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Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Street musicians 1936

THESE TWO RECORDINGS of London street musicians were made for John Cheatle’s radio program ‘Street Show’ in December 1936. Each has a separate BBC Archive catalogue number, but they’re both on a single transcription disc.

For one instalment of ‘Street Show’, Cheatle recorded a Welsh miners’ choir in the BBC concert hall at the newly-built Broadcasting House in Portland Place. The same venue may have been used for the street musicians.

The first recording (catalogue number 822935) is of a man named as Mr Godfrey playing the guitar and singing ‘It’s the poor that helps the poor’. The song was written by Allan Mills and Harry Castling in 1904. The lyrics also appear as a poem on one of the ‘Living Pictures’ series of postcards from around the same time:

Living Picture Series postcard

The song’s message of mutual aid was part of a popular cultural tradition that would last at least into the 1950s, when Billy Cotton reached number three in the charts with Friends and Neighbours:

  Although you’ve not a penny
  And your house may be tumbling down,
  With friends and neighbours
  You’re the richest man in town

You can hear part of it sung by regulars in the Duke of Kendal pub on the London Sound Survey, recorded in 2008.

On the second track (catalogue number 822934) a woman called Mrs Morton sings ‘After the ball is over’, accompanied by Mr Godfrey on the hurdy gurdy. The catalogue attributes it to the American Charles K. Harris, who wrote the song in 1891:

After the Ball

‘After the Ball’ was enormously popular in the USA, selling millions of copies in sheet music form. Interestingly, Mrs Morton has kept the chorus as published but added her own verse. The name ‘Gladys’ anglicises the song:

  One day a letter
  Came to my room
  Gladys is dying
  Please will you come?

Both Mrs Morton’s warbling vibrato and the song’s melodramatic sentiments recall an earlier era of penny ballads and vaudeville.

Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting the London Sound Survey permission to reproduce this recording. It is not covered by the site’s Creative Commons licence so please don’t try to download or redistribute it.

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Its the poor that helps the poor 1:24
After the ball is over 1:24