Presenting a random selection of comedy and novelty songs
recorded by a wide range of British performers, comedians and humorists.
This overview omits certain important comedy figures such as
Tony Hancock who did not record significant comedy songs; they will be featured
in a future 'Door To Yesterday' titled "Mirth Of A Nation: British Comedy Routines & Sketches".
I grew up in 1950's Britain hearing The Goons (Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan) on the radio and that superb barrier-breaking comedy team were followed in 1969 by the enormously influential Monty Python group whose members were John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam.
More about their unforgettable comedy sketches later but both The Goons and Monty Python
also created a series of key musical moments, a few of which are contained in my list below.
Back in the pre-radio days, comedians performed in theaters and music halls
and very often, they would end their acts with a song. There were bawdy music hall songs such as
A LITTLE BIT OF WHAT YOU FANCY DOES YOU GOOD (Fred W. Leigh/George Arthurs) copyrighted in 1915
and famously performed by comedienne Miss Marie Lloyd. Even earlier, revered Scottish entertainer
Sir Harry Lauder co-wrote and performed a popular suggestive song called STOP YER TICKLING JOCK.
Other memorable and witty British songs from the early 1900's included WHEN FATHER PAPERED THE PARLOUR
(R.P. Weston/Fred J. Barnes) made famous by comedian Billy Williams and THE GALLOPING MAJOR
(Fred Leigh/George Bastow), introduced by George Bastow himself.
Listening to BBC radio in the 50's, I remember hearing comedy songs from decades earlier.
These included THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN (Laughing Song) (Billie Grey) by Charles Penrose (UK Columbia: 1938),
WITH HER HEAD TUCKED UNDERNEATH HER ARM (R.P. Weston/Bert Lee) by Stanley Holloway (UK Columbia: 1934)
and HE PLAYED HIS UKULELE AS THE SHIP WENT DOWN (Arthur LeClerq) by Leslie Sarony (UK Eclipse);
That was the same Leslie Sarony who wrote JOLLITY FARM that he recorded with Jack Hylton & His Orchestra
(UK HMV: 1930) and which was revived by The Bonzo Dog Band in '67.
A year before that, the Bonzos had revived another British musical hall favorite
MY BROTHER MAKES THE NOISES FOR THE TALKIES (Amberg/Raymond/Bernhauer/Ege)
originated by Albert Whelan in 1931.
One more dusty disc often played on the BBC in the 50's was THE BEE SONG (Kenneth Blain) by Arthur Askey (UK HMV: 1938). Arthur was a Liverpool-born comedian who starred in a very popular radio series in the late 30's called Band Waggon.
Another much-loved British entertainer was singer/comedienne/actress Gracie Fields who hailed from Rochdale in Northern England; she was a huge success beginning in the 20's and 30's both on the stage and in films and her repertoire included comedy songs such as WALTER, WALTER (Lead Me To The Altar) (Noel Forrester/Jimmy Harper/Will E. Haines)
in 1937 and THE BIGGEST ASPIDISTRA IN THE WORLD (Tommie Connor/Jimmy Harper/Will E. Haines) a year later.
During the second world war there were topical comedy songs such as
(We're Gonna Hang Out) THE WASHING ON THE SIEGFRIED LINE (Jimmy Kennedy/Michael Carr)
and Noel Coward's sardonic DON'T LET'S BE BEASTLY TO THE GERMANS.
In addition, there were novelty records to keep listeners spirits up such as CAN I DO YER NOW, SIR? (Stephens/Kavanagh) by Mrs. Mopp alias Dorothy Summers; released on UK HMV in '43, it was one of the catch-phrases from the hugely successful wartime radio series 'I.T.M.A.'. which starred Tommy Handley.
In 1951, record producer and musician Norrie Paramor collaborated with London-born actress Joyce Grenfell
on a revised arrangement of an old American song called NARCISSUS. Ms. Grenfell recorded this contemporary
version along with comedian Norman Wisdom and the single, sub-titled 'The Laughing Record',
was produced by Mr. Paramor for the UK Columbia label.
