Saturday, 16 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 15 (Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks alert)

This is to alert readers that a programme about the writers of Bernard Cribbins' comedy songs, Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks, is going to be broadcast on BBC Radio 7 on Tuesday 19th October at 2.30pm if you're in the UK. And even if you're not, Radio 7 has a Listen Again facility for one week.

Don't bother clicking (or, armed with this new knowledge, refrain from further clicking of) the above image, which is a screengrab. Instead, go to the relevant BBC 7 page here, where it should be available on the BBC iplayer soon after the broadcast.

I'll be very interested to hear the programme, as I don't know much about the writers (Rudge is on the right, above), although I do remember reading Noel Coward praising one of the Cribbins hits on Desert Island Discs.
Chris Welch put it rather well in his characteristic style in Melody Maker in the early seventies (the time even groups like the Tremeloes were going "heavy") when he said something like:
Bernard's songs have a quiet, toe-tapping whimsy rather rudely cast aside in today's "with-it" age.

You can read Spencer Leigh's obituary of lyricist Myles Rudge here.

I didn't realise, till I read it, that Rudge and Ted Dicks also wrote A Windmill in Old Amsterdam with that shameless "mouse in" / "grousin' " rhyme, a hit for Ronnie Hilton (above) who also recorded ...

... The Laughing Gnome.

Which wasn't about rodents as such, but with similarly speeded-up voices - assuming it followed Bowie's original - it doubtless fell within Ronnie Hilton's safety zone.

A nod to the Mike Sammes Singers, thus engineered on Windmill ... although their enhanced status - they provided backing for I Am the Walrus in the meantime - may have made them reluctant to stoop a second time. Do they, in fact, feature on Hilton's version? I haven't heard a recording.

Anyway, perhaps it's for the best that his cover of Bowie's Zurichian jeu d'esprit wasn't a hit: I think Russell Davies has said that those mice became, collectively, an albatross for Hilton, condemned to sing that song in his act ever after.

There is a detailed BBC page about Cribbins' two big hits here. As they are both very well known, I won't reproduce them here - and have no choice but to spare you Hilton's Gnome, as it doesn't seem to be on youtube or spotify.

Instead, here's another comedy song, produced, like Right Said Fred and Hole in the Ground, by George Martin, and released in 1962, so I suppose it was part of the wave of Cockney songs Alan Klein spoke of.

 I first got to know it on the 1980s album above - not much of a concept, despite the cover: just a compilation of solo Goon recordings which didn't really fit together, as Sellers' and Milligan's recordings were comic but Secombe's were not.

But Spike Milligan's Wormwood Scrubs Tango is neatly done - and Martin must have been fond of it, as it's one of the recordings chosen for the CD of highlights (above) from the 2006 Produced by George Martin box set of his fifty years in the business.

You know, I even grew to love that Dark Side of the Goon album, shoddily assembled as it was. And by sheer coincidence, given the mention of Lonnie Donegan in the previous post, the LP also included a 1957 Sellers track which demands embedding here: a momentarily "with-it" version of that old music hall number Any Old Iron:

But I can't end this post without a muttered apology to the shade of Myles Rudge. It may not be Hilton Milton, but the rhyme is entirely logical, given the couplet which follows:
A mouse lived in a windmill in old Amsterdam
A windmill with a mouse in and he wasn't grousin'
He sang every morning, "How lucky I am,
Living in a windmill in old Amsterdam!"
Although I maintain that a question mark must hang over the later:
A windmill with mice in, it's hardly surprisin'
As it hasn't been established beyond doubt that this is a working windmill, providing regular access to chewable sacks of grain for its tiny denizens: is the "I" of the song who bears witness to the infestation a worker or merely someone whose curiosity led him into a derelict building?

Then again, now I look at it more closely (as you can here) we're told
The windmill had christ'nin's when [not as] no one was list'nin'
leading to the conclusion:
There's nobody there now [my emphasis] but a whole lot of mice.

So yes, playful as the rhymes may be, the narrative is entirely coherent after all. Oh, the humiliation. But there's no freakin' way those mice (above) are to scale.

Rudge's craftsmanship would have been admired by AA Milne, who felt very strongly that a writer should take as much care over a job in the nursery as one in the grown ups' rooms. In his 1940 verse collection Behind the Lines, Milne attacks the song below - see if you can guess why:

Milne died in early 1956, and so missed the "explosion" of rock'n'roll which so excited the young Alan Klein. But as jazz was not his first love, it's not too difficult to imagine his reaction, as one poem (quoted from memory) in that book ends with this thought:
And if by chance they should install
Death penalty (by axe) for all
Who have - and boast about it - "rhythm,"
Then definitely I am with 'em.

Postcript: I've now heard the programme and discuss it here. More about Ronnie Hilton here.

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