References, Acknowledgments, and Contact Information
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For Christmas 1981, two of my mother’s friends, Pete Levenstone and Trevor Gould, gave me a dusty 78 rpm shellac disc theyd found in a flea market in Lachute, Quebec. It had a bright blue and gold Columbia label and looked to be quite old. On one side was a song called The Kangaroo Hop; on the other was Its A Grand Old Song Is Home Sweet Home. What interested me, however, was that both songs listed one of the composers as Godfrey. I knew neither the songs nor the singer, Billy Williams.
But I did know that my grandfather had been a songwriter in Britain long ago. The family had always sung a handful of his most famous numbers at Christmas gatherings and the like, and my mother, his youngest daughter Peggie, would point out a song of his if it appeared in a television program. Beyond that, I knew little, and in any event I was more interested in the music of my own time I was, and remain, an avid Beatles fan. But, I wondered, if an old disc containing not one but two of my grandfathers songs could turn up in a French-speaking town in southwestern Quebec, of all places, what other relics of the mans career must exist out there? Thus began the search that has led to this website.
My thanks, first of all, to Pete and Trevor, wherever you are, for your serendipitous find. I am also indebted to the many collectors, discographers, and researchers in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, the United States, and Japan who have been so generous with their time, their knowledge, and in some cases even their treasured relics of a bygone era. Sadly, some of them have now passed on, but they are far from forgotten.
In particular, I thank Frank Andrews, who let me look through his voluminous research notes at his home in North London and fed me when I needed sustenance; his discographical partner Ernie Bayly, who travelled up to London from Bournemouth and showed me where the English recording industry started; Colin Bray, musician and devotee of the Cockney Music Hall singers; Terry Brown, for his archaeological expertise in unearthing long-lost obscure references to Fred Godfrey; Peter Burgis, former head of the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, Australia, who was a constant source of information and encouragement for more than two decades; music historian Peter Gammond; record finder extraordinaire Jack Parsons; Quentin Riggs, one of the worlds greatest Billy Williams collectors; discographer Brian Rust; John Rutherford, who introduced me to the Canadian Antique Phonograph Society; Brendan Ryan, who welcomed me into his home in Dublin and infected me with his enthusiasm for that odd-looking ukulele player and film star, George Formby Jr.; and Gart T. Westerhout, who alerted me to the beautiful Bamforth song cards of the First World War era and their illustrated lyrics of many Godfrey songs.
Thanks also to Richard Mangan of the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection, the Max Miller Appreciation Society, the staff of the Music section at the British Library, the British Film Institute, the National Library of Australia, the Public Records Office (Kew), and Angelica Antal, keeper of a marvellous, though sadly now-defunct, website on Music Hall star Mark Sheridan.
I must also acknowledge the late, legendary Jim Walsh, long-time contributor to Hobbies magazine, whose kindness and interest in the story of my grandfather’s songs opened valuable doors and made me think that this research project was both possible and worthwhile in the first place.
Finally, a million thanks and much love to my wife Laurie, who has cheerfully endured my many hours at the computer and who has probably heard quite enough about old FG by now!
Reproduced here is a letter given to me by my grandfather, Fred Godfrey, on the occasion of my first birthday. He died in February 1953, before I was old enough to know him. Our family emigrated to Canada at the end of that year, and I was in my early thirties before I began to realize the extent of my grandfather’s contribution to British popular music of the early twentieth century. By then, virtually all of his collaborators and the stars who sang his songs had passed on, making it a challenge to piece together the story of his life and work. In his book, One Job Town: Work, Belonging, and Betrayal in Northern Ontario (University of Toronto Press, 2018), Steven High notes that “‘amateur’ historians or ‘collectors’...are said to produce flawed research that is sentimental, celebratory, excessively detailed, or lacking in analysis.” I plead guilty on all counts — I leave it to the “real” historians to make of this research what they will.
And in case you were wondering, neither I nor any other relative or descendant of Fred Godfrey’s now owns the rights to his songs or receives any royalties whatsoever. My grandfather’s gift allowed him to create happiness for his generation — that is treasure enough. Just as the flickering images of a Chaplin film or Pathé newsreel evoke the era visually, so the songs of Fred Godfrey and all the other writers, most now forgotten, help us to know what it sounded like so long ago. To borrow from the title of Christopher Pulling’s classic memoir of the Music Halls, “they were singing”; thanks for giving them voice, Grandpa, and I love you, too.
Additions, corrections, and comments are most welcome. Please contact:
Barry A. Norris