245. Esther and Abi Ofarim – Cinderella Rockefeller (1968)

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Spring began with the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 on 1 March. Reducing the right of entry for immigrants from the British Commonwealth to the UK, I’m sure it will have made Enoch Powell a happy man. The following day, coal mining in the Black Country, which had played a big part in the Industrial Revolution, came to an end after some 300 years with the closure of Baggeridge Colliery near Sedgley.

Ten days later on 12 March, Mauritius gained independence from British rule, and three days later the Foreign Secretary George Brown resigned from his post. One of the most colourful Labour MPs of the decade, Brown had a big drink problem, and following his resignation, Private Eye coined the phrase ‘tired and emotional’ to hint at his alcoholism. 17 March saw a demonstration in Grosvenor Square, London against the Vietnam War. The protest became violent, leading to 91 police injured and 200 demonstrators arrested.

What was the soundtrack to these tense times in? Surely something like Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones? No, it was this weird little one-hit wonder – Cinderella Rockefeller, by Israeli husband-and-wife Esther and Abi Ofarim.

Esther Zaied was born in Safed in 1941 to a Syrian Jewish family. She was performing as a child, and loved singing Hebrew and international folk songs. In 1958, she met musician and dancer Abi. Born Abraham Reichstadt in what is now Israel in 1937, he was also a precocious talent, attending ballet school at 12 and owner of his own dance studio at 18. The duo married in either 1958 or 1961 depending on where you look, and were performing as Esther and Abi Ofarim from 1959 onwards. At the same time, Esther would perform solo and won the Song Festival in Tel Aviv in 1961.

Two years later she entered Eurovision, representing Switzerland with the French song T’en vas pas. As the competition drew to a close, Esther looked to be the winner, but due to a last-minute change in the scores from Norway, she lost out to Denmark.

After this disappointment, their career as a duo went from strength to strength in Germany. They had their first hit in 1966 with Noch einen Tanz, and the following year their biggest hit in that country, Morning of My Life, which was written by Barry Gibb as In the Morning, which the Bee Gees had recorded before moving to the UK.

Later that year they recorded Cinderella Rockefella. This bizarre novelty song had been written by US Grammy award-winning classical guitarist Mason Williams and folk singer Nancy Ames, known in America at the time for being a regular on their version of That Was the Week That Was. Together they had written the theme to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

What fresh hell is this? Cinderella Rockefella comes across as a demented version of I Got You Babe, set to the theme of sitcom Steptoe and Son. I was aware of the tune beforehand but assumed it was sung by, I don’t know, perhaps a pair of old comics or actors. So it came as a shock to see it was actually a young Israeli married couple who resembled models. It is, as far as I’m aware, the only song by Israelis to reach the top, and it’s the first to feature yodelling since the days of Frank Ifield in 1963.

I do normally love the more unusual, eccentric side of pop, and I don’t actually mind the rickety 20s-30s-tinged Cinderella Rockefella to begin with. But after 30 seconds or so Esther’s shrill yodel in particular becomes a little bit like some kind of torture, and Abi’s almost as awful in his smugness. The lyrics are awful. And yet, you will end up with that mad bastard of a tune in your head for some time afterwards. So there you go, proof that the late 60s may have been a great time for music, but the charts were still prone to irritatingly catchy weird stuff at times.

Apparently Cinderella Rockefeller was the final song played on Radio Caroline. What an awful way to go out. Williams recorded his own version of the duet he co-wrote later in 1968 with Jennifer Warren. Warren was later very well known for duets, too – as Jennifer Warnes, she recorded Up Where We Belong with Joe Cocker, and (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life with Bill Medley, for An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Dirty Dancing (1987) respectively.

As for Esther and Abi Ofarim, well, they recorded the promo you can see above, in which they parade the streets of London, one glammed up and one in top hat and tails. Their song topped the charts elsewhere too, and they toured the world in 1969. However, they divorced in Germany in 1970, and inevitably the musical partnership was over too.

