The Keele Song Book 1952

Copies of “The Keele Song Book” have been kept by many of our earliest alumni and one was recently retrieved from a cupboard drawer in the Chemistry Building by Professor David Morgan. No doubt lying unopened for decades, it now reveals its secrets …

The Song Book was prepared for a Revue around 1952. As such, it typifies the humour, creativity, talent and social life of the time – and features some satirical (nay, risqué) pieces to entertain and embarrass the enthusiastic Pioneer audience!

Who Wrote the Song Book?

John Gregory (1954) writes: "The songs were one of the many products of those features of the first year that all who were there will remember; the relationship between staff and students living on the same campus; the unrepeatable sense of being the first students and the co-operative enthusiasm engendered by those two things. In consequence, the words of only one or two sings came from a single person.... It was one of my pleasures to invent tunes to fit them. Sometimes the words came first; sometimes the tunes and sometimes they came together. My good friend, John Thomas, with whom I shared a room for some time bore the burden of hearing many of them as they gestated.... Arthur Richardson and Keith "Sweeney" Todd were responsible for input to many of them and during soirées in the Sneyd Arms and Patrick Wilson, reading Gurdjeffian philosophy at the time was responsible for the line: “You can keep your BA degree”. Peter Whelan wrote the “Fizzy Dizzy Blonde! And later expressed some remorse thinking he might have embarrassed Muriel Tucker with it. He also wrote the words to “The Keele Rag”. Pat Fable wrote the words to “Shepherd’s Hay” and I claim the “Mirror Song” as my own, while acknowledging the definitive performance of it by Arthur Richardson.... There were contributions to the words by many other people so I think the songs are illustrative of some of the attitudes current amongst us during that exciting and productive period".

John Thomas says: "John Gregory was most certainly the leading light on the musical aspects of the songs and he contributed greatly to the lyrics of many of the songs. I fear that the memories of some of my contemporaries over-inflated my inpiut. I did put in my twopenny-worth to some of the songs but other students including Arthur Richardson, Keith "Sweeney" Tood and John Gregory contributed much more".

Harry Heaney says:  Since the discovered book was found in the Chemistry department it must have belonged to either Harold Hodson or Harry Law. I mentioned it to Margaret (my wife) and she agreed that the first performances on stage must have been in 1952. I'm convinced that the first performances were associated with the opening of the Horwood Refectory - was that 1952? Another event that took place on the stage of the Horwood Refectory at about the same time was a performance of "Trial by Jury" with all of the usual suspects takimg part. One of our favourite songs was the mirror song written in connection with winding the mirror at the end of the Salvin Room.... One of the performers was Arthur Richardson. We suspect that the frizzie dizzie blonde was probably Katherine Taylor

"John Gregory was one of the originators of the first Keele song book. His ability at the piano meant that he was constantly in demand at the Sneyd leading raucous renderings of an increasing number of fine ditties, many of which he wrote or co-wrote. Never complaining, he would play for hours as long as there was someone there to sing. He provided the sound of the pioneer years." Keith Clement

"John Gregory was indeed a shining light among the Keele pioneers, contributing to a wide range of events with  a gravitas and maturity that made me, and perhaps other sixth-form pluses, wonder at his ability. He and John Thomas (Tommo) were a showcase couple in Horwood Hall always ready to cheer up their colleagues  especially in those first and second dour winters as the highest (pending) university in the British Isles (620 feet a.s.l.) settled down in the marl. Edward Derbyshire

Professor of Music, George Pratt, gives a staff's eye view referring probably to a later version:  “Buried in the misty recesses of my memory is a faint recall of the Keele Song Book. When I was appointed first Director of Music in 1964, Ron Evans gave me some tapes to transcribe. I think I managed it - did my aural perception no end of good! The only actual song title I can remember is 'Prof Springall has an Erection' - referring, of course, to the building of the Chemistry Department! Can't remember any more, I fear, but it may prove a link in the chain.”

Who was the Fizzy Dizzy Blonde?

Ray Thomas says :"The Frizzy Dizzy Blonde in the Keele songbook was Muriel Tucker.  My memory, quite unsubstantiated, is that it was specially composed for her by Peter Whelan (?)"

But, the authentic and original Frizzy Dizzy Blonde, Mu Stubbs (Tucker), writes: “I don’t mind being named as the F.D.B. a s the song was very much of the Keele ethos of that time. There were some very talented writers and performers and the Keele Revue would have held its own even with the Cambridge Footlight. All this must be seen in the context of a time when it was imperative to make one’s own entertainment in a virtually closed community, with no TV or cars! When asked by Keith Clement* to sing his song, inspired no doubt by the Marilyn Monroe era, how could I refuse, particularly as I had always liked singing and dancing. Believe it or not, I was basically unworldly and shy little did I know what an impact it would have. Well, I’ve managed to prove that there was something more upstairs as I went to lecture in Geography for an unbelievable thirty-four years... I will always be grateful for the opportunity Keele afforded me and I will always be proud of having an affinity with such an excellent place.”
* Keith Clement denies the dubious accolade of being the composer of the FDB! The honour is Peter Whelan's.

What was the Song Book For?

