Did Fred Godfrey also have a hand in writing these great hits?
Fred Godfrey laid claim to several well-known
songs of the Music Hall era for which he is never credited. Reproduced here
is a postcard Godfrey gave to his grandson Peter sometime in the 1940s on which he printed in his
own hand the names of some of his big hits as he remembered them, including three of the four great hits featured above. Every published obituary of
Godfrey lists Ship Ahoy! (All The Nice Girls Love
A Sailor) among his successes,
but somehow the published credit goes to his frequent collaborators A.J. Mills and Bennett Scott — indeed, some recording credits mention Scott alone. Surely,
with so many hits already under his belt, Godfrey had no need to pad his resumé. All the writers spent hours crowding around a piano working out songs, and nobody knew beforehand which, if any, would be hits. Afterward, who knew who did what? And at the rate the writers were cranking them out (several per week), if someone’s name went missing from the published version, the feeling no doubt was “Oh, well, there’s plenty more where that came from.” The true story likely will never be known.
Fred Godfrey is also sometimes credited for a few songs with which
he may not actually be connected. Confusion also occasionally arises due
to the existence of an earlier Adolphus Frederick Godfrey (1837–82), a composer and arranger
of more serious musical works, usually brass band pieces, whose name
is often shortened to “Fred. Godfrey.” In the 1980s I obtained, with much
satisfaction, a gloriously coloured and expensively printed sheet music
cover of an uncharacteristically serious work of the early 1900s bearing
Fred Godfrey’s name, but it wasn’t my Fred Godfrey. To give him his credit, though, bands are still playing the other Fred Godfrey’s compositions and arrangements to this day, a legacy nearly a century and a half old — so, good on yer, Fred! Adding to the confusion in researching the archives is the existence, in the early 1900s, of an “eccentric comedian” by the name of Fred Godfrey. He evidently didn’t write songs, though — unless our Fred had an early career on stage that remains to be discovered.
Here, then, are the “problematic” songs.
As The Years Roll On
Fred Godfrey as “Godfrey Williams” — London: Leonard
& Co., 1901 [this may be an error, as no other Godfrey songs are known from this early date].
I Kissed Your Two Lips Among The Tulips
(1926). Authorship uncertain: British
Library lists the composer only as “G. Williams”; it is either Lawrence
Wright as “Gene Williams” or Fred Godfrey as “Godfrey
I Must Go Home Tonight
(Melbourne: Stanley Mullen, 1909). Frank Andrews and Ernie Bayly, in their Billy Williams’ Records: A Study in Discography, credit William Hargreaves. Billy
Williamss widow Amy Jennings credits Williams and Godfrey in
an interview with Peter Burgis of the National Film & Sound Archive,
Canberra, but her recollections are considered to be of questionable accuracy.
Kitty, The Telephone Girl
(1915). Most sources credit Alf. J. Lawrance, Harry Gifford, Huntley Trevor & Tom Mellor, but some sources credit Fred Godfrey instead of Lawrance.
My Girl’s A Yorkshire Girl (Ee, By Gum, She’s A Champion)
(London: Francis, Day & Hunter; Melbourne:
Stanley Mullen, 1908). The British Library and published sheet music credit C.W. Murphy & Dan Lipton, but Fred Godfrey claimed to have written it.
My Son John’s Just Like His Father
D.F. Godfrey, 1923. Title from a search of records at the British Library; a different Godfrey?
(1908). Frank Andrews and Ernie Bayly, in their Billy Williams’ Records: A Study in Discography, credit William Hargreaves & Billy Williams. Cinch record label credits Fred Godfrey & Williams; the great majority
of Billy Williamss songs reissued on Cinch were indeed by Williams
and Godfrey, so the label may have made a mistake; the song is not mentioned
in any of the numerous letters in which Godfrey assigns his rights to
She’s A Lassie From Lancashire
(London: Bert Feldman; Melbourne: Stanley Mullen, 1907). Published sheet music credits C.W. Murphy, Dan Lipton & John Neat; claimed by Fred Godfrey. A great hit for Florrie Forde, for whom Godfrey
wrote many songs. Godfrey was writing a lot of songs with John Neat in 1907; did this one fall somehow through the cracks?
Ship Ahoy! (All The Nice Girls Love A Sailor)
(London: Bert Feldman; Melbourne: Stanley Mullen;
New York: Nove Music, 1908). Published sheet music credits A.J. Mills & Bennett Scott; the British Library
credits Scott alone. Claimed by Fred Godfrey. Both Ella
Retford, for whom Godfrey wrote some of her biggest hits, and the great male impersonator Hetty King made this song
a huge success. Richard Anthony Baker, in his British Music Hall: An Illustrated History (London: Pen and Sword, 2014 e-book), notes that Mills and Scott “persuaded Hetty King to listen to a song they had written with Fred Godfrey, Ship Ahoy,” but does not provide a source. When queried by this author in an email, Baker referred to Michael Kilgarriff’s Sing Us One of the Old Songs: A Guide to Popular Song, 1860–1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), and said that, according to that source, Godfrey did not write the song. Kilgarriff, of course, despite his doubtless encyclopedic knowledge of the songs of that era, could only go by the names on the printed sheet music, so that did not help to resolve the matter. In response to a subsequent email from this author asking him to explain how he nonetheless came to associate Godfrey with Ship Ahoy!, Baker merely stated that he had been wrong to do so, but refused to say where he got the idea from in the first place.
When Father Papered The Parlour
(London: Bert Feldman;
London: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1910). Published sheet music credits R.P. Weston & Fred J. Barnes; some sources credit Billy Williams
& Weston; typed lyrics in Billy Williams scrapbook in author’s collection credit Weston and Barnes. Music Hall historian Peter Gammond, in his Music Hall Songbook (p. 68), credits “Weston,
______another staff writer & Barnes.” Claimed by Fred Godfrey
(the other “staff writer”?). It might seem a bit odd, considering
the large number of songs that Fred Godfrey wrote for Billy Williams (indeed, all of Billy’s songs in the last three or four years of his
life), that Billy’s greatest success by far was not one of them.
Perhaps, given the many songs involved, Godfrey was confused about what
he had contributed. Written corrections
to a typed version of the lyrics in the author’s collection are not in Godfrey’s hand.
You Gave Me Love
(London: Bert Feldman, 1916; Bamforth songcards list publisher as Star Music; see below). The Performing Right Society credits Fred Godfrey alone as the composer of this song, while the British Library credits Bennett Scott. The sheet music of Some Night Waltz, an arrangement of Some Night, Some Waltz, Some Girl and You Gave Me Love credits A.J. Mills & Bennett Scott.