The children of today get into pop music whilst still in Primary School. When I was a small child in the 1950s our mums and dads listened to adults’ music like Rosemary Clooney, Anne Shelton, Doris Day, Perry Como and Frankie Vaughan. I remember thinking it weird that so many of the songs seemed to be about love! We children had our own music. These were songs written and recorded as children’s songs. Some came from film musicals, some were based on traditional songs and others had been written simply to entertain kids. In the UK we had a radio programme called Children’s Favourites which was on the BBC’s Light Programme (Radio 2’s predecessor) on Saturday mornings from 9.00 am. Children wrote in with requests so every single record was preceded by the presenter reading out a message from a child saying which song they wanted to hear and why. From 1954 until 1965 the presenter was ‘Uncle Mac’ whose real name was Derek McCulloch and he’s the one I remember hearing every Saturday. The same songs were played, give or take a few, every week and carried on being popular for years not just weeks or months – and we loved them! I have written about some of the ones I remember best and I’ve also included any facts and figures I’ve discovered whilst researching for the post.
‘Uncle Mac’ the voice of Saturday mornings in the 1950s.
‘Sparky’s Magic Piano’ is the second in a series of children’s audio stories featuring Sparky, an original character created for Capitol Records in 1947. Sparky is a little boy with an overactive imagination. His adventures involve inanimate objects which magically come to life and talk to him. This is the one I remember best. Sparky’s voice was Henry Blair and the magic piano’s voice was created using a piece of equipment called Sonovox.
I was amazed to read that the song ‘The Laughing Policeman’ which I used to hear in the 50s had been recorded in 1926! Charled Penrose sang it and it was written by him and his wife but based on ‘The Laughing Song’ by George Johnson which was first recorded in the 1890s. This was proper music hall stuff!
Big Rock Candy Mountain next. I loved this song! I loved the way Burl Ives’ wonderful voice and the fantasy world described in the lyrics painted vivid pictures in your mind as you listened. His ‘I Know an Old Lady’ was another regularly played song.
In 1952, a film was released based on the life of Danish story teller Hans Christian Andersen. Several of the popular songs of the 50s were from this film. Danny Kaye starred as Andersen and sang the ones I remember best – ‘The King’s New Clothes’, ‘Thumbelina’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’.
Recorded in 1956, written by Ralph Butler and sung by Mandy Miller the song ‘Nellie the Elephant’ was used for many years to teach the correct rate for compressions in CPR in First Aid classes. Expert opinions differ so don’t take it as gospel!
The tune to ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ was written by John Walter Bratton in 1907 and the lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy in 1932. Irish born Kennedy lived in Somerset and is buried there. Local folklore claims that a wood in Staplegrove Elm, Somerset was the inspiration for the song. The popular 1950s version was recorded by Val Rosing.
This novelty song, written by Bob Merrill in 1952, is reputed to be loosely based on the folk tune Carnival of Venice. A recording by Lita Roza was the one most widely heard in the UK, reaching No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1953. It also distinguished Roza as the first British woman to have a number-one hit in the UK chart as well as being the first song to reach number 1 with a question in the title.
Two children’s Favourites perennials were ‘You’re a Pink Toothbrush’ and ‘Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer’ by Max Bygraves. He was seen as the amiable family man but was reputed to be a serial philanderer who had many extra-marital affairs, some resulting in children. He did, however, remain devoted to his wife until the end of her life when they were both in their late eighties.
Yorkshire born Ronnie Hilton was a popular ballad singer who had several hits in the 50s including a Number One hit in 1953. His very popular children’s song was ‘The Windmill in Old Amsterdam’.
This was such a fun song! So far I have been unable to find out whether ‘The Runaway Train’ is based on a true story. Liverpool born Holliday was hailed as Britain’s answer to crooners like Sinatra. However, he was plagued with mental health issues and died from a suspected overdose in his late thirties.
These were listened to on the radio and I never saw any pictures relating to the songs but I could picture them in my mind as clearly as if I was watching a music video as kids do today.
Pictures sourced using Google images, facts courtesy of Wikipedia.
Thanks too to my friend Lynn who reminded me about ‘High Hopes’ by Frank Sinatra. The song, from the 1959 film ‘A Hole in the Head’, describes two scenarios where animals do seemingly impossible acts. First, an ant moves a rubber tree plant by itself, then a ram single-handedly destroys a “billion kilowatt dam”. The song featured a chorus of children’s voices and has quite motivational lyrics – but I just thought it was a fun song!
Motivational words. Frank Sinatra in 1959.