The scene in which Mary Poppins (played by Julie Andrews) sings to the two Banks children about the old woman who feeds the birds outside St Paul’s Cathedral as they go to bed remains one of the most poignant of the iconic Disney film.
Of course, it wasn’t actually filmed at the cathedral – rather it was filmed on a set at Walt Disney’s studios in Burbank, Los Angeles – but the scene remains powerful for its imagery and music nonetheless.
The scene itself shows Mary holding up a snow globe with St Paul’s Cathedral inside as she sings. The audience is taken into the globe where we see the “little old bird woman” (the last role ever played by Oscar winning actress Jane Darwell) feeding the birds on steps outside the cathedral’s west front.
The rather melancholy song, written by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, talks about how the little old bird woman came to the steps of St Paul’s every day and there called for people to buy her bags of crumbs (priced at tuppence a bag) to feed the pigeons (a practice now frowned upon!).
“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.”
In the film, the children actually meet the old bird woman the following day but their father discourages them from feeding the birds (although the book recounts things a little differently).
The scene was apparently one of few Mary Poppins author PL Travers – whose first Mary Poppins book was published in 1934 – didn’t object to when making the film (the story of the somewhat acrimonious relationship between Travers and the film-makers is shown in the recent film Saving Mr Banks), which was released on 27th August, 1964. It is also said to have been Walt Disney’s favourite song from the movie.
Of course, St Paul’s is only one of a number of London locations mentioned in the live action/animated film – the Bank of England is another (and to see more about the fictional home of the Banks family, see our earlier post here).
Of course, Mary Poppins is just one of numerous films in which St Paul’s is featured – among the other films which depict the building or its interior include 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, 1994’s The Madness of King George, 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and 2009’s Sherlock Holmes.