Category Archives: 1940s

War in Britain – great music in the US

Last week we were looking at three very different individuals and their music in the early months of the war – Noël Coward; Michael Carr (real name Maurice Alfred Cohen) and Hughie Charles an English songwriter and producer of musical theatre.   So, during the same time, what music was coming out from the USA music?

Well, Bing Crosby was the leading figure of the crooner sound as well as its most iconic, defining artist. By the 1940s he was an entertainment superstar who mastered all of the major media formats of the day, movies, radio, and recorded music.  Not too far behind Bing we can find Cabell Calloway – an American jazz singer and bandleader who was strongly associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem in New York City, where he was a regular performer.

Another man and performer of the times was Eddie Cantor (born Edward Israel Itzkowitz in January 1892). He was an American illustrated song performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor, and songwriter.  Familiar to Broadway, radio, movie, and early television audiences, this “Apostle of Pep” was regarded almost as a family member by millions because his top-rated radio shows revealed intimate stories and amusing anecdotes about his wife Ida and five daughters. His eye-rolling song-and-dance routines eventually led to his nickname, “Banjo Eyes”.  His eyes became his trademark, often exaggerated in illustrations, and leading to his appearance on Broadway in the musical ‘Banjo Eyes’ in 1941.

I could carry on with regard to the USA and a possible war but the US ‘powers that be’ were watching what was happening there and across in Europe but not taking the next step.  That may well come next week but for this week we can look at the top 5 songs recorded via the limited chart positions by the USA watchers:

At number 5 in the ratings was Billie Holiday with ‘God Bless the Child’   

At number 4 was Jimmy Dorsey with ‘Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)’. Jimmy was also in place at 3 with ‘Green Eyes’

At number 2 we can find ‘A String of Pearls’ from Glenn Miller who was also in place at number 1 with ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.

Numbers two and one would be noted by, and listened to, by people all over the world and Glenn Miller would receive the praise – but who actually composed ‘String of Pearls and ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’?  They were Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.

Harry Warren was an American composer and lyricist and was the first major American songwriter to write for his composing primarily for film. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song eleven times and won three Oscars for composing “Lullaby of Broadway”, “You’ll Never Know” and “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe”.  Over a career spanning four decades, Harry was one of America’s most prolific film composers with his songs have been featured in over 300 films.

Mack Gordon was a Jewish-American composer and lyricist of songs for stage and film and was nominated for the best original song Oscar nine times in eleven years, including five consecutive years between 1940 and 1944, and won the award once, for “You’ll Never Know”.

So – let’s finish this week’s story with the number one of 1941 – the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.

Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Track twenty nine, boy you can gimme a shine
I can afford to board a Chattanooga Choo Choo
I’ve got my fare and just a trifle to spare
You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham ‘n’ eggs in Carolina
When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga, there you are
There’s gonna be a certain party at the station
Satin and lace, I used to call funny face
She’s gonna cry until I tell her that I’ll never roam

 

In Britain the majority feel alone – but VERY determining.

Although the 2nd World War began with Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland in September 1939, the United States did not fully enter the war until after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, on 7th December 1941. The 1940 and 1941 conflict in Europe had received help and support from the USA – but mainly from a distance.  In Britain the majority felt alone – but VERY determining.  Music was a great support for all and as the conflict moved on into 1941 music was all around.  On 29th March Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was premiered in Carnegie Hall conducted by John Barbirolli.  On Saturday 10th May 1941 London’s Queen’s Hall – the venue for the Promenade Concerts – was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The Proms re-locate to the Royal Albert Hall and carried on with their performances.

Let’s have a look at three – different – individuals

One key member of the community was an individual that could displays skill at wordplay and evokes a feeling of both good humour and patriotic pride.  He was Noël Coward and the song poked fun at the disorder and shortages of equipment, supplies and effective leadership that the Home Guard experienced during the Second World War. The song was “Could You Please Oblige Us with a Bren Gun?” – a humorous song written and composed by Noël in 1941.  The subject of the song was the Bren light machine gun – a weapon in high demand and short supply in wartime Britain, especially in 1941, when the British military was still recovering from the massive loss of materiel and supplies at Dunkirk. First priority was given to the British Army and the Royal Marines, with the result that the units of the Home Guard, the very last line of defence, were quite unlikely to get one. As a result, members of the Home Guard often had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on- frequently old and outdated weapons.

