Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Further Up the Swanee

Received a delightful message from Phil Pope (see previous post), claiming to be "honoured" (as who should not) by his mention in this blog - but disclaiming any credit for the Sooty song.

Which leaves Steve Brown in the frame ... only it now occurs to me that as the melody of Swanee was unaltered in the Huddlines broadcast - even the verse was used - adding topical lyrics would not have been beyond the capabilities of any number of writers who contributed to the show over the years. I can't remember the whole of the verse as sung by Roy Hudd in the broadcast but I do recall in place of the original's "Somehow I feel / Your love is real" his chuckling treatment of the new-minted description of the vanished bear -
He's small and blonde,
He waves his wand...
- a fragment which I decided, on balance, not to incorporate into my oration.

I think (but am not certain) that the Corbett father-son friction would have been around 1977-78, but I don't know whether that was when it became a news item, so I can't even be precise about the year Huddlines might have picked up on the story.

A few more details can be found here in an article written on the eve of Matthew Corbett's final TV show, although my memory of the Tibballs book suggests that when Harry is quoted in the article as saying "my son had cleaned me out" he may have been making a literal reference to all the tiny, painstakingly constructed Sooty sets being removed from his workrooms as part of the deal with his son; in the Tibballs book he talks about feeling red hot needles were going through him as he watched all this precious cargo - his life, in effect -  being loaded up and taken away.

Anyway, if you can find the Tibballs book, The Secret Life of Sooty, I strongly recommend it. Very cheap at the moment on the marketplace of a certain well-known shopping website if you can't get to Wolverhampton or they no longer have it in stock. But why not have breakfast at the Mander Centre anyway? Or pop into the art gallery? I believe it is the voice of Neville "Noddy" Holder who provides information in the lift.

As a supposed adherent of Russell Davies, who is very big on wordsmiths, it also occurs to me that I have been remiss in not crediting Irving Caesar (above, with business partner) earlier. He was the lyricist of the original Swanee:  it wasn't a George and Ira Gershwin composition. And mighty Caesar it was who penned those deathless lyrics for Tea for Two:
 Day will break
And you'll awake
And start to bake
A sugar cake
For me to take
For all the boys to see ...
Not to mention the lyrics for Animal Crackers - howzabout that for a hat trick? Or I Want to be Happy, Crazy Rhythm ... oh, and Just a Gigolo. Born, ooh, ages ago, he survived to be one of the major interviewees in Tony Palmer's major 70s TV series All You Need Is Love: the Story of Popular Music (recently issued on DVD and recommended watching - read my review here). Don't know whether it was in that series or elsewhere but I have a vague memory of Sammy Cahn (I think) praising the above - although I do wonder what the narrator's colleagues thought of him, much as I occasionally feel a vague but nonetheless real concern about Chuck Berry's relations - no, I'm not referring to the Mann Act but that slightly disturbing detail in Memphis:
 She did not leave her number
But I know who placed the call
Cause my uncle took the message
And he wrote it on the wall.
Behaviour which conjures for me a Mice and Men-type relationship in that wider world beyond the immediate concerns of the song. Maybe Chuck promised Aunt Clara he'd look after him?

Anyway I see, somewhat to my astonishment, that Irving Caesar carried on until 1996 so in theory he could have heard that parody of his song. (Read the wikipedia page on Swanee here - there are links to other pages and recordings.) I have, however, read a reference to the song's being one of the few Gershwin compositions in the public domain, which may be why it appealed to whoever added the lyrics for Huddlines - no one to complain at liberties taken (the Goons' assault on Unchained Melody was suppressed for many years, for example).

This is not, repeat not, the end of the investigation but all I can say for the moment is to reiterate that Mr Pope has been eliminated from our enquiries. So if there are no further questions for the moment, gentlemen ... thank you.

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