After going their separate ways, Esther ended up performing on the late Scott Walker’s 1970 album ‘Til the Band Comes In (their manager, Ady Semel was also Walker’s, and he wrote lyrics for the album). Semel even talked up the idea of the duo becoming more permanent, but nothing came of it. She recorded an eponymous solo album of folk songs with orchestral arrangements in 1972. Since then, she has disappeared into obscurity, but there are videos out there if a beaming Esther performing in Hamburg in 2017.

Abi continued in music too, but developed alcohol and drug problems. He also became a manager through his company PROM, and, somewhat bizarrely, managed one of the greatest groups of all time, Can, before he was sacked in the early 70s. He mounted legal challenges but they ended badly for him. In 1979 he was arrested for posession of drugs and suspected tax evasion and sentenced to a year on probation. Abi documented his issues in his autobiography Der Preis der wilden Jahre (The Price of the Wild Years) in 1982.

In 2009 he released his first album in 27 years, Too Much of Something, with his long flowing locks on the cover, he looked rather like Iggy Pop with a tan. Five years later he began running Jugendzentrum für Senioren (Youth Center for Elderly People) in Munich to help lonely old people. Abi Ofarim died in May 2018, aged 80.

Written by: Mason Williams & Nancy Ames

Producers: Abi Ofarim & Chaim Semel

Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 February-19 March)

Births:

Actor Daniel Craig – 2 March
Actress Patsy Kensit – 4 March
Politician Theresa Villiers – 5 March
Politician Paul Marsden – 18 March 

204. Ken Dodd – Tears (1965)

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7 October 1965. A 27-year-old stock clerk named Ian Brady was charged with the murder of 17-year-old apprentice electrician Edward Evans the night before. Myra Hindley’s brother-in-law David Smith had witnessed Brady striking Evans with the flat of an axe and then strangling him with electrical cord. Smith had been friends with Brady for a while, but when he told his wife Maureen Hindley what he had seen, she told him to ring the police. The arrest led British Transport Police to discover suitcases belonging to Brady at Manchester Central railway station. Inside one of them were incriminating, disturbing photos of a young girl, as well as a tape of her voice pleading for help. Myra Hindley was arrested on 11 October and both she and Brady were charged with Evans’ murder. Police searches led them to believe that the duo were responsible for the murders of several children reported missing in the Manchester area over the last few years, and on 16 October, the body of ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey was found on Saddleworth Moor.

As news reports pieced together the horrific story of the Moors Murderers, Brady and Hindley were charged with Downey’s murder on 21 October. Three days later police found the decomposed body of 12-year-old John Kilbride, who had been missing since November 1963. Brady and Hindley were charged in court with the murders of Evans, Downey and Kilbride on 29 October.

As this terrible story unfolded that October, an unlikely chart star was at number 1. Comedian Ken Dodd’s Tears’ reign of the singles chart lasted a mind-boggling five weeks. Not only that, it was the best-selling single of 1965 – a year featuring some of the greatest number 1s there has ever been. How did this happen?

Kenneth Arthur Dodd was born 8 November 1927 in Knotty Ash, Liverpool. He sang in the local church choir, and at 14 he left school to work for his father as a coal merchant. Despite this, he was in love with the idea of being an entertainer, and his father bought him a ventriloquist’s dummy, which he named Charlie Brown. Dodd began his showbiz career performing at the local orphanage. His trademark bucked teeth came about as a result of Dodd being dared by his friends to ride his bike with his eyes closed.

His big break came in 1954 when he turned professional at the age of 26. He performed as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter at the Nottingham Empire. It’s fair to say his eccentric humour was already well in place by this point. He gained top billing for the first time in Blackpool in 1958. With his unusual appearance, quickfire one-liners, and lengthy performances, he became a big star. Over the years his tales of the Diddy Men, jam butty mines and Knotty Ash (where he lived all his life) made him a true family entertainer. His shows became so long he even entered the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest joke-telling session – 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours.