Michael Carr – real name Maurice Alfred Cohen – was a British popular music composer and lyricist perhaps best remembered for the song ‘South of the Border Down Mexico Way’ for the 1939 film of the same name.  However – during World War II he served in the army and wrote “He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings” with Eric Maschwitz.  He was also ‘responsible for’ “Somewhere in France with Youin 1939.  He worked together with Jimmy Kennedy for ‘We’re Gonna Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line” and “A Handsome Territorial” in 1939; in 1941 with Popplewell on “The First Lullaby“; “A Pair of Silver Wings” (1941with Eric Maschwitz) and “I Love To Sing” (1943 with Paul Misrake & Tommie Connor)

Hughie Charles was an English songwriter and producer of musical theatre. Born Charles Hugh Owen Ferry in Manchester, he is best known for co-writing with Ross Parker the songs “We’ll Meet Again” and “There’ll Always be an England”. In 1938 he and Ross Parker had enjoyed their first hit, ‘I Won’t Tell A Soul (That I Love You)’ and followed that in 1939 with the defiantly optimistic ‘There’ll Always Be An England’ and ‘We’ll Meet Again’, both of which were successful for Vera Lynn, and many other artists.  Throughout the war years, Charles wrote more than 50 songs, mostly ballads, in collaboration with a number of other writers.

We’ll come back to these when the war has ended.

Music tells us stories as conflict begins

The years 1939 & 1940 are difficult to really put together in our story.  Britain was at war – the USA stood out of it.  On 31st August in Britain many civilians were evacuated from London while, in the USA, Bing Crosby was the leading figure of the ‘Crooner’ sound and was on his way to becoming a superstar of the 1940s.

In the USA ‘charts in 1939 at number 5 we find Louis Armstrong with ‘When the Saints Go Marching Home’ .  Billie Holiday is at number 4 with ‘Strange Fruit’  while number 3 gives us – Kate Smith with ‘God Bless America’  Number 2 delivers – Glenn Miller with ‘Moonlight Serenade’  and number 1 gives us – Judy Garland with ‘Over the Rainbow’

In early 1939s Britain still had the Depression to concern large parts of the population but a new “high society” had a developing and golden age of culture dawning.  The cinema industry was booming, with many people attending more than once a week to seek escapism from their daily struggles.

The 1939 Academy Awards saw 10 films nominated for Best Picture, among them classics that are still highly regarded today, including Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye Mr Chips and the winner Gone With the Wind.  Britain in 1939 also had their own popular music – but in no particular order – that contained:  ‘Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major’ by Art Noel & Don Pelosi; ‘On the Outside Always Looking In’ with words and music by Michael Carr who also wrote ‘Somewhere in France with You’‘South of the Border’ had words and music by Jimmy Kennedy & Michael Carr as had ‘We’re Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line’.   Two more numbers – ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘There’ll always be and England’  – with words by Hughie Charles & music by Ross Parker. 

To closed off this set let us have Gracie Fields, with Harry Parr Davies’s words and music, asking us all – and especially our fighting forces – to ‘Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodby’.

Before the conflict began Britain was importing about 55 million tons of food a year from other countries and a typical breakfast for a middle-class Brit consisted of porridge and milk or bacon and tomatoes. Lunch might be veal cutlets and boiled potatoes and, for dinner, a meal of creamed chicken and vegetables with baked rice pudding for dessert.  That food importation was halted in late 1939 when German submarines started attacking British supply ships. There was a worry that this would lead to shortages in food supplies, so in 1940, rationing was introduced. The Ministry of Food drafted in the original “celebrity chef” Marguerite Patten to devise lean wartime recipes, and radio shows such as the BBC’s Kitchen Front encouraged the nation’s housewives to wash – rather than peel – vegetables to increase their nutritional value and avoid unnecessary wastage.

