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Golden age of the comedy song

PUBLISHED: 12:57 08 April 2016 | UPDATED: 12:57 08 April 2016

WOOLWORTH'S: Peggotty cannot recall either its Gorleston town centre store (pictured here just before its 1976 closure) or the Yarmouth branch in Regent Road before its move to the Market Place, stocking gramophone records. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

WOOLWORTH'S: Peggotty cannot recall either its Gorleston town centre store (pictured here just before its 1976 closure) or the Yarmouth branch in Regent Road before its move to the Market Place, stocking gramophone records. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

Archant

They don’t write songs like that any more!

BEFORE E-CIGARETTES...Norfolk's Singing Postman Allen Smethurst, pictured at a 1967 Yarmouth gig, seeking a light for his fag. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARYBEFORE E-CIGARETTES...Norfolk's Singing Postman Allen Smethurst, pictured at a 1967 Yarmouth gig, seeking a light for his fag. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

That is a familiar moan from those of us who recall the wartime and post-war era when music was melodic and set the foot a-tapping – a point I made recently when reflecting on some of the local dance bands and musicians who entertained us in the Great Yarmouth area in decades long past.

If our home did not possess a gramophone, we had to endure what the monopolistic BBC deigned we should listen to on the family wireless.

Ours was usually tuned to my mother’s choice of programmes like Wilfred Pickles’ Have A Go!, Albert Sandler’s Palm Court Trio, Sandy Macpherson at the theatre organ, Workers’ Playtime, Family Favourites on a Sunday lunchtime, Music While You Work or Mrs Dale’s Diary, not enthralling fare for a lad.

Admittedly, there were some great comedy shows but these were often broadcast when I was out. My radio highlight of the week was late on Saturday nights: Jack Jackson’s record programme featuring the pick of the latest hits, always bright and breezy.

STILL LAUGHING IN CIVVY STREET: wartime radio favourite Cheerful Charlie Chester headed the bill at the Regal Theatre in Great Yarmouth in the summer of 1958 with his Pot Luck game show; three years earlier he had starred in the Royal Aquarium's show. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARYSTILL LAUGHING IN CIVVY STREET: wartime radio favourite Cheerful Charlie Chester headed the bill at the Regal Theatre in Great Yarmouth in the summer of 1958 with his Pot Luck game show; three years earlier he had starred in the Royal Aquarium's show. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

No, they don’t write songs like that any more...because he included novelty and comedy numbers that were much enjoyed by teenagers and the rest of his audience. The fun genre seems to have disappeared, as has the stand-alone comedy song as against those written for a stage or film score. Some had been introduced in music hall, a robust favourite place of entertainment in the first half of the 20th century.

Recently Mrs Peggotty and I surprised ourselves when, out of curiosity. we compiled our list of these unsophisticated yet clever ditties from way back. As we have never seen some of the titles written, our spelling could well be phonetic – like 1943’s Mairzy Doats and Doazy Doats (are the lyrics in fact Mares Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats?).

We hope our list brings back memories for older readers...although it will perhaps puzzle younger ones who might well be bemused by the popularity of some of these extraordinary compositions.

With my meagre pocket money augmented by borrowing off the following week’s allowance – but seldom repaying my parents - I made regular visits after-school to Carr & Carr’s record shop in Regent Street where a patient saleslady named Miss/Mrs Sayers tolerated me and my chums, all wearing our blazers and carrying satchels, as we hummed and hawed over our first choice. Usually we left empty-handed because we could not raise enough cash between us.

If Carr & Carr was out of stock, we trooped round the corner into King Street to pester the rival Wolsey & Wolsey.

The first records of this type I ever bought were Phil Harris’s Dark Town Poker Club and Woodman! Spare that Tree!, followed by The Thing – the mysterious contents of a black box washed up on a beach. He also recorded Deck of Cards, a serious work about the way a pack of cards has a parallel in religion.

On radio or record, you could hear the stuttering K-K-K-Katie, probably long-since forbidden as it was about a speech impediment; Life Gets Teejus (tedious), Don’t It (Peter Lind Hayes); Johnny Fedora Met Alice Blue Bonnet (in the window of a department store); Who Put the Overalls in Mrs Murphy’s Chowder?; Hey Little Hen; The Bubble Car; Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer; When Father Painted the Parlour; The Hokey Cokey; Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West (Benny Hill); Yackety-Yack; Four Wheels on my Wagon; Do-Wackado-Wackaday.

Also, there were Sons of the Sea, Bobbing Up and Down Like This (a dance hall favourite); Obladee Obladah; How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?; Splish-Splash; Run Rabbit Run; Three Little Fishes (Frankie Howerd); Mike Sarne and Wendy Richards’ Come Outside; Norfolk’s Singing Postman Allen Smethurst with Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?; the high-speed Auctioneer (US); George Formby’s When I’m Cleaning Windows and Little Stick of Blackpool Rock; We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Seigfreid Line; Brrr-Brrr-Brr Busy Line; and Knees Up Mother Brown.

Our list was augmented by Agadoo; Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?; The Music Goes Round and Round; Somebody Stole My Girl (Harry Roy); Knock Three Times (on the ceiling); Big Mamou (Dennis Lotis); The Lost Chord (Jimmy Durante); Chickery-Chick-Chala-Chala; Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow; Boiled Beef and Carrots; the Maharajah of Magador (desperate to learn the rumba); the Sheik of Araby; Oh! Oh! Antonio; Ma – He’s Making Eyes at Me; Two Lovely Black Eyes; I Love You a Bushel and a Peck; My Old Man’s a Dustman...

My great-aunt in Surrey used to buy Woolworth’s own-label records – a line I never remember in either of the long-gone store’s Yarmouth or Gorleston branches. They were only about 7in or 8in but still spun at 78rpm. One I have never forgotten, despite the passage of many decades, was her Boo-Boo-Boo! Here Comes the Loch Ness Monster.

To return to radio programmes, there were plenty that made you laugh. Tommy Handley’s acclaimed ITMA (It’s That Man Again) never did much for me, but I did enjoy the three variety shows encompassing the Armed Services from which their casts were drawn: Stand Easy, with Cheerful Charlie Chester and his khaki-clad chums; Waterlogged Spa, the Royal Navy’s contribution led by Eric Barker and Pearl Hackney; and my favourite, Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, a Royal Air Force outpost with Kenneth Horne and Richard Murdoch as the officers and Sam Costa as their office clerk.

Sixty-plus years on, a ditty in one of those RAF shows remains live in my mental treasure trove of happy memories, still making me not only smile but also admire the deft imagination of the writers.

Horne and Murdoch had penned comic words to a lively classical piece of music and included this memorable rhyming couplet:

“Aberdeen has lovely houses,

“Gaberdine makes lovely trousers.”

They don’t write ‘em like that any more!

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