The sublime Allan Smethurst

We start with the station ident. of Anglia Television, in its original monochrome. Remember: all those sophisticated computer manipulations, of which the BBC and others are so fond, started here: with a silver hunting trophy on a roundtable, rotating to the sound of Handel (adapted by Malcolm Sargent). A quick trip down memory lane, showing how a decent piece of silverware, representative of sound local values, was corrupted and corroded into yet another of those meaningless corporate logos is available here.

That previous post earned response from Doubting Thomas, this blog’s other reader, reminding Malcolm of:

the Singing Postman’s song about a nice loaf of bread.

Sadly, that reference would go unrecognised and uncelebrated by the vast plurality of the world’s ignorance.

The best resort is the Guardian‘s obituary, just after Christmas, 2000:

The Singing Postman, Allan Smethurst, who has died aged 73, was well known in the late 1960s for his Norfolk dialect songs such as Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy? and Moind Yer Hid, Boy.

Born in Lincolnshire, he moved with his mother and stepfather to Sheringham, in Norfolk, at the age of 11. A George Formby fan and self-taught guitarist, after joining the post office in 1953 he began to write comic, yet closely observed, songs about rural life, which he sang in a heavily accented Norfolk voice. The subject matter ranged from the village cricket match and the ladies darts team to mass-produced food (Oi Can’t Git A Noice Loaf).

Superficially, these were quaint parodies, but they were popular in East Anglia itself, an indication that Smethurst’s compatriots identified with this affectionate portrait of their idiosyncrasies. The Guardian’s Dennis Barker called him “a bookishly melancholy folk-satirist”.

Thet go arn a bit:

Smethurst first found a regional audience through appearances on BBC Radio Norfolk’s Wednesday morning magazine show. The presenter, Ralph Tuck, the owner of a family firm of seed merchants, gave him the sobriquet “the Singing Postman”, and, when record companies showed no interest, financed the pressing of 100 copies of a four-song vinyl disc in 1964. It was distributed in East Anglia, and sold more than 10,000 in four months. The regional press breathlessly announced that the Singing Postman was outselling the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in Norfolk record shops.

So click, and enjoy:

That ought to have taken you to the UEA’s film archive, and a short Ralph Tuck feature on Smethurst.

There are all sorts of ironies about Smethurst as “normal for Norfolk”. He was by birth a Yellow Belly from Lincolnshire, with roots in North Norfolk. He worked as that iconic rural postman around Lavenham, in Suffolk. None of the images in the film are of Norfolk: the baker is in Stowmarket, the pub in Stowupland — just to the east of Stowmarket, and the fairground up on the Lincolnshire coast. Smethurst’s accent is exaggerated, rather stage-y — but, when Malcolm’s ear was better, he reckoned he could hear the unconscious shifts around the linguistic map (and the East Anglian accent varies considerably: some count as many as eight Norfolk varieties).

What is also of interest in that short film is listening to the narrator, Ralph Tuck. His is the middle-class, educated Norfolk voice.

Tuck was a comfortably-off seed-merchant (better believe it!) who lived at Reydon, on the Halesworth Road out of Southwold. His house is now a B&B—cum—hotel. As a sideline Tuck had a radio spot on the Norwich local radio station. Tuck’s accent is what one heard much of the time, in banks, across the counter of shops, in ordinary discourse. When local television arrived, Tuck and several others with ‘polite’, even polished regional accents had a clear run. And took it.

And thereby hangs a tale, much more important and enduring than the worthy Allan Smethurst.

Not quite a Malcolmian aside: Anglia Television

British commercial television arrived in London in 1955. The franchise for East Anglia was awarded to a consortium of well-intentioned local businessman and local ‘characters’, and Anglia Television went live on 27th October 1959. From the beginning the station had ambitions, and its launch was marked by a movie-length networked play (filmed at the Associated Rediffusion’s Wembley studios) for the ITV Play of the Week, The Violent Years, with headline stars Laurence Harvey and Hildegarde Knef.

On the other hand, what made Anglia a success was its regionalism. This was the first opportunity many East Anglians had of hearing their voices, their accents unfiltered by metropolitan superiority.

There ought to be a provable direct link between the emergence of local radio and television broadcasting, particularly as the strings were loosening in the 1950s, leading to the rise across Britain of local playwrights and novelists. That’s not romance: it’s strict economics. Not only did ITV double (and by the 1960s treble) the TV channels available, all stations increased their transmitting hours. That meant the providers had to commission many new programmes and features. And that meant the revenue  available for script-writers. In short order the monopoly BBC fees of around £100 an hour for a script was up ten fold. The prize spot for an aspiring script-writer was a place on the Coronation Street team, with wherewithal for the mortgage and the Jaguar in the garage.

Recursio ad infinitum

You’ve had one of those, when you found yourself locked into one of those endless website loops from the disreputable ends of the net.

It’s a pompous way of saying, “going round in circles, and getting to sod all”. [Though theologians prefer a more astral definition.]

After thirty-five years faithfully serving its local audience, Anglia TV was sold into the various consortia and shifting cartels which now own the shell of Channel 3. The main feature of that was the curious share-dealings of Jeffrey Archer and his “fragrant” wife, who had the insider knowledge.

More happily, Anglia’s archive seems to have ended up, as with that Smethurst film, with the University of East Anglia.

Oh well …



Filed under culture, East Anglia, Music, Norfolk

4 responses to “The sublime Allan Smethurst

  1. Doubting Thomas

    Malcolm thanks for the clips of Alan Smethurst and the one about the Norfolk accent – I actually did laugh out loud. Meantime, I agree about Anglia TV, it was and is a great loss. One of the saddest things was when the Match of the Week went. Gerry Harrison was a good commentator and we got the chance to see local sides which hardly ever happened on the BBC.

  2. Doubting Thomas

    A quick PS if I might. Do you remember a singer called John/Jonathon Crisp who did the immortal Hev yer ever sin a farmer on a boike? I think he also did something about the little red bus.

  3. Malcolm Redfellow

    Doubting Thomas:

    Try this link for Jonathan/John Crisp:

    The noble aria to which you refer is here:

    For the record (ahem!), Tayto Crisps — which has a theme park in the County Meath — runs a sub-brand under the brand “Jonathan Crisp”. I could expound, but the topic deserves a blog-post all of its own.

  4. Pingback: Mind how you Gove! | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service

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