Ted Dicks: Co-writer of 'Right Said Fred' and 'Hole in the Ground'

 

The songwriter Ted Dicks wrote "Hole in the Ground" and "Right Said Fred", comic songs whose humour and vitality reflected his own personality and interests. He was a very pleasant and gregarious man with a passion for writing about the working man.

Born in London's Muswell Hill in 1928, Ted Dicks was the son of a postman. He attended Tollington grammar school, where he was encouraged to learn the piano, and then the Hornsby School of Art. When he was conscripted into the RAF he was in demand as the pianist for the officers' mess. He returned to civilian life with a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he met the novelist Len Deighton: the pair shared a flat and became lifelong friends. Another close friend was the comedian Barry Cryer, with whom Dicks worked on comic material.

Dicks met Myles Rudge soon after seeing him in a West End production of Salad Days; the two became friends and decided to write songs with Rudge as the lyricist and Dicks as the tunesmith. In 1959 Dicks – with several lyricists, including Rudge – wrote a comedy revue, Look Who's Here, which was first staged at the Mountview Theatre Club. It transferred to the Fortune Theatre in the West End with a cast that included Nyree Dawn Porter, Donald Hewlett and Anna Quayle.

A second revue, this time written by Dicks and Rudge, was quickly commissioned. The cast of And Another Thing included Lionel Blair and Bernard Cribbins, whose "Folk Song" was released as a single. Despite its saucy nature, it received considerable airplay and sold 25,000 copies, thereby encouraging Dicks and Rudge to write more songs for him.

In "Hole in the Ground", a Top 10 single in 1962, Cribbins was a road worker being bothered by a "bloke in a bowler hat" handing out instructions, whom he ends up burying under concrete. The song's engaging jazz rhythms were admired by Count Basie. While the record was in the charts, Noël Coward appeared on Desert Island Discs and chose it as one of his favourite records, saying that he would pass the time by translating it into French.

After some removal men had difficulty in shifting Ted Dicks' piano, they wrote another Top 10 single for Cribbins, "Right Said Fred". The song is about three workers trying to move some unspecified, large object. Its title passed into the vernacular and in the early 1990s it became the name of a successful pop group.

Rudge and Dicks wrote most of the LP A Combination of Cribbins (1962), on which a range of talents were combined to good effect: Rudge's witty and whimsical lyrics, Dicks's ideally suited melodies, George Martin's oddball arrangements and Bernard Cribbins' personality. Martin enjoyed making these cranky records and referred to Ted Dicks affectionately as "Dead Ticks".

Their other major comic song was "A Windmill in Old Amsterdam" (1964), for Ronnie Hilton, about "a little mouse with clogs on". "I recorded that with just the rhythm section," said Ronnie Hilton, "and Wally Ridley, my producer, told me not to bother about the rest of it. I didn't know that he was going use the Mike Sammes Singers speeded up to sound like mice."

Although the duo is noted for comedy songs, they did write more conventional material, including a strong, self-pitying ballad, "Other People", for Matt Monro, which was considered for an A-side (in the end, it was the B-side of the best-selling film theme "Born Free", 1966). Val Doonican and Ronnie Hilton both recorded a delightful song about the love for a daughter, "Annabelle".

In 1967 Myles and Rudge wrote a comedy album for Kenneth Williams with the knowing title, On Pleasure Bent. Two years later, Dicks wrote a song every week for the ITV series Cribbins, this time with lyrics by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke. Dicks also wrote episodes of the TV soaps Compact and Crossroads, both created by Hazel Adair. Adair also produced British sex comedies and Dicks wrote the incidental music and title songs for some of them. The singer Catherine Howe appeared on screen with the title song for Can you keep it up for a week? (1975). (The title, in case you are wondering, referred to maintaining a job.)

Dicks wrote the music for Carrying on Screaming (1966) and supplied the theme for the popular ITV series Catweazle, featuring Geoffrey Bayldon as a peasant from the middle ages trying to cope with 20th-century life. Dicks also designed and edited A Decade of The Who (1977), an authorised, illustrated history of the rock band.

In later years, Dicks returned to art and found a demand for his paintings. After Rudge's death in 2007, he revised an unstaged musical they had written, Strip, about a cartoonist whose life is depicted in his work.

Edward Dicks, songwriter: born London 5 May 1928; married Liz Windham-Quin 1964 (one son); died London 27 January 2012.

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