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Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


AN EIGHTY-SEVENTH GARLAND OF BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC COMPOSERS

Having in a recent Garland run the eye quickly over the composers of musicals from the Great War, it is now time to do the same for the Second War of 1939-45. This era, although it did not produce quite such a long-running show to rival Chu Chin Chow and The Maid of the Mountains from 1914-18, did throw up several which did well. The initial effect of the outbreak of war was to bring to a premature close the runs of at least two immediately pre-war musicals:

The Dancing Years by IVOR NOVELLO and MANNING SHERWIN's Sitting Pretty. As we shall see, Sherwin was to make-up for this disappointment. During the war, pre-war composers of musicals continued to write . "NOEL GAY" (REGINALD MOXON ARMITAGE: 1898-1954), still remembered for Me and My Girl (1937) and especially "The Lambeth Walk" from it, brought out Present Arms (1940, 225 West End performances), Susie (1942: this had only a provincial run), The Love Racket (1943), La-Di-Da-Di-Da (1943), Ring Time (1944) and Meet Me at Victoria (1944-5). Apart from the now largely forgotten Arc de Triomphe, Ivor Novello did not produce a full length musical between The Dancing Years and Perchance to Dream, first produced just after the end of the war in Europe in 1945. The famed pianist BILLY MAYERL had had a number of stage successes in the late thirties; perhaps the last of that series was Happy Birthday, which enjoyed a provincial run in 1940.

Of the "new" composers (or more or less new) which flourished during the war, the singer/conductor RICHARD TAUBER's one major composition for England (he became a naturalised British subject in 1940) was Old Chelsea (1943), still remembered for "My Heart and I" but its success on stage was, rather surprisingly indifferent. HARRY PARR-DAVIES (1914-55) might be said to have made his reputation during 1939-45, though he was known as a song composer before the war. Full Swing (1942), jointly composed with "GEORGE POSFORD" (BENJAMIN GEORGE ASHWELL: 1906-76), who had had hits pre-war with Good Night Vienna (especially), Gay Hussar, Balalaika, and Magyar Melody, ran to 468 West End performances. Although Parr-Davies' The Knight Was Bold (1943) was less successful, he followed up with Lisborn Story (1943-4): over 500 performances), from which "Pedro the Fisherman" became a particular hit, Jenny Jones and, later on Her Excellency (1949) and Dear Miss Phoebe (1951), still remembered for the song "I Leave My Heart in an English Garden". Parr-Davies' career was sadly cut short only a few years later. Her Excellency, which ran to 252, was a joint composition venture with MANNING SHERWIN, already mentioned.

Sherwin (1902-74) was American, but he settled in Britain in 1938 and soon made contributions to Posford's Magyar Melody. We have seen how Sitting Pretty, whose main hit was the duet "I'll Take a Little Time", was given its quietus by the outbreak of war, but he had consolations in store. The "surprise musical" Get A Load of This achieved 698 West End performances (1941-3), Something in the Air (1943-4), 336, plus 163 more in 1944-5, and Under the Counter 665 in 1945-7. Sherwin's success was continued, if not quite at the same level, with The Kid From Stratford (1948-9: 235 performances) and Her Excellency, as already noted. Apart from these, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and Who's Taking You Home Tonight? were song hits for him, the first is still, almost sixty years on. Another American who had a show produced on the London stage at this time (401 performances, no less) was EDWARD HORAN (1898-?) with Lady Behave in 1941-2.

PATRICK, or PAT, THAYER had been a prolific writer of songs for some fifteen years before 1939 and continued to be so for much of the 1940s. His Come on Feet, Let's Go came from a 1926 revue, I Travel the Road, Who Cares from a musical Ps & Qs and other titles were Showbird, For Love Alone, A Wayside Inn, Dear England Mine, Dolores Far Away, Home Again, I'm in Cupid's Garden, Logs on the River, The Rubicon and Undivided. His wartime musical The Silver Patrol achieved only 75 London performances but summer 1940 was scarcely a good time to launch a musical.

I may return to this topic in a later Garland but I would like to finish with a reference to two figures prominent in the light music scene after the war.

For PERCY FAITH (1908-76), light orchestra leader, arranger and composer of such miniatures as Petite it must be a brief mention because, although he was born in Canada his career was primarily spent in the United States. DON BOWDEN (1906-66) was well respected as an arranger, for example of medleys like Waltzing in the Ballroom and Ancliffe Veleta and he composed, too, his orchestral titles including Sandstorm and a set of Eastern Dances.

Philip L Scowcroft

April 2000

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