Myles Rudge

'Right Said Fred' lyricist


Myles Peter Carpenter Rudge, lyricist and scriptwriter: born Bristol 8 July 1926; died 10 October 2007.

The skill in creating a good comedy record lies in making something that listeners will want to hear more than once. The lyricist Myles Rudge and his musical partner Ted Dicks knew exactly how to do this. They wrote Bernard Cribbins' Top 10 singles from 1962 "The Hole in the Ground" and "Right Said Fred", and long after the jokes were known, listeners could appreciate their ingenuity: a combination of Rudge's clever lyrics and Dicks' cheery melodies, with George Martin's oddball arrangements and Bernard Cribbins' delight at being a working man telling a story.

Myles Rudge was born in Bristol in 1926. His father wrote advertising copy and although he attended Bristol Grammar School, he was not a particularly good student. As a child, he acted in BBC radio productions and then became a juvenile actor at the Liverpool Playhouse. In true comic fashion, a bomb exploded in a field near his digs and blew him off a lavatory seat. In 1944, Rudge joined the Royal Navy. After the war he trained at Rada before returning to repertory. He wrote sketches for Hermione Gingold and Robert Morley.

While playing a tall, gangly blond asking "Anyone for tennis?" in the West End production of Salad Days, Rudge befriended the pianist Ted Dicks and they decided to write together. They wrote for a 1960 revue at the Fortune Theatre, And Another Thing, in which the comedy actor Bernard Cribbins performed their witty "Folk Song". George Martin was the label manager of Parlophone Records but one of his specialities was comedy. He released "Folk Song", which sold 25,000 copies despite restricted airplay because of its innuendo:

When shall you and I be wed

I have bought a double bed

And father is complaining

The single led to "The Hole in the Ground", in which Cribbins plays a council worker who has no idea why he is digging the hole, but a "bloke in a bowler hat" is handing out instructions. While the song was in the charts, Noël Coward appeared on Desert Island Discs and chose it as one of his favourite records.

"It was a bloody good record," says Bernard Cribbins,

I met Annie Ross who was singing with Count Basie and his Orchestra on a UK tour. She told me that a lot of the Basie band had heard it and gone potty about it. They were taking back copies to give to their friends. I can see why. It had a nice jazzy feel about it. It is a comedy song but there are some nice jazz phrases in there.

After some removal men had difficulty in shifting Ted Dicks' piano, the pair wrote "Right Said Fred". The song is about three workers trying to move some unspecified object. The title passed into the vernacular and in the early 1990s became the name of a pop group.

Rudge and Dicks wrote most of the album A Combination of Cribbins (1962), but although they wrote 16 songs for Cribbins, none of the others could match the inventiveness or commercial success of "The Hole in the Ground" or "Right Said Fred". Their comments on fashion ("Winkle Picker Shoes Blues" and "Get Your Hair Cut") were unexceptional, while Cribbins was wasted as a fireman in "Ringing On the Engine Bell".

Their only other comic song of note was "A Windmill in Old Amsterdam" for Ronnie Hilton in 1964. It was a silly song about "a little mouse with clogs on" and Rudge created another familiar phrase, "How lucky we am". "I recorded that with just the rhythm section," Hilton told me, "and Wally Ridley, my producer, told me not to bother about the rest of it. I didn't know that he was going to use the Mike Sammes Singers speeded up to sound like mice."

Rudge and Dicks wrote the theme song for Carry On Screaming (1966), and, rather out of character, Rudge combined his talent with that of Riziero Ortaloni for "Only Your Love", the love theme from the Mafia movie The Valachi Papers (1972).

Rudge often worked with Kenneth Williams, co-writing his radio series Stop Messing About (1969-70) as well as his comedy album Kenneth Williams On Pleasure Bent (1967). In 1969, he wrote a spoof documentary for Radio 3, A Tribute to Greatness, in which Williams played an actor knight. Having established that Williams' greatest talent is to learn his lines, the interviewer remarks, "This is something that all the great ones have in common – Olivier, Gielgud, Guinness." "What?" says Williams. "Guinness." "Yes, that helps of course. I wish Mary would hurry up with the tea."

As well as television scripts for Comedy Playhouse, On the Buses, and the soap Compact, Rudge wrote sketches and patter for Lulu, Harry Secombe and Dora Bryan. In 1982 he created Father Charlie, a sitcom starring Lionel Jeffries and Anna Quayle.

Spencer Leigh

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