‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’: meaning and origin

MEANING

 

The British-English phrase Pip, Squeak and Wilfred (also Pip, Squeak and Wilfrid) denotes a group of three objects or persons.

 

ORIGIN

 

This phrase alludes to Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, a trio of animal characters, respectively a dog, a penguin and a rabbit, featured in a children’s comic strip published in The Daily Mirror (London, England) and in the Sunday Pictorial (London, England) from 1919 to 1940 (a post-WW2 revival never really caught on). This comic strip was created and written by Bertram John Lamb (1887-1938) under the pseudonym of Uncle Dick, and drawn by Austin Bowen Payne (1876-1956).

At first, only Pip and Squeak [cf. note] featured in the comic strip. They first appeared in The Daily Mirror (London, England) of Monday 12th May 1919:

Children’s Mirror
UNCLE DICK’S LETTER.

Daily Mirror Office, May 11, 1919.
MY DEAR BOYS AND GIRLS,
Good morning everybody! Let me introduce myself—Uncle Dick—at your service! I will tell you who I am and what I am in a minute, but—let’s get to know each other first.
I can’t shake hands with all of you, so—let’s pretend. Take hold of mother’s hand, or father’s hand, or even the baby’s hand. I am holding my walking-stick. Gather round all of you.
Now—altogether—up and down—
How do you do!
How Do you do!!
How DO you do!!!
Good! Now we know each other.
Now, the Editor of The Daily Mirror came to me yesterday and said: “Uncle Dick, I want all the boys and girls who read my paper to have a little bit of it all for themselves. So put something in Every Day and call it “The Children’s Mirror.”
Well, isn’t that simply splendid of him? Now you know why I’m so happy this morning—I’m going to adopt the biggest family of nephews and nieces on record!
I am sure you will love my two pets, Pip, the dog, and Squeak, the penguin. They are very good friends really, although they will argue.

WHERE’S YOUR MUZZLE?
OH I NEVER GET MAD PIP!

My Pets—Pip and Squeak.

Wilfred did not feature until later in the series. He first appeared in The Daily Mirror (London, England) of Saturday 7th February 1920:

The Children’s Mirror
UNCLE DICK’S LETTER.

Daily Mirror Office, Feb. 6.
MY DEAR BOYS AND GIRLS,—
The funniest thing has happened—my pets have found a pet! They went out for a walk yesterday and discovered, sitting alone in a field, the dearest little baby rabbit. They at once decided to adopt it, brought it home with them, and gave it a big dish of bones and fish to eat. What sillies, aren’t they!—of course, you know that rabbits only eat lettuce and potato rinds and things like that. I don’t mind them having a pet, but I am a little worried all the same. Is it a wild baby rabbit or has it escaped from its hutch and is some sorrowful boy or girl searching for it?
Have you lost a baby rabbit by any chance? It is a white and brown rabbit, with the usual big ears and whiskers, and it keeps twitching its nose in the funny way rabbits have. It doesn’t answer to any name yet.
Pip and Squeak have decided to call their pet Wilfred. “He looks like a Wilfred, doesn’t he, Uncle?” said Squeak. “It sounds so respectable.”
Your affectionate Uncle Dick.

PIP AND SQUEAK NOW HAVE A PET OF THEIR OWN.

WHAT A DEAR LITTLE THING PIP! WHAT BIG EARS HE’S GOT!
LET’S TAKE HIM HOME AND MAKE HIM OUR PET!
UNCLE! COME QUICKLY! WE’VE GOT A PET NOW!
YES! WE’VE GIVEN HIM HIS DINNER, UNCLE!

The latest excitement at our happy home is the arrival of a funny little baby rabbit which my pets found in a field. They have decided to call it Wilfred.

