daughter and his mistress. I am ultimately very pleased with the play and I’m sure people will equally find his life very interesting.”

The Hokey Cokey Man arrives from Wednesday, May 20 to Sunday, June 21, at New End Theatre, Hampstead. Shows Tuesdays to Saturdays, 7.30pm. Matinees Saturdays and Sundays, 3.30pm. Details: 0870 033 2733, www.newendtheatre.co.uk or www.thehokeycokeyman.com