In the spotlight

Dam Busters Sing Soldier

Every Dambuster aficionado knows that some scenes in the 1955 film The Dam Busters were fictionalised or embellished for dramatic effect. One of the most famous of these is when Guy Gibson and Bob Hay are seen at a musical in London, and notice how the spotlights are trained from either side to highlight the singer. This gives Gibson the idea of using the intersecting beams from two aircraft Aldis lamps to enable it to fly at a fixed low altitude. (The real story is that the mechanism was devised by Benjamin Lockspeiser, a scientist at the Ministry of Aircaft production, who remembered that a similar solution had been tried out by RAF Coastal Command earlier in the war.)
This scene was obviously filmed in a real theatre – the historian John Ramsden reckons it might have been the London Coliseum – with a real singer and chorus line. The performers, however, do not appear in the credits, and likewise there is no acknowledgement of the writers of the music and lyrics which are performed on the stage while our heroes ponder their logistical problems.
Over the last few years there has been the occasional comment on this blog wondering if readers could come up with the words to the song, and also the names of the writers. After much careful deliberation and repeated listening, the consensus is that the lyric is:

Sing, soldier, as you march along
Sing, sailor, sing a shanty song
Let the sound float around everywhere
Soon the pilots will pick up the air
Boom-tarara! Sing, worker, make a cheerful sound
Let it ring, have your fling, like the birdies in the spring
And sing, everybody, sing!
Sing, soldier, as you march along
Sing, sailor, sing a shanty song
Let the sound float around everywhere
Soon the pilots will pick up the air
Boom-tarara! Sing, worker, make a cheerful sound
Sweet music makes the wheels go round

But still no one has yet come up with the names of the writer or composer. However, this blog’s good friend, Ray Hepner, has hit on another clue. He was recently watching a 1943 film called Variety Jubilee, which has been rereleased on DVD.


This stars a number of popular music hall stars such as Marie Lloyd and George Robey as themselves. Amongst the lesser known acts was a man called Slim Rhyder, whose speciality was cycling tricks. In this film, he comes on and does a turn, while the ‘Sing Soldier Sing’ music is performed by the orchestra alone, without a vocal. But once again, there is no credit given in the film to the writers.
So we now know that the song was around in 1943, and could therefore even have been performed in front of real life RAF wartime personnel. The references in the lyrics to soldiers, sailors, pilots and workers would also lead one to think that they were written during the war.
It is quite likely that sometime in the future someone who knows the answer to this mystery will google the lyrics and come across this post. If that is you, then please get in touch!
[Thanks to Ray Hepner]

Listing for Variety Jubilee on IMDB and Wikipedia.


9 thoughts on “In the spotlight

  1. priscilla January 27, 2016 / 2:34 pm

    how very interesting

  2. Dick B January 27, 2016 / 4:39 pm

    Fascinating question ! At first sight I would say the stage looks a tad small for the Coliseum, which is/was famous for having the widest proscenium arch in London – over 50ft I believe. The stage used for this sequence looks to be no more than about 30 ft.

    I will have to look at the sequence again. I had kind of assumed it was (or was supposed to be) the Hippodrome or the Palace, since both get a plug earlier in the film when Gibson’s crew are about to go on leave. .

  3. David Garswood January 29, 2016 / 9:33 am

    Interesting connection is that Guy Gibson married an actress, Eve, who he met after such a performance.

  4. Susie Ball August 9, 2017 / 6:16 pm

    Hello, I may be able to answer a couple of your questions in your article.

  5. Susie Ball August 9, 2017 / 7:50 pm

    Hello, I hope you find the following information helpful.

    My Mum who is soon to be 89 years old (stage name Jackie Lee) was in the film.

    The theatre used was the Lyrics Theatre in Hammersmith London.

    The dance routine was filmed in a day, they were given the routine to learn when they arrived on the stage, shot half the routine before lunch, and the other half after lunch. Then they went home and my Mum never thought about it again.

    They met Richard Todd who had to stand on a box to make him look taller than he was whilst filming.

    Years later, when my Mum came back to the UK in 1972 ( my Dad was stationed abroad) she turned on the television to hear “and now today’s film is …”

    By the way in case you are wondering, Mum is second on the right at the start of the routine and second on the left at the end.

    There are no credits saying who the dancers were in the film, but I can tell you…

    The dancers were no ordinary chorus line, they were on loan for one day only, under contract from the BBC and we’re in fact The Television Toppers.

    A bit of background information about them. At that time they were sort of celebrities always opening something or rather, newspaper articles about them in the entertainment sections and made the newspaper headlines as they earned £1000 a year which at that time was top money !

    The BBC Television Toppers first appeared on BBC television in 1953 and Mum told me her mother went and got a Television to see her which was in itself quite something. The Television Toppers performed Royal Command Performances (and yes Mum met the Queen and went down in a lift with Prince Philip) as well as the weekly BBC show with guest stars like Judy Garland etc.. which eventually went on to be the Black and White Minstral show years later.

    The costumes the dancers were wearing in the scene and the actual dance routine were choreographed to be the1940’s era and Mum said they thought it quite corny at the time of filming, but does substantiate that it was in keeping with the 1940’s when lines and high kicks were the order of the day!

    Mum was Performing in the shows during the war in London, she stated when was just 14 years old! Her career ended in 1958 when she got married!

    The singer whose name escapes Mum was a singer from musical variety at that time.
    I hope you find this useful and can be of benefit to you.

  6. charlesfoster August 10, 2017 / 10:03 am

    Dear Susie
    Many thanks for this fascinating information. I will contact you by email with some more queries.
    I am certainly old enough to remember the Television Toppers in their Black and White Minstrel days.

    Best wishes — Charles

  7. Susie Ball August 10, 2017 / 10:05 pm

    I have a little more information about the costumes the dancers wore this time.

    The costumes the dancers wore were originally made at Bermonds just of Leicester Square. Most of the theatre show costumes were made there.

    These soldier costumes had previously been made and worn in shows at The Empire Leicester Square, and were borrowed from their wardrobes. Mum had previously worn them for another show but can’t give you the exact date or year.

    Soldier costumes were very popular and were frequently used in the shows during the war.

  8. Ian Sneddon June 23, 2020 / 1:06 pm

    Could you tell me if the pilots of the planes gave their planes female names and if so what were they?

    • charlesfoster June 23, 2020 / 1:24 pm

      Ian — I am not aware of any names given to the aircraft used on the Dams Raid, female or otherwise. CF

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