Note: Austin Bowen Payne reputedly named Pip and Squeak after the nickname of his wartime batman, Pip-Squeak. However, Pip and Squeak have been jocularly associated with the phrase to squeeze someone until the pips squeak—as in the following from the Westminster Gazette (London, England) of Monday 6th March 1922:

Cambridge had reason to recall the declaration of their late member [Sir Eric Geddes] that he would squeeze Germany like a lemon until the pips squeaked—an elegant and classic phrase, which was, no doubt, the origin of “Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.”

 

EARLY OCCURRENCES OF THE PHRASE PIP, SQUEAK AND WILFRED

 

The earliest occurrences of the phrase Pip, Squeak and Wilfred (also Pip, Squeak and Wilfrid) that I have found are as follows, in chronological order—the meaning of the phrase is unclear in several texts:

1-: From the Sunday Pictorial (London, England) of Sunday 19th September 1920:

‘A NIGHT OUT’ TO MUSIC
New Version of an Old Farce at Winter Garden Theatre.
“A Night Out,” the old Vaudeville farce of a quarter of a century ago, will be familiar to many playgoers of the last generation. Like good port, it improves with age.
The musical version of it, presented at the Winter Garden Theatre last night, was a distinct success.
For instance, one of the characters remarks “Don’t tell me that Pip and Squeak have lost Wilfred!”—a line that evoked one of the loudest laughs of the evening.

2-: From To-day’s Gossip: News and Views About Men, Women, and Affairs in General, by ‘the Rambler’, published in The Daily Mirror (London, England) of Saturday 24th December 1921:

Modern Musketeers.
I listened to a discussion yesterday between two well-known theatrical managers and a film magnate. They were all trying to remember the names of the Three Musketeers and miserably failed to do so. At last one, wearying of the task, said: “They must be Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.” I am afraid that the guardians of our Drama have given up Dumas for Uncle Dick!

3-: From the account of the Christmas celebrations at the Shaftesbury Society’s Home for Crippled Children, published in The Bournemouth Guardian and Hants and Dorset Advertiser (Bournemouth, Hampshire, England) of Saturday 31st December 1921:

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, three stray cats adopted by the home, were carried in the arms of their sponsors to receive each a fluffy ball, to ramp after when mice are scarce.

4-: From the account of a meeting of the Broadstairs Residents’ Association, published in the Thanet Advertiser and Broadstairs and St. Peter’s Echo (Ramsgate, Kent, England) of Saturday 30th September 1922:

Mr. J. G. Blackman said he had seen letters appearing in one of the local papers, and he thought that instead of writing them it would have been better if the anonymous correspondents had come to the meeting and expressed their views, when the matter could be debated and a vote taken. One or two of these letters seemed have been written in the endeavour to find out if a change in the band was likely to be made next year. His own view was that the question had never arisen on the Council. He also thought that when Capt. Waterhouse played with a full band in the height of the summer the music rendered was excellent and everything ideal, but that when in the early summer there was an orchestra of about twelve conducted by someone else it was just like Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.

5-: From the details of the tableaux that appeared at Portsmouth on Saturday 21st October 1922 in the procession commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar—account published in The Hampshire Telegraph & Post. And Naval Chronicle (Portsmouth, Hampshire, England) of Friday 27th October 1922:

“Noah’s Ark” (with “Pip,” “Squeak,” and “Wilfred” of those days)

6-: From the account of the Marine Town Regatta that took place off Marine Parade on Saturday 15th September 1923, published in the Sheerness Times (Sheerness, Kent, England) of Thursday 20th September 1923:

BOYS’ RACE,
up to the age of 16 years, was the next event. This contest was rowed in beach boats, crew of two and a coxswain. There were three prizes. The entries were as under: Pip (Glass House), L. White; Squeak (Hero), A. E. Jordan; Wilfred (Blacksmiths’ Arms), J. Boyce.
The race was undoubtedly the best contest of the day. At the first mark boat the competitors turned in the following order: Pip, Wilfred, and Squeak. Between the two turning points the coxswain in the Wilfred, by a smart and clever piece of manoeuvring, reversed the positions of the first two boats. The lead he established was not great, however, and a keen struggle for supremacy was witnessed. Pip although making every effort, gradually lost ground, and after each crew had severely taxed their powers of endurance, the boats finished as under:
Wilfred (Blacksmiths’ Arms) 1
Squeak (Hero) 2
Pip (Glass House) 3