His sets would also feature songs. Dodd was no great shakes as a singer, but he wasn’t bad either, and off the back of his fame he started releasing singles, his first being Love is Like a Violin in 1960. It went to number eight, but for the next few years his records only made it into the top 30, including Happiness, which became his signature song. Which makes it unlikely that anyone including Dodd would have expected Tears to do as well it did. Originally called Tears for Souvenirs, the words were by Frank Capano and music by Frank Uhr. Recorded by Rudy Vallee in 1929, it was based on Delilah’s aria Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix (Softly awakes my heart) from Act II of Camille Saint-Saëns’s opera 1877 opera Samson and Delilah.

Dodd’s performance on Tears, like most of his singles, is played straight, and yes, he sings it well enough, although it’s a very mannered performance, with every line pronounced to perfection. But it’s not even Dodd’s best single – Happiness is more memorable (it’s the only other one I’ve heard and I can’t say I’m in a hurry to hear any others). It’s a throwback to the pop singles of the early-to-mid-1950s. As the crimes of the Moors Murderers came to light, I’d imagine that the British public, whether subconsciously or not, chose to a very safe song to listen to that was reminiscent of more innocent times. This can’t be proved though, and it still doesn’t explain exactly how big this song was. In addition to being the best seller of 1965, Tears was the third biggest single of the 60s and the only one in the top five that wasn’t by fellow scousers, the Beatles. In 2017 it was revealed as the 39th biggest single of all time. Incredible statistics for such a random, average track. Basically, I don’t know why it was so popular. It’s yet another example of the weird and wonderful world of the UK singles chart. My only prior knowledge of it came from a snippet being sang in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s I’m Bored in 1967.

Dodd’s music career peaked in the mid-60s, with further top ten entries for The River (Le Colline Sono In Fioro) and Promises. Occasionally he branched out into straight acting, in theatre (a production of Twelfth Night in 1971), TV (Doctor Who in 1987) and cinema (Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet in 1996). I remember finding Dodd funny as a child and wondering what the tax evasion case of 1989 was all about. I didn’t like the idea of such an odd man as Dodd behind bars, but he was acquitted and the media spotlight didn’t hurt his career.

Dodd was a national treasure and one of the last great British eccentrics. Over the years he recieved an OBE, was knighted and received award after award. Behind the laughter, like with so many comics, there was sadness. Dodd was in a relationship with Anita Boutin from 1955 until she died of a brain tumour in 1977. A year later he fell in love with Anne Jones, and they married on 9 March 2018, two days before he died. They had wanted children but were unable, and the details of his tax evasion had included failed rounds of IVF. When they wed, Dodd had just been released from hopsital, where he had been for six weeks due to a chest infection.

Ken Dodd died in his childhood home in Knotty Ash on 11 March this year, aged 90. The showbiz world mourned the loss of a beloved figure.

Although the Moors Murders were the biggest story in the autumn of 1965, the news wasn’t all so horrific. On 30 September the first episode of ATV’s much-loved puppet series Thunderbirds aired on ITV, and 18 October saw The Magic Roundabout premiered on BBC One. On 8 October the iconic Post Office Tower opened in Londond, remaining the capital’s tallest building until 1980.

The drama in Rhodesia continued, with African countries demanding on 22 October that the UK use force to prevent it from declaring unilateral independence. Two days later, Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations Arthur Bottomley travelled there to negotiate with their Prime Minster Ian Smith.

Written by: Billy Uhr & Frank Capano

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 September-3 November) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Comedian Steve Coogan – 14 October
Actor Stephen Tompkinson – 15 October
Disc jockey Steve Lamacq – 16 October
Bush singer Gavin Rossdale – 30 October 

137. Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard – Come Outside (1962)

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April 1962 had seen the release of Carry On Cruising, the sixth film in the series. By this point, the movies had developed (or regressed depending on which way you look at it) into bawdy innuendo-laden comedies – saucy seaside postcards on film. Sid James and Kenneth Williams were topping the bills, and this type of humour remained incredibly popular for years to come. So it comes as no surprise that eventually someone would try to capture this essence on vinyl. Writer and producer Charles Blackwell was the guilty party that came up with Come Outside.

