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.

-Variety_Jubilee-_(1943)

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.

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3 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.

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