In this edition of Music Hall Studies you will find these great performers. Click on their names for a short taster.
Satire is a hazardous business. In 1948, the Western Brothers accepted the invitation to ‘take a crack at the government’ on the BBC show, Music Hall. Topical satire was an integral part of their constantly updated songs, which Kenneth and George drawled in upper-class tones, while attired in monocles and evening dress. Between songs, Kenneth told a story about a succession of interviewees for a job at the Coal Board. “Who do you think got the job? Don’t trouble to work it out. It was the nephew of Mr. Gaitskell.” A furore erupted.
As Eugene Stratton carved a career as a black-faced solo act, he attracted the attention of the composer, Leslie Stuart, who wrote his two best songs, Little Dolly Daydream and The Lily of Laguna. Unfortunately, the two men quarrelled at the races over the merits of one of the horses and their friendship ended. G.H. Elliott took over Stratton’s mantle as the singer of coon ditties. For several years, he was reluctant to perform The Lily of Laguna, arguing that it belonged to Stratton. Eventually, he agreed to include the song in his programme much to the delight of his followers.
Although he starred in two landmark BBC series, Band Waggon and Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, Richard Murdoch never achieved the fame of his co-stars, Arthur Askey in the former and Kenneth Horne in the latter. The reasons are not hard to find. Askey was a naturally funny man. Murdoch was a stooge, albeit a very good one. Horne had an extraordinary career – a businessman first and an entertainer second. Murdoch, who helped to write the scripts of both shows, found that the force of his personality was quashed by that of Horne.
Norman Long, who sang inoffensively comic songs to his own piano accompaniment, had one major claim to fame. He was one of the first entertainers to be heard on the radio – from Marconi House in November 1922 and then from the Savoy Hill studios. Up to that point, his billing matter had been “A song, a smile and a piano.” The punctilious BBC, insisting that a smile could not be heard, changed the billing to “a song, a joke and a piano.” They were, even then, wrong. The smile could be clearly heard on some of the recordings Norman made.