Its The Only Bit Of English That Weve Got (Poor Old England)
Fred Godfrey & Harry Castling [EMI also credits Billy Williams], composed 1906; published London: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1907.
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This nationalistic, antifree trade effort was the first of scores of songs that Fred Godfrey provided Billy Williams, whose recording for Edison cylinders was among the earliest he ever made. Ironically, among Billy’s recordings of the song was one for Homophon, a label of German manufacture.
The Stage (25 July 1907), rounding up the acts at the Holborn Empire, noted that “Mr. Billy Williams is in high favour with his catchy number ‘Poor Old England,’ and the house on Monday clamoured for a second song.” Billy didn’t confine himself to Lonfdon halls either, with the Music Hall and Theatre Review (27 September 1907, p. 213) reporting his being “highly successful” for singing it at the Hippodrome, Leeds (20 September 1907, p. 196) and “amply rewarded” at the Pavilion, Newcastle-on-Tyne. The song’s political message, moreover, was not ignored, as a report on a political meeting in Chard, Somerset, in October 1909 attests:
The song even seems to have been given the motion picture treatment, as a February 1910 advertisement for the Electric Theatre, Constitutional Hall, Harlesden, northwest London (showing “The World’s First Animated Pictures”) included in its program a Vivaphone (The Picture That Sings To You) production called “Tis the only bit of English that we’ve got” (Willesden Chronicle, 11 February 1910, p. 6).
Billy Williams recorded three versions of this song: ca. October 1906 for Edison Standard, 26 June 1907 for Homophon, and 3 October 1909 for Zonophone. Reissues appeared on several other labels.2
Arthur Gilbert (Gramophone Concert GC-3-2920, 1907)
Frank Leslie (Edison Bell 10415, 1907)
Will Terry (Columbia D-126, 1908)
1 “Conservative van at Chard: Fireworks at an al fresco meeting,” Chard & Ilminster News, 16 October 1909, p. 2.