Following is an alphabetical list of my favorite British comedy records.
ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE (Eric Idle) by Monty Python
Pro: Eric Idle & Graham Chapman (UK Virgin: 1979) UK #3
Performed by Eric Idle and chorus in the Monty Python film "Life Of Brian" (Handmade Films/Orion: 1979).
ANY OLD IRON (Collins/Sheppard/Terry) Peter Sellers presents Mate's Spoffle Group Featuring Fred Spoons E.P.N.S.
Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1957) UK #17
On radio, on records and in motion pictures, Peter Sellers was one of England's greatest comedy stars.
This song was originally recorded by music hall star Harry Champion in 1911.
The same Harry Champion also recorded the 1910 copyright I'M HENRY VIII (Fred Murray/R.P. Weston)
which was revived in 1965 by Herman's Hermits as I'M HENRY VIII, I AM.
BANGERS AND MASH (Herbert Kretzmer/Dave Lee) by Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren
Acc dir: Ron Goodwin/Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1961) UK #22
From their 1960 "Peter And Sophia" album. Mr. Sellers & Miss Loren
starred in the 1960 romantic comedy film "The Millionairess".
BLOODNOK'S ROCK'N'ROLL CALL (Carbone) by The Goons featuring Major Dennis Bloodnok, 43rd Deserters (Rtd.)
w/Roland Rockcake & His Wholly Rollers Directed by Maurice Ponké (UK Decca: 1956) UK #3
(This was a double A side with THE YING TONG SONG, see below).
Major Dennis Bloodnok was one of Peter Sellers' revolving characters from BBC radio's long-running Goon Show.
ERNIE (The Fastest Milkman In The West) (Benny Hill) by Benny Hill w/The Ladybirds
Arr & Cond: Harry Robinson/Pro: Walter J. Ridley (UK Columbia: 1971) UK #1
TV's regular funnyman and on-screen girl-chaser Benny Hill had some local record success with other songs he wrote in the early 60's such as GATHER IN THE MUSHROOMS and HARVEST OF LOVE, but it was this parody of a cowboy song that catapulted him to the top of the British charts.
FOOTBALL CRAZY (Trad. Arr: Robin Hall/Jimmie MacGregor) by Robin Hall & Jimmy MacGregor (UK Decca: 1960) https://youtu.be/BN3CrpAKakQ
Hall & MacGregor were a Scottish folk duo who introduced this song on a BBC Television show
and it became a regular favorite on radio request programs.
A GNU (Michael Flanders/David Swann) by Michael Flanders & David Swann
Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1957)
Singer/lyricist Michael Flanders and singer/composer/pianist Donald Swann
wrote and performed comic songs and their stage revue "At The Drop Of A Hat"
became a huge London theatrical success in 1957. This track was recorded live at the Fortune Theatre in
London's west end. A GNU came from that show as did some of their other popular ditties including
THE HIPPOPOTAMUS SONG (Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud).
GOODBYEEE (Dudley Moore) by Peter Cook & Dudley Moore w/The Dudley Moore Trio (UK Decca: 1965) UK #18
Along with Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore
starred in a landmark British satirical comedy revue called "Beyond The Fringe"
which opened in 1960 in London.
They later introduced their popular 'Pete And Dud' characters and eventually 'Derek And Clive'.
GOODNESS GRACIOUS ME (Herbert Kretzmer/Dave Lee) by Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren
Acc dir: Ron Goodwin/Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1960) UK #4
The song is not from the Peter Sellers/Sophia Loren movie "The Millionairess"
but on this record, Peter uses the same accent of an Indian doctor that he adopted in the film.
(Co-writer Dave Lee cut a piano instrumental version of the tune on Top Rank).
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) by Peter Sellers
Acc Arr & Cond: George Martin/Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1965) UK #14
This was Peter Sellers reading the Beatles lyric as it might have been interpreted by Laurence Olivier as Richard III.
