Musical memories from a bygone era

IN recent months this column has featured home deliveries, a service provided by many retailers in decades past but now limited to the big supermarkets.

The small family grocer, for example, who used to call on households to collect their weekly order for home delivery, is a long-lost species, as is the errand boy whose presence was known by his whistling the hit tunes of the day.

As a Gorleston errand boy in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I whistled as I pedalled my trade bike for Bells Road greengrocer and fruiterer Fred Mitchell. Not only did I whistle the melody, but I also inserted the twiddly bits of the orchestration of the latest favourite. I never knew what I sounded like, in the same way that we are unaware of our own voice until we hear it recorded.

So nowadays the errand boy is no more, and even if he had survived, his whistle would have been unable to cope with most of the tuneless offerings currently in vogue. Only a handful of show songs or revivals would give him a chance to pucker his lips for a whistling ride, but they are probably not to his taste.

Also reported here was the discovery that Frank Wilcock, husband of Great Yarmouth’s broadcasting soprano Helen Hill, and his collaborator Robert Rutherford wrote a foxtrot called Come to Gorleston.

It was probably aimed at the Gorleston Gossips summer shows in 1928 and 1929 in which they all appeared in Gorleston Pavilion before she achieved national fame, and never achieved popularity beyond these productions. I doubt if local errand boys whistled Come to Gorleston on their rounds...

Decades ago, I was surprised when my column about star singer-whistler Ronnie Ronalde recording The Yarmouth Song during a mid-50s summer at the Wellington Pier brought a wealth of feedback from readers about other melodies featuring aspects of the resort. Come to Gorleston was not one of those mentioned, but all also failed to make any enduring impact.

Most Read

The Revolving Tower Polka was composed in 1898 by Reginald J White after the inauguration of our North Drive landmark the previous year (the tower was demolished for war-effort scrap metal in 1941). The Yareside Waltz was written by music teacher Mrs S Lee, of Southtown, at the turn of the century.

The Garibaldi Lambs, penned by David Howard and, according to the sheet music, sung by Harry Lemore, was about a holiday visit to Yarmouth to join the corps of young men who did formidable charity work while staying at the St Nicholas Road premises in the early summers of the 20th century.

As for the 1927 ditty by Gene Rich, We’re All Having a Jolly Good Time at Yarmouth, it was adopted as the resort’s official song! Also, there was older The Sights of Yarmouth with no fewer than 13 verses, detailing some of the town’s features.

Earlier, there was Yarmouth on the Sands. Will Oliver composed it around 1900 and sang it, as did Louis Ellis and Harry Turner. In the mid-1990s Yarmouth Museums bought the sheet music but spokesman John Read commented that there was nothing in the lyric specifically relating to Yarmouth: “It’s a bit of a fraud in a way because a sheet music note says, ‘This song can easily be localised in 100 different ways by altering the first line of the chorus.’”

Perhaps the publishers sold a localised version in various resorts...

And we must not forget the political Hands Off Great Yarmouth (sung to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory) that brought prolonged applause at a Yarmouth Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society pantomime, the words specially written to oppose an unsuccessful 1966 official campaign to remove Yarmouth’s independent self-sufficiency and merge the borough with old rivals Lowestoft into a single local government area (dubbed “Yartoft”).

Sadly, none of those Yarmouth ditties was ever top of the pops.

The word “time” is a favourite with lyricists (As Time Goes By, Time after Time, for example), which links me with my next topic, the current moneyraising drive to pay for the �8000 restoration of the prominent non-functioning clock on Newtown Methodist Church on Caister Road. It is the first on the list of 14 official public clocks in the borough, according to the borough engineer’s department in 1966.

The clock is described as an “eight-day strike bracket turret clock, dead beat” installed in 1907 by Aldred and Sons, then a prominent jeweller and clockmaker in the town. In a column headed “Provided by” (for instance, benefactor or council), the Newtown clock entry says: “No records – assume council responsibility”.

Perhaps the fundraisers might find that useful ammunition in seeking some restoration money from our parsimonious borough council.

The other 13 listed in 1966 were: North Drive shelter opposite Beaconsfield Road; Wellesley recreation ground; St Nicholas’s Parish Church; Town Hall; St George’s Church, St Peter’s Church (St Spyridon, Greek Orthodox, since 1967); Shipwrecked Sailors’ Home, Marine Parade; Jetty; Wellington Pier; Nelson Gardens shelter (two clocks); Half-Way House public house, Southtown Road; Gorleston Library; and Gorleston Pavilion..

Finally, nine years after I left Great Yarmouth Grammar School as a sixth-former to await my call-up for National Service, along came the new kids on the block to occupy desks as the new first-form. So 2011 is a significant one for them, marking the golden anniversary of their becoming pupils there.

Unsurprisingly, the class of ’61 are holding a reunion, scheduled for Friday, September 30, at the Imperial Hotel, Yarmouth. One of their number, Chris Wright, is looking forward to “an afternoon of tea and reminiscing, and an evening dinner.”

He adds: “This event follows a successful ‘40 years from leaving’ reunion in July 2008. We all enjoyed that so much that we decided the next excuse to meet was 50 years from joining the school in September 1961. I am already in touch with about 30 people from the year, but am keen to hear from others.”

He can be contacted on and 07703 548967.