- The Bee Song
- I Pulled Myself Together
- Ding Dong Bell
- The Cuckoo
- All To Specification
- The Worm
- Weíre Goanna Hang Out The Washing on the Siegfried Line
- How Ashamed I Was
- Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major
- Big and Stinkerís Parlour Games
- The Seagull Song
- More Chestnut Corner
- Sarah! Sarah!
- She Was Very, Very Shy
- Early In The Morning
- The Channel Swimmer
- The Pixie
- Itís Spring Again
- I Want A Banana
- Evíry Little Piggyís Got a Curly Tail
- A Ballad
- Follow The White Line
Having seen many comedians come and go it's the ones
that have gone I remember most. When I received this CD of Arthur Askey
I relished the idea of having a really good chuckle at the little man
in his prime once again and wasnít disappointed. He was born in 1900
but his big break came in 1938 when the BBC decided to launch a comedy
show to go with the great dance band shows of the time, of which I was
a great fan. Gordon Crier, one of the two suggested BBC producers, suggested
as compere Richard Murdoch, a song and dance man and juvenile lead in
revue. But it was the choice of resident comedian that caused problems.
Crier and his co-producer Harry H. Pepper suggested Tommy Trinder or
Arthur Askey. The latter had, since he was 24, toured the halls in concert
and it was Arthur they chose in the end and so began the legend of "Big
Hearted Arthur" with his radio friend Richard "Stinker" Murdoch
in the show "Band Wagon" that made their names. Though this
soon became the comedy show best remembered the first few episodes were
poor and the programme almost cancelled after the third broadcast. During
the time waiting for a replacement, Askey and Murdoch were able to do
what they wanted with the time and their anarchic humour, based around
the idea they were sharing a flat in Broadcasting House, caught on and
"Band Wagon" was a hit.
Whatever Arthur lacked in height he made up for in
energy in the way he told his silly jokes, sang his even sillier songs
and danced even sillier dances, as would later be seen on the stage
and screen in a blossoming career that would last decades. It wasn't
until 1938 that I really became aware of Arthur. I suppose like many
people in the early 1930's, not in the habit of visiting theatres or
spending holidays at seaside resorts where Arthur might be performing
for a summer season, I have no recall of him during that time. 1938
also saw Arthurís recordings, including "The Bee Song" in which he is
accompanied on the piano by Kenneth Blain who wrote it. This is the
song always associated with Arthur. Itís just plain silly and needs
someone of Arthur's inimitable nature to capture the cleverness of it.
The more you hear it the less chance you have of forgetting it. Which
is the reason why it is still so well remembered now after all these
years. When "The Bee Song" is mentioned people always remember Arthur
Askey. In the same month he recorded "Chirrup". This time Arthur wishes
he were a tiny bird, so clearly this is meant as a companion to "The
Bee Song" yet I wonder how many will remember it today. Strange
that one song survives and the other didnít. Arthurís idea of a tiny
bird needs to be heard to be appreciated and I can promise you will
love it as he introduces all manner of peculiar sounds. I can even see
that funny little man prancing about as he sings, and just occasionally
breaking in and making a whimiscal comment. Much the same applies to
"The Seagull Song" too. But this was recorded "live" in front
of an audience in 1940 and really gains from it. Here Arthur tells a
tale of a Seagull and as he sings "Fly away Peter, fly away Paul",
the reaction of the audience is enough to tell you of the capers he
is performing. Kenneth Blain accompanies again and, as always, is to
be admired in how he manages to keep up with Arthur who ends with his
catch phrase "I thank you" which, of course, he delivers as
"Aythangyou". Arthur clearly loved these bird songs and "sends
them up" something chronic. In "The Cuckoo" this is particularly
the case as he half sings and half narrates and it's real gem that,
again, might have been forgotten had it not been for this release. The
recording of "I Pulled Myself Together" quickly followed in the December
and was written by Arthur himself. Arthur happily tells you how he needs
to earn his daily bread as a handyman he tells us as he wanders down
the street you hear him Tra, La, La-ing as he goes, at the same time
describing in words of all the different jobs he tries but never succeeds
in keeping any. Not a song to remember perhaps, but clever and bubbly
as Arthurís songs always were.
In 1939 Arthur recorded "The Worm" with Ronnie Monro
and here he tells us he is going to sing a song to something nearer
the ground than he is. This is another song that made me reach for the
tissues to wipe my eyes. The orchestra is brilliant, by the way, as
he tells the story of this wriggly specimen crawling about and I loved
it. Very clever too is "The Knitter" recorded the same year.