THE HOLE IN THE GROUND (Ted Dicks/Myles Rudge) by Bernard Cribbins
Acc dir: Gordon Franks/Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1962)
Character actor Bernard Cribbins graced the UK Top Ten in the spring of '62
with this amusing sound-effects-ridden tale of a road construction worker.
I'M THE URBAN SPACEMAN (Neil Innes) by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
Pro: Apollo C. Vermouth (Imperial: 1968)
Produced by Paul McCartney using a pseudonym. Written and sung by Neil Innes who,
apart from being a member of the Bonzos, also worked with the Monty Python troupe and was one of The Rutles.
I'M WALKING BACKWARDS FOR CHRISTMAS (Milligan/Carbone) by
The Goons with Nick Rauchen conducting The Ball's Pond Road near 'The One-In-Harmony' (UK Decca: 1956) UK #4 https://youtu.be/e61uC-5s9VU
Spike Milligan sings the Goons' Christmas sonnet.
LEANING ON A LAMP POST (Noel Gay) by George Formby & His Ukulele (UK Regal-Zonophone: 1937) https://youtu.be/3e53eJBwiKw
The north of England was a hotbed of entertainment talent and one of its finest stars was comedian George Formby; he was a huge success in music halls and films in the 1930's and 1940's and LEANING ON THE LAMP POST was his theme song, introduced in his film "Feather Your Nest" in 1937. He specialized in double entendres and suggestive songs; his other favorites included WITH MY LITTLE STICK OF BLACKPOOL ROCK.
LILY THE PINK (Trad. Arr: Roger McGough/Mike McGear/John Gorman) by The Scaffold
Arr & Cond: Mike Vickers/Pro: Norrie Paramor (UK Parlophone: 1968) UK #1
The Scaffold was a Liverpool group comprising Paul McCartney's brother, Mike McGear,
noted poet Roger McGough and comedic musician John Gorman. They were managed by Brian Epstein,
Graham Nash and Tim Rice also provided vocal support on the Scaffold single.
THE LUMBERJACK SONG (Terry Jones/Michael Palin/Fred Tomlinson) by Monty Python
w/Voices & Feet of the Fred Tomlinson Mounted Singers
Pro: George 'Onothimagen' Harrison (Charisma: 1975)
Sung by Michael Palin, the song first featured on the 9th episode of the first season of
BBC Television's "Monty Python's Flying Circus" in 1969.
MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN (Noel Coward) by Noel Coward (UK HMV: 1932)
The multi-talented British actor, playwright, film director and composer, Noel Coward was the sophisticated doyen of the country's entertainment world. This song was a favorite of Winston Churchill's.
MRS. WORTHINGTON Aka (DON'T PUT YOUR DAUGHTER ON THE STAGE) MRS. WORTHINGTON (Noel Coward)
by Noel Coward (UK HMV: 1935)
MY BOOMERANG WON'T COME BACK (Max Diamond/Charlie Drake) by Charlie Drake
Acc Dir: Johnnie Spence/Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1961) UK #14
(A version with a slightly altered lyric was issued here on United Artists and it charted at #21 in March, '62).
Pint-sized comedian Charlie Drake was a major British TV star in the late 50's and 60's.
His first hit there was a cover version of Bobby Darin's smash SPLISH SPLASH
coupled with a song built around Charlie's catch phrase HELLO MY DARLINGS.
MY OLD MAN'S A DUSTMAN (Ballad Of A Refuse Disposal Officer) (Lonnie Donegan/Peter Buchanan)
by Lonnie Donegan & His Group
Pro: Alan A. Freeman (UK Pye: 1960) UK #1
Recorded live at a cinema in Doncaster, England, this is skiffle king Lonnie Donegan's
comedic update of a traditional song resulting in a novelty hit that could only ever have happened in Britain!
POP GOES THE WEASEL (Trad. Arr: George Hackney) by Anthony Newley
Accom dir: Ian Fraser/Pro: Ray Horricks (UK Decca: 1961) UK #12
Cockney-born Tony Newley became a multi-talented entertainer: child actor, teen recording star, award-winning playwright, lyricist and Las Vegas headliner. He had previously scored a Top 3 UK hit with an update of
STRAWBERRY FAIR and here, he turned the children's nursery rhyme into a real swingin' affair.
