The Songs And Shows Of World War I

Episodes

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01World War One20141202

Music historian Russell Davies discovers how the musical stage reflected the world situation in 1914 and what the troops were whistling as they marched to war.

02World War One20151222

This is the second in a five-part investigation (one each year) by Russell Davies of the music, from theatres and music halls and from the soldiery, that came out of The First World War, together with the voices, from the BBC archives, of some of those who went through it.

Alongside those famous songs indelibly associated with this period ('Pack Up Your Troubles', 'Keep The Home Fires Burning') Russell unearths rarities such as "When The Lusitania Went Down", "Sister Susie's Marrying Tommy Atkins Today" and "Don't Take My Darling Boy Away" - in original 1915 versions.

Also recorded that year was Percy Grainger's "Shepherd's Hey", which we hear as played by The Victor Concert Orchestra, while other compositions of that year include the poignant Frank Bridge piece "Lament: Catherine, Aged 9; Lusitania 1915" (he'd known the child who went down with the ship) and an excerpt from a piece that US composer Charles Ives wrote as a reaction to the same tragedy in America. The Scottish Pals' Singers reprise trench songs "Far, Far From Wipers I Long To Be" and "Gassed Again" and US reactions to the war include "Don't Bite The Hand That' Feeding You" and Afro-American comedian Bert Williams's "I'm Neutral". Popular songs and standards that lasted well beyond the war are Jerome Kern's classic "They Didn't Believe Me" (Russell compares the original 1915 recording sung by Alice Green and Harry MacDonough with Elvis Costello's more recent version), a famous music-hall classic from Ella Shields - "Burlington Bertie From Bow" and "Balling The Jack", a tune that helped introduce the Fox-trot to these shores, in another extraordinarily clear 1915 recording, by Elsie Janis and Basil Hallam.

"Britain's Best Recruiting Sergeant" was how another music hall artiste came to be described, thanks to her songs like "The Army Of Today's All Right" and her wartime efforts are recalled by Pat Kirkwood, who played her in a 1957 biopic. The whole programme is a rich tapestry of sounds that includes many memorable voices; old soldiers recalling their experiences, Lady Violet Bonham-Carter remembering the poet Rupert Brooke on his way to Gallipoli and death; Londoners remembering the first bombs that fell on London... from Zeppelins. Extremely well researched and written by Russell Davies, The Songs and Shows of World War I is a Wise Buddah production made for the BBC by Roy Oakshott.

03World War One20161228

03World War One20161228

Russell Davies presents the third part in Radio 2's five-part exploration into the music of the First World War which was played in the halls, the theatres, the salons or the pub pianos, and so much of which was taken off to the war to be sung by the soldiery.

1916 was a terrible one, as the programme makes graphically clear through many accounts from the BBC archives: from sailors who survived Jutland, Tommies who went through hell at Gallipoli and on The Somme as well as from those who suffered on the Home Front: civilians and politicians. The music, generally, had become more sombre than in the previous year.

Russell illustrates, via archive memories, the importance for morale of music: How the voice of a lone tenor singing " A Perfect Day" could cheer weary troops. How a sentimental tune from a popular stage show could become a rousing march, as Laidman Browne, later a distinguished actor, describes. The show was "The Bing Boys Are Here"; the song - "If You Were The Only Girl In The World."

There's much more to savour in this brilliantly researched and copiously illustrated programme - Harry Lauder, whose son was killed in the last days of 1916, singing his song "The Laddies Who Fought And Won"; Fritz Kreisler playing the American hit song "Poor Butterfly"; Alfred Lester's topical music-hall song "A Conscientious Objector"... but Russell saves the most nostalgic song of the year, maybe of all the war years, till last.

It was in 1916 that Haydn Wood set to music the poignant words of Frederic E Weatherly's poem "Roses Of Picardy". The show closes with the verse, sung at the time by Lambert Murphy followed by Frank Sinatra's fine 1962 rendering of the chorus.

03World War One20161228

Russell Davies presents the third part in Radio 2's five-part exploration into the music of the First World War which was played in the halls, the theatres, the salons or the pub pianos, and so much of which was taken off to the war to be sung by the soldiery.

1916 was a terrible one, as the programme makes graphically clear through many accounts from the BBC archives: from sailors who survived Jutland, Tommies who went through hell at Gallipoli and on The Somme as well as from those who suffered on the Home Front: civilians and politicians. The music, generally, had become more sombre than in the previous year.

Russell illustrates, via archive memories, the importance for morale of music: How the voice of a lone tenor singing " A Perfect Day" could cheer weary troops. How a sentimental tune from a popular stage show could become a rousing march, as Laidman Browne, later a distinguished actor, describes. The show was "The Bing Boys Are Here"; the song - "If You Were The Only Girl In The World."

There's much more to savour in this brilliantly researched and copiously illustrated programme - Harry Lauder, whose son was killed in the last days of 1916, singing his song "The Laddies Who Fought And Won"; Fritz Kreisler playing the American hit song "Poor Butterfly"; Alfred Lester's topical music-hall song "A Conscientious Objector" ... but Russell saves the most nostalgic song of the year, maybe of all the war years, till last.

It was in 1916 that Haydn Wood set to music the poignant words of Frederic E Weatherly's poem "Roses Of Picardy". The show closes with the verse, sung at the time by Lambert Murphy followed by Frank Sinatra's fine 1962 rendering of the chorus.