Monday, 19 July 2010

Swanee Upping Concluded

The investigation is over and the mystery solved, thanks to the kindness of strangers on the BBC Radio 7 comedy messageboard, here, and some of those directly involved in Huddlines. Thank you to all who helped.

The regular lyric writers on Huddlines during that period were Jeremy Browne and Richard Quick (writing separately, Alan Stafford, the programme's last commissioned writer, says) so I may have got it wrong about Steve Brown's contributing to the show - although as Phil Pope did say he used to write with Steve Brown on Spitting Image and that Brown also contributed material to Radio Active, it's certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility he may have made the occasional contribution to Huddlines.

Ah, but  not this particular song, I may now say with certainty. Following suggestions on the messageboard I contacted Huddlines producer Dirk Maggs who said that, even though the broadcast dated from before his time with the show, from the look of the lyric it was probably by Jeremy Browne or Richard Quick - and it was Browne who tended to do the parodies. I got in touch via his collaborator Nigel Hess (they have written a musical version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin entitled Rats!) and Jeremy Browne confirmed that the Sooty song was indeed his. He didn't elaborate - there was no indication of what he felt about that revival of his parody - but as as that also means there was no suggestion of ire at my misappropriating his creation, I shall choose to read that as a positive.

Besides, is it really Mr Browne's creation anymore - I mean, really? For the assembly, I had to invent some new words for the verse, partly because I couldn't remember the whole thing, partly because, as mentioned earlier, what I could bring to mind was slightly too risque for that choir of cherubs.

And I don't recall whether Jeremy Browne's parody took it to the bridge or not in the Huddlines broadcast, but the music teacher who was conducting the cherubs added some makeshift words herself for that section (I couldn't remember that part at all). So you have the Gershwin / Caesar song, the parody by Jeremy Browne, then the memory of that parody imperfectly recalled by me, further alteration to that imperfect memory by another hand - so there could be a case for saying that what with Swanee/Sooty effectively being returned to a sort of pre-Gershwinian, tradtional form the notion of copyright would be a nonsense anyway. Er, wouldn't it? Sorry, no more questions, I'm afraid we have to wrap it up there, but thank you all for coming and do drop in again sometime.

Perhaps now is a good moment to remind ourselves of the father-son relationship which inspired the parody. Below is the relevant youtube clip from a documentary entitled A Big Hand for Sooty (you can find the rest of the programme by searching for that title).

Matthew and Harry are being interviewed by Terry Wogan eleven years after the handover and Tel asks directly whether Matthew would ever let Harry work with Sooty again. Interesting choice of wording: Matthew talks about the need to keep Harry "down"; Terry says "So you have to keep old Harry away?" at which Harry immediately protests (in a tone reminiscent of his ineffectual attempts to restrain Sooty's anarchy): "No, not 'keep him away'!"

There is also a note of bitterness from Harry's brother (the original Sweep and, I think, Ramsbottom the snake who made an occasional appearance): "It used to be the Sooty Show with Harry but now it's the Matthew Show with Sooty."

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is over now, for father and son. According to wikipedia Harry Corbett did continue to perform with Sooty and "died in his sleep on 17 August 1989 after playing to a capacity audience at Weymouth Pavilion." Matthew Corbett retired in 1998 and Sooty was eventually bought in 2008 by magician Richard Cadell, who had already been working with him in the interim (see image at top of previous entry) and who has Matthew Corbett's blessing. Find a basic chronology on the official Sooty website here.But again I'd recommend the Geoff Tibballs book if you want to read more fully about this.

Again, according to wikipedia (but reinforced by another TV documentary) Matthew has returned to playing music, performing at local pubs. 

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