Blackwell had been working with genius producer Joe Meek, and had helped arrange Johnny Remember Me, so we’re clearly talking about someone who should know better. Its singer, John Leyton, was an actor, and a starring role in a soap had helped the single get to number 1. Perhaps he had this in mind, as Leyton was managed by future influential figure Robert Stigwood, who also managed Mike Sarne.

Sarne, born Michael Scheuer in 1940, was primarily an actor, but also dabbled in music. He provided phonetic transcriptions to guide singers including Leyton and Billy Fury in cutting German versions of their hits. It seems that Blackwell approached Stigwood with Come Outside, and one of them considered Sarne perfect for the job. At the time, a young actress called Wendy Richard was working as his secretary. Although she was born in Middlesbrough, she had developed a strong line in sardonic putdowns, spoken in a broad Cockney accent. Stigwood thought she could make the perfect comic foil for Sarne, but Blackwell wasn’t keen. Let’s be grateful Stigwood won out, because if he hadn’t, the song would seem even seedier than it became.

It’s important to remember just how popular smutty comedy was in the 1960s and 70s when listening to Come Outside. I’m not defending it – it’s bloody awful, and this is from someone with a soft spot for the Carry On films – but context is everything. This is a comedy song, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but in the era of #MeToo, it makes for uncomfortable listening.

Musically, Come Outside isn’t too bad. It’s a catchy tune, and it doesn’t sound too far removed from the Merseybeat sound that was yet to come. Mike Sarne is performing the song as a cheeky Cockney rogue who’s just dying to get his ‘little doll’ outside for a bit of ‘slap and tickle’ as he calls it. The trouble is, Wendy Richard would rather listen to the band that’s performing. And so Sarne goes on and on, in this awful, flat Cockney voice, harassing her to join him because ‘There’s a lovely moon out there’. I don’t think astronomy is on his mind for one second, and Richard’s character is no fool either. In fact, she played a slightly older version of this character for years in Are You Being Served?. Miss Brahms spent most of her time fending off the amorous Mr Lucas, and various characters that replaced him, throughout the 70s, using sarcasm as her main form of defence. Did Perry and Croft know this song well enough to give her the part on the basis of this performance? You could almost congratulate her character in this song for refusing to take any crap, but sadly by the end of Come Outside, she can’t take his moaning any longer, and Sarne gets his way as the song fades out.

This song didn’t seem to come up too much in obituaries for Richard when she died of breast cancer in 2005, and I had no idea she’d had a number 1 single until I began researching this. You can’t blame anyone for preferring to concentrate on her long -running roles as Miss Brahms and then Pauline Fowler as EastEnders, the latter of which made her a national treasure. I wouldn’t blame Richard for wanting to keep quiet about Come Outside either. Sarne eventually ditched music and moved solely into acting and directing, but before then he made other songs, including Will I What?, which repeated the number 1 formula but with Billy Davis in the female role. This time, she puts him off by mentioning marriage and he suddenly remembers he’s meant to be with the boys down the pub. Oh that lad! What a cad/dickhead!

In other news during July 1962, the month began with more heavy smog over London, making the summer air, darkening the summer mood. Laurence Olivier became the first artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre, upon its opening on 3 July. And on 11 July, live television was broadcast from the US to the UK for the first time via the Telstar communications satellite, with the first public transmission on 23 July. Blackwell’s associate and electronics obsessive Joe Meek was no doubt watching from his flat-cum-studio, and an idea for a song was forming.

UPDATE: The Wikipedia entry for this song mentions a remake in 1991 for Children in Need, performed by Samantha Fox, Frank Bruno, Liz Kershaw and Bruno Brookes. I naturally assumed this was a joke, but apparently, such a thing exists! If anyone can point me in the direction of this, I can die happy. An official Children in Need song about a man pestering his girlfriend for sex – and they say the 70s were politically incorrect…

ANOTHER UPDATE: I’ve found the video!

