The Artists Who Sang Fred Godfrey’s Songs
“At the Empire, Newcastle, last week Gertie Gitana tried her new number
— The Stage, 7 October 1915
The list of artists who sang Fred Godfrey’s songs reads like a Who’s Who of British Music Hall and Variety. Music Hall luminaries Gertie Gitana, Alec Hurley, George Lashwood, Talbot O’Farrell, and Eugene Stratton are among the many who accepted his songs. Stars of a later era who are known to have used Godfrey material include Max Bygraves (of course, he used everybody’s material!), Noël Coward, Tommy Handley, Vera Lynn, Clarkson Rose, Leslie Sarony — even former champion French boxer Georges Carpentier in his late 1920s incarnation as a song-and-dance man. The immortal Bing Crosby sang Godfrey’s Bless ’Em All on his radio show twice, just before and after D-Day. Some of Britain’s most popular dance bands — Billy Cotton, Henry Hall, Jack Hylton, Joe Loss, Percival Mackey, Debroy Somers — also recorded Fred Godfrey songs.
The artists highlighted below had particular success with Fred Godfrey songs. For some details about them and what they sang, please click on their names.
Godfrey Songs on the West End London Stage
In the mid-1920s, Fred Godfrey found success as a lyricist for “Let’s Go,” a revue staged by the American husband-and-wife Vaudeville team of Lee White (1886–1927) and Clay Smith (1885–?) at London’s Ambassadors Theatre. “Let’s Go” featured Lee White singing the songs, while Clay Smith wrote the music and produced the show. White and Smith, who are credited with giving Gertrude Lawrence her big break in show business, at one time owned and operated London’s famous Strand Theatre (now the Novello Theatre, named after songwriter Ivor Novello, who, like Godfrey, was born in Wales). Sadly, Lee White died, after a series of operations, in Washington, DC, in 1927. Reproduced here is the cover of an Australian songsheet from the revue, which White and Clay staged at the Melbourne Athenaeum Theatre during their successful 1925 Down Under tour. A review in The Argus (Melbourne), June 29, 1925, noted: “‘Let’s Go’ is an appropriate title, for the revue moves with amazing speed....There is no attempt to be serious, the comedy is clever, and the songs have a merry lilt....One remembers first the songs at the piano by Miss White and Mr. Smith, most of them new, some of them old...but all delightful.” Now-demolished Wembley Stadium was the marvel of its day when it was built for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924.
As an example of the blind alleys that await the researcher, here is the story of The Three Freds.
An online search of the sheet music holdings of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, revealed the existence of a World War One–era song called When You Have Time To Remember, written by Fred Gibson and performed by The Three Freds, whom the catalogue identified as Fred Gibson, Fred Godfrey, and Fred Wildon. Aha! So Fred Godfrey was part of a musical act years before his brief appearance on the Variety stage with Irish tenor Tom E. Finglass in 1929–30. One couldn’t imagine him singing, let alone harmonizing, but perhaps he accompanied the other two Freds on the piano.
The next step, of course, was to look at a copy of the original sheet music — perhaps a cover photo would reveal all. And fortunately, a copy eventually came into the authors’s hands. Alas, no cover photo, but, sure enough, there is Fred Godfrey’s name down as one of The Three Freds. It was only when the sheet music was opened to page 2 that Fred Godfrey became Fred Gregory, undoubtedly the true second Fred.
The likely explanation is that the printers must have become so used to seeing “Fred Godfrey” on the hundreds of Feldman, Star, and Francis Day & Hunter sheets they were handling each year that they became confused after already putting in “Fred Gibson” (twice!), and when they saw another “Fred G...” coming up, they typeset Godfrey’s name out of habit. It’s easy to do!
So, no humming, yodeling, or vamping Fred Godfrey. It was for others to make his songs renowned.