7-: From Notes by the Chiel, published in the Evesham Standard and West Midland Observer (Evesham, Worcestershire, England) of Saturday 13th October 1923:

“A hunting they have been going” in the Frampton country lately. The other night the bhoys were standing in the road when they heard something moving. Bill thought it was a tiger, but Harry looked round and said it was a donkey, so the party set off in pursuit. But the quarry was lost for some time in a herd of cows which ran up the road, and it was not until Bert had run like a stag that he managed to get him clear of the herd. Then for two solid miles Pip, Squeak and Wilfred tore after the black phantom. At last when they caught up to it they saw it was a black calf. And they say that calf has not stopped laughing yet!

8-: From Natural History and Country Life, published in The Mansfield Reporter and Sutton-in-Ashfield Times (Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England) of Friday 11th January 1924:

Arrived at my garden the snow informed me that a rabbit had visited it. There used to be a few wild rabbits about, which did much damage to Brussels sprouts, carrots and other vegetables, necessitating direct action, which resulted in pies, and I fondly hoped that the spring cabbage would grow unchecked. Here, however, was clear evidence that Wilfred was exploring, and alone for there were no marks of either Pip or Squeak. And how different Bunney’s footprints were from those of cat or dog. […] The tell-tale footprints led into the next garden and my neighbour placed a pennyworth of wire in the hedge. Wilfred did not live to see the new year.

9-: From The Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser (Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England) of Saturday 20th September 1924:

RACY SPEECH BY GEORGE WARD
The Pip, Squeak and Wilfrid of Politics.

Speaking at a meeting held at the Guildhall on Wednesday by the Bath Labour Party, George Ward was in humorous vein. He said they were proud of what the Labour Government had done, but when all was said and done, they had been only able to accomplish what the Liberals and Tories had allowed them to do. At their first defeat there were cries of “Resign,” but at subsequent defeats there were no such cries. The Liberals knew by resigning their position would be worsened, and he had always thought that the Liberals who wished for Labour’s resignation had suicidal tendencies. Last election the Liberals were put into the coffin; at the next election the undertaker would screw them down (laughter). Politically speaking, Liberals were in the era of the stage coach and tallow candle; and the Tory Party likewise. He would liken the three leaders as Baldwin “Pip” or “Pipe”; Lloyd George “Squeak,” and he could squeak well enough, and Mr. Asquith “Wilfred,” for like the rabbit he had retired to his funkhole (laughter).

10-: From the transcript of a speech that the Rev. G. S. Woods delivered before an audience of Labour supporters at the Territorial Hall, Taunton, published in the Taunton Courier. Bristol and Exeter Journal, and Western Advertiser (Taunton, Somerset, England) of Wednesday 29th October 1924:

He (Mr. Woods) respected Mr. Hope Simpson as a gentleman, but was sorry to find him quibbling because the Labour party called itself Labour. There was no quibble over the name Liberal party, though it was not suggested that all the liberal people were in the Liberal party. (Laughter and hear, hear.) What (he enquired) was meant by the word “Bolshie?” Was the reply to it “Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred?” (Laughter and applause.) In any case, he (Mr. Woods) could not understand such politics. (Hear, hear.)

11-: From Election Notes, published in the Smethwick Telephone (Smethwick, Staffordshire, England) of Saturday 1st November 1924—Wilfred Wellock (1879-1972) was a Socialist politician:

Some interesting times were conjured up by polling-day scenes. For instance, the name “Graham” on vehicles was reminiscent of a fight in which the contestants were Wiggin and Graham. Those were days when Smethwick had its poet-laureate. But real good election humour has not appeared on the hustings this time. It was a Warley Woods enthusiast who found a good gag for Mr. Wellock: “We have had enough of Pip and Squeak; let’s try Wilfred.”