RIGHT SAID FRED (Ted Dicks/Myles Rudge) by Bernard Cribbins
Acc dir: Johnnie Spence/Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1962) UK #10
In addition to their successes with Bernard Cribbins, Ted Dicks & Myles Rudge
also scored a local hit with their song A WINDMILL IN OLD AMSTERDAM by Ronnie Hilton on UK HMV in '65.
RUN, RABBIT, RUN (Noel Gay/Ralph Butler) by Flanagan & Allen (UK Decca: 1939)
Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen were members of a much-loved comedy troupe called The Crazy Gang.
Bud & Chesney sang a series of gentle popular ballads in the 30's and 40's also including their self-composed UNDERNEATH THE ARCHES and the American song UMBRELLA MAN (James Cavanaugh/Vincent Rose/Larry Stock).
Years later, Bud sang the Jimmy Perry/Derek Taverner song WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE KIDDING, MR. HITLER? as the opening soundtrack theme to BBC Television's hit 1960's TV sitcom "Dad's Army".
THE STATELY HOMES OF ENGLAND (Noel Coward) by Noel Coward w/His Majesty's Theatre Orchestra
cond: Francis M. Collinson (UK HMV: 1938)
This song was written for Noel Coward's 1938 musical "Operette". In 1961,
it perfectly set the scene as it was sung over the credits of the Universal comedy "The Grass Is Greener"
starring Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons.
THANK U VERY MUCH (Mike McGear) by The Scaffold
Acc Dir: Harry Robinson/Pro: Tony Palmer (UK Parlophone: 1967) UK #4
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS (Ron Grainer/Ned Sherrin/Caryl Brahms) by Millicent Martin with David Frost
Acc Dir: Johnnie Spence/Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1963)
Title song from BBC Television's immensely popular weekly satirical show fronted by David Frost. Each edition opened with this song, the lyric of which was altered so as to include references to the news of the day.
WHEN I'M CLEANING WINDOWS (George Formby/Harry Gifford/Fred E. Cliffe)
by George Formby & His Ukulele (UK Decca: 1936). Also recorded by George on Regal-Zonophone.
Performed by George Formby in his comedy film "Keep Your Seats, Please" (A.B.F.D: 1936) https://youtu.be/YJLmQgRODX0
THE YING TONG SONG (Spike Milligan) by The Goons w/Maurice Ponké & His Orchestre Fromage
(UK Decca: 1956) UK #3
Featuring the key characters Bluebottle (Peter Sellers), Eccles (Spike Milligan) and Neddie Seagoon (Harry Secombe). Reissued in 1973 when it reached #9 on the UK chart.
To complete my Top 30, here are two tracks which are not songs but first-class instrumentals...
EXPERIMENTS WITH MICE (Johnny Dankworth) by Johnny Dankworth & His Orchestra
Pro: George Martin (UK Parlophone: 1956) UK #7
Sax-playing jazz bandleader Johnny Dankworth (who was married to singer Cleo Laine)
narrated this series of brief arrangements of 'Three Blind Mice' in the styles of
Billy May, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Gerry Mulligan, Sauter-Finegan and Stan Kenton.
THE INTRO AND THE OUTRO (Vivian Stanshall) by The Bonzo Dog Band
Pro: Gerry Bron (UK Liberty: 1967)
An hilarious track from the band's debut album "Gorilla" (released here on Imperial), this finds the perfectly-spoken
Vivian Stanshall name checking an imaginary orchestra of both the Bonzos themeselves along with celebrities
and even a German dictator!
Finally, a list of just a few of the countless other British musical comedy and novelty records...