Then in the November, with the war now on, Arthur recorded two songs
with a real relevance to the times. First is "We're Gonna Hang Out The
Washing On The Siegfried Line". I remember this song so well and itís
as familiar now as when I first heard it. This was "The Phoney
War" and most people had no idea what lay ahead that I think is
reflected by the light-hearted nature of this song. "Kiss me Goodnight
Sergeant Major" followed in that same month. How quickly that caught
the publicís imagination too, though I have to say it was the type of
song that often had its words changed into something the BBC would never
have broadcast. I know this because my husband, a wartime variety artiste
himself, sang a version that would have made a Sergeant Major blush.
Arthur was clearly busy in the studio that month because
he also made "How Ashamed I Was" a really funny song and, for the time,
rather naughty. Itís not so much the words, but how Arthur delivers
them. The Orchestra follows him brilliantly too. Ronnie Munro was a
genius for knowing when to expect an outburst of some kind from Arthur.
"Sarah! Sarah!" is from 1940 also. This is another comic song and Arthur
even starts it by telling you this is the other side of the record.
Then in "Early In The Morning" notice again the references to people
spending time in the air raid shelters. The war influences so many of
these songs. Finally from November 1940 we have "She Was Very, Very
Shy", a simple, funny little song about Arthur being in love with a
girl who is so tall he has to climb a ladder to get to her face.
War was raging all over Europe by the time Arthur recorded
the lovely song "Its Spring Again" in February 1942. A simple song,
but the best ones so often are and Arthur sings it beautifully perhaps
reflecting the fact that by then people needed a little more escapism.
However, in the same month comes "I Want A Banana". You must remember
that bananas were unknown in Britain throughout the war and so represented
something symbolic of peace and plenty among the war and want.
I do feel the two recordings on this disc from 1949
are somewhat out of place they were recorded when the war was over but
Arthur is still being. "The Christening" tells of him going to this
family occasion with all the family there. Needless to say, many comic
things happen which Arthur tells you in his inimitable way. At the same
time he recorded as B side "Ev'ry Little Piggy's Got A Curly Tail".
Again a typical Arthur Askey song that he sings so well and is so able
to break into a song and chat to someone without losing the melody.
Not to be missed on this CD are three non-musical tracks.
First is "Big and Stinker's Parlour Games" recorded in 1939. Itís Christmas
and Arthur (or "Big" to his friends) and Richard "Stinker"
Murdoch are singing a carol and deciding that with it being Christmas
they will have a game. Their attempts to find one they haven't played
produces a sparkling dialogue typical of their comedy, though they do
suffer from not having an audience present. Less than a year later they
can be heard in another routine but this time in front of their "Band
Wagon" audience at the BBC. This is "More Chestnut Corner"
after a much-loved spot in the show and should tell you the kind of
thing to expect. By the wild applause the audience clearly had a ball
and the chit- chat between the two is fast and snappy. In fact as you
listen, you may wonder how they managed to get a breath in. The timing
is excellent, the jokes endearingly corny, though this was 1940 and
people needed a good laugh. In July of the next year Arthur gives us
a Monologue typical of the day called "The Channel Swimmer". This is
another "rib-tickler" as Arthur tells of his offer to swim
the English Channel to push the Nazis back in return for two Christmas
puddings. How innocent we were. The reference to two BBC announcers
(Alvar Liddell and Bruce Belfrage) will probably miss people under a
Arthur Askey was born a comedian. That small, bespectacled,
funny little man with his cry of "Hello playmates" and "Aythangyou"
was a confirmed workaholic. In between recordings and radio he worked
with ENSA entertaining the troops. Later he starred with many well-known
names on stage and made a number of films into the 1950s and 1960s.
Some of these were more successful than others. Perhaps the most successful
was "The Ghost Train" which he made during the war. I never fail to
watch the repeats on TV of that great old movie. Arthur's career gradually
wound down as he became older although he managed to appear in pantomime
as a very popular dame and do TV right to the end of his life. I don't
think he or his songs will quickly be forgotten and this CD, which I
warmly recommend to all his fans, will make sure of that. So well done
ASV for bringing these old recordings from the 1930s and 40s to such
vivid life. The transfers are all excellent and I can say that having,
in the distant past, heard some of them on their original 78s.