It was on 7th May 1940 that the British House of Commons began a debate about the disastrous British campaign against the Germans in Norway. This turned into a vote of confidence in Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister. Although Chamberlain won the vote it was clear he had lost the confidence of his colleagues in the Conservative Party and the field became clear for Winston Churchill to take office. He took the post on 10th May 1940 – the same day that Germany invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg!

It was on 7th December 1941 that Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and very shortly after that the United States entered World War II

She was born Miss Mortenson

On 1st June 1926 a little girl was born and, in due time, was named Norma Jeane Mortenson.  She was born and raised in Los Angeles and spent most of her childhood in fosters homes and an orphanage.  She married at the age of 16 and, in 1944 while working as part of the war effort in a radioplane factory, she was introduced to a photographer from the ‘First Motion Picture Unit’.  Photographs were taken and she soon began a successful pin-up modelling career.  This work led to a short-livered film contracts with 20th Century Fox in 1946/7 and Columbia Pictures in 1948.  After a series of minor film roles she signed a new contract in 1951 with Fox and from there her career blossomed.  Oh – by the way – by now she had changed her name.

She was now known as Marilyn Monroe!

I think we might say a little bit more about this lady in the near future!

A story of a soccer team – my soccer team!

I’ve been a Manchester United supporter ever since they beat Blackpool 4-2 to win the FA Cup at Wembley in 1948.  Twenty years later – on Wednesday 29th May 1968 – I was on tenterhooks as I listened to another game at Wembley.  This one was the European Cup Final between Manchester United and the Spanish masters Benfica.  Bobby Charlton put United ahead 8 minutes into the second half; Benfica had equalized 20 minutes later and, but for a great save by United’s goalkeeper Alex Stepney from Eusébio, came close to defeat.  In extra-time goals from George Best (93 mins), Brian Kidd (94 mins) and Bobby Charlton (99 mins) made United 4-1 winners and me VERY happy!  Manchester United – ‘my team’ – had become the first English club to win the European Cup!

Ten years after the Munich air crash, which killed eight of Matt Busby’s young team, Manchester United had reached the pinnacle of European football again.  Celtic FC had become the first Scottish and British club to win the cup the previous year.  Manchester United were out to be the second.  United’s star player, George Best had been named European Footballer of the Year – just a fortnight after being named the British football writers’ Footballer of the Year.

At Wembley Stadium on 29th May 1968 there were100,000 supporters to watchers with an estimated 250 million TV viewers across Europe making it the biggest television audience since the World Cup final two years previous.  The match was to determine the winners of the 1967-68 European Cup – the 13th season of this trophy – a final being contested by Benfica of Portugal and Manchester United of England.  The first half passed in a flurry of fouls but no goals.  In the second half Bobby Charlton broke the stalemate with a headed goal to United but with just 10 minutes left Benfica scored the equaliser.  Things now got challenging and Benfica nearly won the match when Eusebio broke away from Nobby Stiles and blasted the ball towards the net.  However – United’s keeper, Alex Stepney, made the save and the game went into extra time.

The world now seemed to take care of United because two minutes into extra time Georgie Best put United ahead again, when he slipped round the Benfica keeper and gently tapped the ball over the line.  Two more United goals followed – one from the 19-year-old Brian Kidd and the last one from captain Bobby Charlton.  The ‘United’ had won 4-1.

Matt Busby – the United Manager said: “They’ve done us proud. They came back with all their hearts to show everyone what Manchester United are made of. This is the most wonderful thing that has happened in my life and I am the proudest man in England tonight.”

Matt Busby had been seriously injured in the crash that had claimed the lives of his so-called Busby Babes and there was speculation at the time that the club had been so badly damaged it would have to fold.  But they struggled on to complete the 1958/59 season and when Busby returned to the manager’s role the following season he began the task of rebuilding the side. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only survivors of the crash who played in today’s final. The European Cup marked the highlight of Matt Busby’s long career at Manchester United and he later received a knighthood from the Queen.  He retired after the following season to become the club’s general manager.

For George Best it was the highlight of his footballing career. The same year he was also named European Footballer of the Year and was regarded by many as one of the greatest footballing talents in the world, ranked alongside the Brazilian great Pele.