Written & produced by: Charles Blackwell

Weeks at number 1: 2 (28 June-11 July)

Births:

Actress Amanda Donohoe – 29 June
Actor Neil Morrissey – 4 July 

132. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – The Young Ones (1962)

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Exactly a year to the day since Cliff had last held the top spot in the singles chart, the boy wonder scored his fifth number 1 with one of his most memorable songs. The Young Ones was the title track to his latest film, released at the end of 1960. After aping Elvis with his music, Cliff’s management had decided he should also become a movie star, and this was his third feature film.

The musical revolved around his character Nicky, an aspiring singer whose youth club was threatened by the millionaire property developer Hamilton Black (Robert Morley), who planned to replace the youth club with an office block. The youth club members decide to put on a show to save the club, but guess what? Nicky is Hamilton’s son! Families, eh? In the end, Hamilton is so proud of his son’s burgeoning success, he decides to join the young ones singing and dancing on stage. Lovely. The cast also featured Carole Gray as Cliff’s romantic interest, and the Shadows were also on board, although it was decided they weren’t very good at acting, so they were relegated to non-speaking roles, and Hank Marvin and Jet Harris’s roles were taken by future sitcom stars Richard O’Sullivan (Man About the House) and Melvyn Hayes (It Ain’t Half Hot Mum).

The film’s title track was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C Bennett, who were behind the group’s second number 1, Travellin’ Light. They also had experience in writing for Presley’s films. The Young Ones is a pretty successful attempt at defining the spirit of teenagers, which let’s not forget were still a pretty new concept back in 1962. Some critics take exception with Norrie Paramor’s strings, and I can see their point. He certainly was guilty of over-egging things when producing (see Walkin’ Back to Happiness) at times. However, I feel the arrangement works and adds to the air of wistfulness in the lyrics. As is often the case, the star of the show is Hank Marvin, who provides yet another memorable guitar line. Although Cliff was adored, I do wonder how successful he would have been in the early years without such a great guitarist behind him. Incidentally, the drummer on the soundtrack is Tony Meehan, who by the time of this release was no longer with the Shadows – he had been replaced by Brian Bennett.

It seems to me that The Young Ones is the first number 1 that revealed pop was becoming aware of the passing of time; recognising that youth is only temporary and will soon be in the hands of another generation. It was one of Cliff’s biggest ever hits, becoming the first British song to shoot straight to the top, and is certainly among his best work. I may look upon it favourably because it’s caught up in childhood memories. I recall playing my parents’ record – it must have been one of the earliest pieces of vinyl in the family collection (it probably belonged to my mum, she was a Cliff fan, and by coincidence has the same name as his 1980s romantic interest, Sue Barker) – and comparing it to the version I preferred. I’m referring of course to the fact that 20 years after its release, Tepper and Bennett’s song became the name of one of the most influential sitcoms of all time – BBC2’s The Young Ones.

I was only three when Rik, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike first burst onto our screens in 1982, so it’s unlikely I can remember that far back, but I can still remember wanting to cry when the final episode was first shown, and I was only five then! I’m not sure it’s right that my parents should have let me watch such a show so young, but I’m forever grateful they did. Of course, I didn’t know just how brilliant a show it was, I was just laughing at the cartoon violence, but there had never been anything like it. The theme tune was a suitably anarchic version of the original, sang by the cast, with Rik Mayall’s voice the most notable. Rik’s character was the Cliff fan, so this made sense. It was also entirely appropriate because if there was ever a comedian who realised the importance of staying young, it was Mayall. I grew up watching him on The Young Ones, remember his reading of George’s Marvellous Medicine on Jackanory, became an awkward teenager when Bottom arrived on TV, and like so many others, was shocked when he died in 2014. He was 56, which is no age to go, but he seemed so much younger than that, because he kept that spark of life that usually dims over time. I still can’t believe he’s gone, really, and the photo of his comedy partner Ade Edmondson helping to carry his coffin is such a tragic sight. Hearing a snotty Mayall singing ‘Cos we may not be the young ones very long’ now sounds desperately sad to me.