Eddie Derbyshire adds a lot of information and proves himself to be something of an authority on these ditties: “I think most if not all of these may date from the very first stage show (review) held in the (then) new refectory building that was tagged on to Keele Hall. I don't know the date, but it is likely to be 1951 or 1952.... I think that the first outing of at least one of the songs by John Gregory and John Thomas (the one entitled “The Horwood Hall Song” but also known to many of us at the time as “The Stan Beckensall Song**", took place in the Common Room of Horwood Hall which was equipped with a piano (it was one of the single-storey concrete buildings near to Physics and Chemistry) one evening in winter (and so certainly in the winter of 1950-51). I shall never forget the introductory comments on the song by the Gregory-Thomas duo. It went like this: either “Music by Gregory and Lyrics by Thomas - the Music is good!” – or “Music by Gregory and Lyrics by Thomas - the Lyrics are good!”

Yvonne Baker (1954) wonders about the date of the Review: "It could have been put together in 1952; it could have been prepared for the review but there was no review in 1952. The only review in our time was in our final year and there was only one performance - although it may have been performed previously in the Horwood Common Room... It was before Christmas 1953. I am quite sure about the line mentioning the "BF Degree" is well remembered as it was known to many of us as such from then on in! John Gregory and John Thomas were an absolutely brilliant duo . I first became aware of them getting together in some queue in the first term. Mu Tucker, the "FDB", was also absolutely brilliant. I rememeber agreeing with friends that she had missed her vocation - obviously we were wrong in view of her subsequent lecturing career!"

Martin Tunnicliffe confirms that the venue was the newly-built Horwood Refectory attached to Keele Hall and the revue may have been connected with its opening.

Variations on the Horwood Hall or the Stan Beckensall Song

Eddie Derbyshire adds: "The Horwood Hall" lyrics included a chorus as follows:

You can keep your BA degree and your BSc;
You can keep your BF degree,
It’s no use to me;
I’ll away to Horwood Hall
Where a Horwood* not at all.
We’ve got them at our beck and call
Up in Horwood Hall. [*obvious double entendre]

Well, there were several variants of that chorus sung at the original Horwood Hall common room evening, one of which featured a more risqué pun as follows:

…..where a Horwood not at all –
We’ve even got Stan Beckensall*
Up in Horwood Hall.

And then, in the final chorus (when the story line ended with the demise of the 1950 students) it goes like this:

….where a Horwood not at all –
We’ll play our harps to Beckensall
Up in Horwood Hall.

John Gregory suggests that the "we've even got Stan Beckensall" chorus did come after the final verse, rather than being a separate variant.... Most of the music in the song book was written by John Gregory and most of the words are probably attributable to the witty tongue of John E Thomas (both 1954 graduates - and a rare duo!) I can still remember the tunes and most of the words. As all of the above appear to be in the same folio (I use the word loosely, of course), it might be reasonable to assume that the whole collection is a Gregory and Thomas product. My hope is that this is a genuine collection of a single event, namely that first variety-type stage show and that I have simply forgotten the above unmarked titles after these approximately 55 years! I wonder whether John Gregory has the musical score? If you can ascertain the authenticity of the folder, I for one would love to own a copy!”

Geoff Matthews (1957) adds this observation: "There was another celebrated Horwood Hall song and another ditty penned by Gregory, Richardson, Todd et al., the closing lines of which were:

'Why should we leave at all,
When we have at beck and call
Stanley Beckensall?'

Pam Lloyd-Owen (Harris) agrees: " My memories coincide pretty much with those of Edward Derbyshire and the authors of those songs must have been John Gregory and that John Thomas who graduated in 1954. I find myself singing the original version of the Horwood Hall Song and found that my memory of the third and fourth lines is:

"Who in his first year had to take,
Classics, Maths and Economics"

The addition of "Maths" fits the tune  and rhythm better than John Gregory's version.   Of course, Stan Beckensall also figured in my memory. The original version probably did go beyond the bounds of good taste - though the revised version was viewed with some wry amusement by some us and was not necessarily adhered to."

A Good Song Never Dies

Alumni Officer John Easom spoke to John Thomas on the phone and he admitted to being the source of at least some of the material, serenading him with both words and music and in tune - a feat of outstanding recall! He also spoke to John Gregory who repeated the same feat of memory - having in his head every line and musical note - and supplying annotations which are now incorporated into this account. The Horwood Hall Song enjoyed a glorious resurrection for the Horwood Hall Christmas Party in December 2008. Students rehearsed their own rendition after John Gregory recorded a tape and re-wrote the score of the music for them to emulate albiet- as they say - in a more modern idiom!

The first Degree awarded at Keele?

Stan Beckensall who was (immortalised in the Horwood Hall Song to provide a rhyme with "beck and call") is part of the controversy about who enjoys the distinction of being the first student of UCNS to receive a degree. Stan was described in the Keele Society Newsletter in 1991 to be the first. But there are other claimants to the title of Pioneer of Pioneers.

Yvonne Baker (1954) points out that the programme for the first Degree Ceremony lists the three First Class degrees awarded to Margaret Boulds, Hilary Roberts and Anna Swiatecka at the head of the programme. The Evening Sentinel newspaper also features Margaret Boulds captioned in a photograph as the first student to graduate. Following these three Firsts in the programme, came the BA degrees awarded in alphabetical order to : "Yvonne Baker, Stanley Beckensall.... etc." She adds "Stan and I were together in line and the a of Baker precedes alphabetically the e of Beckensall There were others in front of us". So presumably the order of the programme was followed on the day, beggining with the three receiving Firsts.

Did you enjoy this? Why not read more stories from the Keele Oral History Project?