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A BEATLE (Gladys Benton) by Dora Bryan (UK Fontana: 1963)
THE BALLAD OF BETHNAL GREEN (Paddy Roberts) by Paddy Roberts (UK Decca: 1959)
THE CHICKEN SONG (Rob Grant/Doug Naylor) by Spitting Image (UK Virgin: 1986)
COMBINE HARVESTER (Melanie Safka) by The Wurzels (UK EMI: 1976)
COME OUTSIDE (Charles Blackwell) by Mike Sarne Featuring Wendy Richard (UK Parlophone: 1962)
D.I.V.O.R.C.E. (Bobby Braddock/Curly Putman) by Billy Connolly (UK Polydor: 1975)
DONALD, WHERE'S YOUR TROOSERS? (Andy Stewart/Neil Grant) by Andy Stewart (UK Top Rank: 1960)
DON'T JUMP OFF THE ROOF DAD (Cy Coben) by Tommy Cooper (UK Palette '61)
ENGLISH AS SHE IS SPOKEN (Eric Sykes) by Frankie Howerd (UK Columbia: 1950)
THE FUNKY GIBBON (Bill Oddie) by The Goodies (UK Bradley's: 1975)
FUNKY MOPED (Chris Rhomann) by Jasper Carrott (UK DJM: 1975)
GREEN GROW MY NADGERS, OH! (Trad. Arr: Barry Took/Marty Feldman) by Rambling Syd Rumpo
aka Kenneth Williams (UK Parlophone: 1967)
I'VE NEVER SEEN A STRAIGHT BANANA (Ted Waite) by Jimmy Edwards (UK Fontana: 1960)
A JOYOUS TIME OF YEAR (John Junkin/Dennis King) by Marty Feldman (UK Decca: 1968)
LITTLE RED MONKEY (Jack Jordan/Stephen Gale) by Joy Nicholls, Dick Bentley & Jimmy Edwards (UK Parlophone: 1953)
LITTLE WHITE BULL (Lionel Bart/Michael Pratt/Jimmy Bennett) by Tommy Steele (UK Decca: 1959)
LIVING DOLL (Lionel Bart) by Cliff Richard & The Young Ones Featuring Hank Marvin (UK WEA: 1986)
LOADSAMONEY (Doin' Up The House) (Harry Enfield/Charlie Higson/Paul Whitehouse/William Orbit)
by Harry Enfield (UK Mercury: 1988)
MAD PASSIONATE LOVE (Dick Sherman/Dave Coleman) by Bernard Bresslaw (UK HMV: 1958) USA
THE MARKET SONG (Peter Buchanan/Lonnie Donegan) by Lonnie Donegan & Max Miller (UK Pye: 1962)
THE MOLE IN A HOLE (Starr/Wolf/Andre) by The Southlanders (UK Decca: 1958)
MY BROTHER (Mitch Murray) by Terry Scott (UK Parlophone: 1962)
ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE (Eric Idle) by Eric Idle Featuring Richard Wilson (UK Victa: 1994)
SHAME AND SCANDAL IN THE FAMILY (Sir Lancelot/Lord Melody) by Lance Percival (UK Parlophone: 1962)
TIE ME KANGAROO DOWN SPORT (Rolf Harris) by Rolf Harris (UK Columbia: 1960)
'ULLO JOHN! GOTTA NEW MOTOR? (Alexei Sayle) by Alexei Sayle (UK Island: 1982)
YOU ARE AWFUL (But I Like You) (Bill Martin/Phil Coulter) by Dick Emery (UK Pye: 1972)
YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT (John Farrar) by Hylda Baker & Arthur Mullard (UK Pye: 1978)
Not all the above songs were of English origin;
for example, D.I.V.O.R.C.E. was Billy Connolly's parody of Tammy Wynette's country hit of the same name,
COMBINE HARVESTER was The Wurzels' parody of Melanie's BRAND NEW KEY
and TV actor Bernard Bresslaw's MAD PASSIONATE LOVE song was an American song
co-written by Dick Sherman of the Sherman Brothers songwriting duo.
"If you enjoyed this week's edition of The Door To Yesterday,
there's more where that came from!"
You might also like to check my earlier blog:
"Mirth Of A Nation: American Style"