Sing A Funny Song
Where do we first gain our love of words?
For my mother, who lived in Brighton as a girl, the seaside Pierrots (see a modern-day version, the Pier-Echoes, above) taught her funny songs. These traditionally-dressed troupes toured all the seaside towns and are immortalised in the novel ‘The Good Companions’ as the Dinky-Doos.
Many kids of my age first learned how music and words fitted together through comedy songs – it was the first time I ever listened to lyrics. These were always featured on Uncle Mac’s radio show for children, and included ‘I’m A Pink Toothbrush, You’re A Blue Toothbrush’, ‘The Railway Runs Through The Middle Of The House’, ‘Right Said Fred’, ‘Hole In The Ground’, and something to do with Charlie Drake wailing ‘I Want A Drink of Water!’. Most of them were dreadful, but they taught something basic; rhyme and scansion, and which weds were funny.
These songs were leftovers from our music hall heritage, and were very basic. A cut above was the noes very hard-to-find Kenneth Williams’ album ‘On Pleasure Bent’, and I still know most of his songs by heart, including ‘Pardon Me, Sir Francis’, a call to arms for Drake to tackle the Armada that featured the verse;
‘If we’re caught, Sir Francis, with our defences down,
They’ll be up to their old Spanish customs all around the town.
Spare a thought, Sir Francis, for every virtuous maid,
Who will end up singing ‘Granada’ up and down the esplanade.’
There’s something irredeemably silly about these songs, which also includes a ditty about Boadicea – ‘Covered in woad and six feet tall, she scared the living daylights out of one and all…but she often thought when nights were cold, ‘I wish the Ancient Britons weren’t all so old.’
Family films always seemed to have a song in the middle for no real reason than to provide an interlude. In Blake Edwards’ ‘The Great Race’ Natalie Wood gets to sing ‘The Sweetheart Tree’ while a bouncing ball hits the lyrics on-screen. Even animated cartoons still have songs – but it’s an odd tradition when you think about it.
However it’s one that continued long after it should have died in Britain, from the show ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’ (‘I’ve got a Ferret Sticking Up My Nose’, ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’) to Monty Python (‘I Love Traffic Lights’ and ‘Finland Finland Finland’), and almost into the present day, where it has now pretty much died.
Has rap taken the place of such innocent pleasures?