12-: From the Westminster Gazette (London, England) of Friday 17th July 1925:

MOTOR LORRIES IN COURT COMEDY.
PIP, SQUEAK, AND WILFRED.

A story of three motor lorries, which were included in the sale of a small motor haulage business at Forest Gate, was told in the King’s Bench Division yesterday.
Mr. Leslie Lionel Foster, a ship’s purser, of Hampton-road, Forest Gate, contemplating retirement from the sea, was attracted by an advertisement regarding the business with a guaranteed profit of £20 a week, and he now sought to recover from Mr. Charles Coleman, of Page-street, Westminster, contractor and automobile agent, damages for alleged breach of contract in connexion with the sale.
Mr. Charles Marshall, of Poplar, said the lorries were given names. Pip frequently broke down; Squeak’s gears would not stop in, and after he saw Wilfred go out with its first load he refused to let it go out again. (Laughter.) Once when Squeak broke down Pip had to take it in tow, and when Pip’s driver had to pull up quickly Squeak’s brakes were so bad that it could not be pulled up in time, and ran into Pip.
Mr. Justice Shearman: The sort of thing that goes on with trucks, but these had no buffers. (Laughter.)
The defence was that the lorries were overhauled before the sale, and the alleged defects were due to bad handling afterwards.
Mr. Justice Shearman, giving judgment for Mr. Foster for £333 5s. 4d., said he was satisfied that the lorries were worn out before the sale.

13-: From the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer (Hastings, Sussex, England) of Saturday 12th September 1925:

At the National Dahlia Society’s Show held in London on Wednesday, Messrs. J. Stredwick and Son, of Silverhill Park, were once again successful in the largest classes for cactus dahlias. […] At the other extreme, as regards size, are the three new collarettes, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

14-: From one of the unconnected paragraphs making up the column Junior Jottings (i.e., a series of brief notes on football matches), published in the Barnsley Independent (Barnsley, Yorkshire, England) of Saturday 16th January 1926:

Goldthorpe, St. George’s centre-forward, found Sharp, the Pitt St. centre-half, a big stumbling block.
“Pip” (Pindar Oaks) had a pop but missed. A narrow “squeak” for Cudworth Nibs. Hard lines, “Wilfred”!
In the two matches Osborne and Farrar Street have faced each other seventeen goals have been scored.

15-: From Overheards, by ‘The Little Bird’, published in The Gentlewoman and Modern Life (London, England) of Saturday 13th March 1926:

In the Lords’ Lobby—That Lord Rothermere’s suggested “committee of three” should be composed of Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.

16-: From the following advertisement, published in The Era (London, England) of Wednesday 29th September 1926:

MUSICIANS WANTED.
[…]
PIP, SQUEAK AND WILFRED.
WANTED, “Squeak” Mrs. Craig, late of Ashford, Middx., to communicate with “Wilfred” H. Livett, of 16, Rosebery-avenue, Tottenham, N.17.

17-: From The Sphere: The Empire’s Illustrated Weekly (London, England) of Saturday 16th October 1926—here, the phrase Pip, Squeak and Wilfred probably denotes a series of three campaign medals or medal ribbons (the 1914-15 Star, the War Medal and the Victory Medal) awarded to British soldiers during and at the conclusion of the First World War:

The New Book of Snobs. (These Moderns . . .)
PORTRAIT OF A FIGHTING FOOL.
By ALAN BOTT

Arthur Floss, half-commission broker, but principally the husband of Esther Floss. Formerly, Captain and Flight Commander, R.F.C. and R.A.F., with D.S.O. (two bars), M.C. (one bar), and Croix de Guerre. Also “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”—the three nice little medals that, in the case of all who saw active service before the end of 1915, finish off the row of miniatures when “Orders and Decorations” are worn.