Why Can’t We Have The Sea In London?



Fred Godfrey & Billy Williams — London: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1911; Swedish lyrics by Ture Nerman, 1912.

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This Fred Godfrey song has the honour of being mentioned in the very first paragraph of the first chapter of Peter Ackroyd’s acclaimed book, London: The Biography.1 What better accolade could a song have than to be remembered — and in connection with the world’s greatest city? The song has also been used, improbably, in two Swedish films, Åh, i morron kväll (1919, a silent film. but the song presumably was indicated for the accompanying music); and Boman får snurren, starring Åke Söderblom (1949).

Why Can’t We Have The Sea In London was yet another Godfrey song that found its way into the trenches of the Western Front:

Gunner E.R. Fletcher, of the R.F.A. [Royal Field Artillery] writing home to his parents in Ramsgate, describes the delights of “yachting” in the trenches: We are having tons of rain out here now, he says, 2ft. 3 in. deep in some places It is possible to sail down the trenches, and this we did the other day. We got the foot-boards, stuck a broom handle in the centre, with a large sheet of brown paper for a sail, and there you are....Oh yes, the bathing season has commenced, he adds; but but high diving is barred at present. Why go to the Cornish Riviera, when you can come here by the quickest and cheapest route, free of all cost? They are singing “Why can’t we have the sea In London?” Well, it is because we have got it in the trenches!2

Scala 233-ARegal G6010-BJohn Bull B66-A



Billy Williams recorded no fewer than nine versions of this popular hit: ca. August 1911 for Columbia-Rena, ca. August 1911 for Edison Standard Cylinder, ca. August 1911 for Homophon, ca. August 1911 for Jumbo, 9 September 1911 for Zonophone, ca. September 1911 for Edison Amberol, ca. September-October 1911 for Pathé, ca. December 1911 for Beka Grand, and 12 January 1912 for Favorite. Reissues appeared on several other labels.3

J. Thorby (Clarion 554, 1911) [cylinder]

Jumbo Military Band, in “Jumbo Band Medley 2” (Jumbo 617, 1912)

George Belton, in 7-LP set “Palace Of Varieties — Old Time Music Hall” (BBC CN-1426, 1976 reissue of recordings made 1952–58)


Film Interpolations

Åh, i morron kväll (1919); Boman får snurren (1949).



1   Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography (London: Chatto & Windus, 2000), 6.
2   “‘Yachting’ in the trenches,” Thanet Advertiser, 28 August 1915, p. 5.
3    For comprehensive discographies of recordings by Billy Williams, see Brian Rust, British Music Hall on Record (Harrow, UK:
    Gramophone, 1979); and Frank Andrews and Ernie Bayly, Billy Williams’ Records: A Study in Discography (Bournemouth, UK:
    Talking Machine Review, 1982).