This won’t be the last time this blog notes the connection between Cliff and The Young Ones, of course – unless something happens and I don’t get as far as 1986. That year they collaborated on the first Comic Relief single, recording a new version of Cliff’s first number 1, Living Doll. Special mention should also go to Viv Stanshall & Kilgaron’s 1976 version of The Young Ones, in which the eccentric former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band singer played it surprisingly straight. Another hero who went far too young, Stanshall was only 51 when he died in 1995 in an accidental fire while asleep in his flat.

My apologies for having mentioned death so much in a blog concering a song about youth! I’ll endeavour to completely avoid it next time…

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 January-21 February)

Births:

Broadcaster Emma Freud – 25 January
Comedian Eddie Izzard – 7 February
Comedian Hugh Dennis – 13 February 
Presenter Vanessa Feltz – 21 February

Deaths:

Historian RH Tawney – 16 January

118. The Temperance Seven with vocal refrain by Mr Paul McDowell – You’re Driving Me Crazy (1961)

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The 1961 number 1s really were all over the place, and this is as sure a sign as any. The Temperance Seven were a group of young men performing jazz covers from the 1920s and 30s, and their cover of You’re Driving Me Crazy was an affectionate look back to an earlier period in recorded music – indeed, the era in which vinyl recordings first became popular. They were retro before the term existed (I think).

The Temperance Seven were founded at Christmas in 1955 by students at the Chelsea School of Art. Its three founder members were Paul McDowell on trombone, Phillip Harrison on banjo and drummer Brian Innes. Eventually they expanded to a nine-piece, and their name was suggested to them by Douggie Gray from the Alberts, an influential comedy group of the era. Why the number seven, when there were nine of them? It’s an ironic use of the word ‘temperance’ which my tired brain doesn’t really get right now. In 1960 they recorded with Goons comedian Peter Sellers, and their producer was George Martin. Martin had joined EMI in 1950, and took over the Parlophone imprint five years later. It was regarded as relatively unimportant back then, and was mostly used for classical, novelty and comedy recordings. Martin’s work with Sellers became well-known, and more and more comedians began working with him, so the Temperance Seven seemed a natural act for Martin to produce.

You’re Driving Me Crazy had been written by Walter Donaldson in 1930. The song became a hit for several acts, including Lee Morse. It also featured in the racy Betty Boop cartoon, Silly Scandals, the following year. While singing the song, Boop’s dress kept falling down, to reveal a lacy bra and make her squeal. Shocking stuff at the time. Like many of Donaldson’s songs, this track became a standard, and was later recorded by Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé and Peggy Lee, to name but a few. Donaldson also wrote Makin’ Whoopee, My Baby Just Cares For Me, and Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for decades, and have seen the Temperance Seven name-checked many times in relation to them, so I had high hopes for You’re Driving Me Crazy, but was left rather disappointed. There’s none of the anarchic spirit of the Bonzos here, it just seems a very straight and stiff run-through of a Donaldson song that isn’t as good as any of the ones I’ve listed above. McDowell’s vocal doesn’t have the character that dear old Vivian Stanshall had. I now understand why some Bonzo band members would be annoyed by the Temperance Seven comparison – it’s quite lazy really. The intro and the end go on far too long too, though that is entirely in keeping with most recordings of the 20s and 30s. Having said that, I like Martin’s production just before the final vocal kicks in, in which the instruments create this kind-of circular sound (my apologies, I’m not great with proper musical terms).

Nonetheless, for a time the Temperance Seven were big, with Paul McDowell having to quit his role in the Experimental Theatre Club revue. He was replaced by future Monty Python’s Flying Circus member Terry Jones. Later in the summer of 61 they appeared at the London Palladium for a fortnight run as top of the bill. It was never going to last, though, and the original incarnation disbanded in the mid-60s, just as the Bonzos were starting to make a name for themselves with riotous performances at the Bull’s Head in Barnes. Chris Hook took charge of the band when they reformed in the 80s, and this incarnation still tours today. McDowell went on to star in Porridge as Mr Collinson, and died aged 84 in 2016. And producer George Martin? Well, his name is going to crop up a fair few more times, obviously.