Bobby Charlton had a distinguished playing career for England and Manchester United. He scored 48 goals for England, a record which still stands. He was knighted in 1994.

Marlene Dietrich and the 2nd World War

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Marlene became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before some 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.  During two extended tours for the non-profit United Service Organizations Marlene – along with others such as comedians and musicians – provided live entertainment.

In 1943 Marlene assumed the honorary rank of Colonel in the American Army and began to make radio broadcasts – and then to make personal appearances on behalf of the American war effort.

In 1944 and 1945, Marlene performed for Allied troops in North Africa, Italy, France and the UK.  She also went into Germany – her place of birth – with Generals James Gavin and George Patton.  When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometres of German lines, she replied, aus Anstand“out of decency”.   Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower!

Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act for the first tour, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw – a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s – and a “mind reading” act that her friend Orson Welles had taught her for his Mercury Wonder Show.  Marlene would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!”

American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of her act.  Right or not – in 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategies Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project – a musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene was the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use.  A number of songs were made in German for the project and included “Lili Marleen”, a favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  Major General William J Donavan, the head of the OSS, wrote to Marlene, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for use.”

 

The birth of the United Nations

It was on Wednesday 24th October 1945 that the United Nations officially came into existence.  The charter had been signed by delegates from 50 member nations in San Francisco on Tuesday 26th June 1945 at the end of the United Nation Conference on International Organization.

The preamble to that Charter said:
‘We the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, … and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.’

A United Nations resolution of 1947 stated that 24th October would henceforth be known as United Nations Day ‘and shall be devoted to making known to the people of the world the aims and achievements of the United Nations, and to gaining their support for the work of the United Nation.’

Chris Tarrant – a man of many rolls

Christopher John Tarrant was born on Thursday 10th October 1946; was educated as a boarder in Choir House at the King’s School, Worcester where he represented the school at hockey and cricket. He briefly became a researcher for the Central Office of Information before becoming a newsreader on ATV Today.  It was in 1974 that things progressed. For 8 years between 1974 & 82 he hosted the ITV children’s television show Tiswas.  Two years later – in 1984 – he joined Capital Radio and was host for 20 years.  He is probably best remembered, though, for his 16 years on the ITV game show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’

In March 2014 he suffered a stroke at 39,000ft on a work flight from Thailand to London.  Doctors at Charing Cross Hospital, London, told him he’d had a stroke, and did emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his right leg. Chris recalls: “They were brilliant. I’m always aware that if I hadn’t gone I could be in a wheelchair. What happened makes me want to enjoy my life. I take medication and pills. I keep pretty active.  I’ve got a big rambling estate in Berkshire so I walk around hills as I can’t stand the gym. I think I’m mentally fit, too.”

A lady records a wartime scene in England’s conflict in 1941

Mrs Nella Last of Barrow-in-Furness was one of the many volunteer members across Britain of the Mass Observation Archive team – a community that had been set up in 1937 to observe British life by recording a day-to-day account of their everyday lives. These archives now give us a unique insight into the stories and experiences of British civilians going through a time when their country was at war.

This is from her diary for Saturday 13th September 1941 and Nella simply records seeing a child:

‘He was undersized, dirty, tousled and ragged. His poor little eyes were nearly closed with styes and when I touched his cheeks, his flesh had the soft, limp feeling of malnutrition.’

The war was having an impact on people no matter what their age.

Charlie’s daughter Geraldine is born.

On Monday 31st July 1944, Geraldine Chaplin was born in California. Her father was Charlie Chaplin and her mother, Oona O’Neill, was the daughter of the Irish playwright Eugene O’Neill. Charlie was in his mid fifties and Oona was just 18 when they married and Geraldine was the first of the eight children they had together.

Geraldine became multi-talented – before becoming an actress she studied ballet – and also became a successful  model.

However, she soon made herself multi-skilled becoming fluent in French and Spanish.  This enabled her to appear in films made by French, Spanish and English directors and, as a result, she was able to win awards for performances in all three languages!  One of her early roles was that of Tonya, the wife of Dr Zhivago in David Lean’s film.