Written by: Walter Donaldson

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 1 (25-31 May)

Births:

Comedian Harry Enfield – 30 May 

99. Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) (1960)

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Following Johnny Preston’s Running Bear, the charts took another strange turn. ‘King of Skiffle’ Lonnie Donegan was back, but skiffle wasn’t. It burnt out not long after his second number 1, Gamblin’ Man/Puttin’ On the Style in 1957. So what style was Donegan putting on now? Sadly, it was music hall.

My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) had its origins in the song My Old Man’s a Fireman (On the Elder Dempster Line), which was a student’s union song in Birmingham before becoming popular with soldiers during World War One. Donegan and his band would perform this on stage, and at some point some foolish A&R man told him he thought it could be a hit. The band adapted it, and once they had enough to work with, decided to record it. My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) was credited to Donegan and his road manager Peter Buchanan. After its original release, Beverley Thorn also received a credit. Thorn was in fact a pseudonym for Leslie Bricusse, who was soon to enjoy a fruitful writing partnership with Anthony Newley. Why Beverley Thorn? No idea.  The single was recorded live at Gaumont Cinema in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 20 February, and released a month later, hitting the top very quickly. Why? Again, no idea.

The fact a man responsible for pioneering music like Rock Island Line and Cumberland Gap should become best known for such a dire song is criminal. My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) should have remained a live skit and nothing more. Now obviously, it made him number 1 for a third time, and opened him up to a new audience, but the release shocked hardcore skiffle fans, and did his credibility no good at all. I have to side with the skiffle fans. I’m no purist, and I have plenty of time for comedy songs too, but I can’t hear anything funny here at all. For example:

‘Lonnie: I say, I say, I say!
Les: Huh?
Lonnie: My dustbin’s full of lilies
Les: Well throw ’em away then!
Lonnie: I can’t: Lily’s wearing them’

Clearly music hall still had a place in the 60s. In fact it was still popular into the 80s, judging by the success of the BBC’s The Good Old Days. Also, Donegan released this at exactly the right time, as, with Adam Faith and Anthony Newley scoring two number 1s each, cockney singers were clearly the in thing. But that craze died down very soon, and by 1962, as several of the acts inspired by him began to make waves, Donegan fell out of favour with mainstream audiences, and he turned to producing instead. In the mid-70s he temporarily reunited with the rest of the Chris Barber Band, but was waylaid by a heart attack in 1976. Two years later, his album Putting On the Style featured re-recordings of his old tracks, with backing from big names such as Ringo Starr, Brian May and Elton John. By the end of the millennium, Donegan had the reputation of a music legend, appearing at Glastonbury Festival in 1999 and becoming an MBE in 2000. However, he had continued to suffer heart problems, and passed away in 2002 at the age of 71.

Lonnie Donegan has been one of the revelations of this blog for me. Although highly-regarded at the end of his life, I feel he should be considered more important for his influence on British music. Had it not been for his incendiary recordings and shows in the mid-50s, the Beatles, the Who and Led Zeppelin may not have existed, and we may have been permanently stuck with the safe pop and easy listening that was so popular in 1960. Cumberland Gap was a very close runner-up for the best number 1 of the 50s, as I stated here. It’s best to remember him for that, and look upon My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) as a bad joke that got out of hand.

During Donegan’s final four-week rule of the charts, a Mr Bill Griggs of Northampton began marketing Dr Martens boots on 1 April. A week later, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had their second son christened as Andrew Albert Christian Edward, and on 17 April the music world was shocked when US rock’n’roll star Eddie Cochran, who was touring Britain, was killed in a car crash in Wiltshire. There’ll be more on him in a future blog.

Written by: Lonnie Donegan, Peter Buchanan & Beverly Thorn

Producers: Alan A Freeman & Michael Barclay

Weeks at number 1: 4 (31 March-27 April)

Births:

Athlete Linford Christie – 2 April
Soprano Jane Eaglen – 4 April
Presenter Jeremy Clarkson – 11 April
Chef Gary Rhodes – 22 April
Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor – 26 April
Author Ian Rankin – 28 April