Where are the pies I adore?

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What's the greatest problem now throughout the land?

What's the greatest problem now throughout the land?

What's the only problem needs a helping hand?

It isn't Philip Snowden

Or tax relief, I find,

It's something more important now on everybody's mind...

Those are the opening words of a little ditty I caught the other day, on a Radio 4 archive programme about bandleader Jack Hylton. The song was recorded in 1929, when Snowden was Chancellor under Ramsay McDonald, and it was about the current slimming craze. Yes, nothing has changed...

Just go into any home today

It's 10 to 1 you'll hear the husband say:

My wife is on a diet!

And since she's on a diet,

Home isn't home any more.

No gravy or potato,

Just lettuce and tomato

- Where are the pies I adore?

Oh, oh, oh, what a disgrace

- I'm ashamed to look a grapefruit straight in the face...

Not a great song (though I love that last line), but an interesting reflection of the way that health fads have been this way before. Even more interesting is the fact that, although food fads are alive and rampaging through our shopping baskets today, I cannot think of a single comic song written today to lampoon them. To be honest, I can hardly think of a comic song written today. Outside the Kit and the Widow camp, that is.

I did once hear Hugh Laurie on TV sit at the piano and sing a wonderful song he'd written called "Mystery". But that's about it. There simply doesn't seem to be space in our musical life where comic songs can take root any more.

There was a time, just within living memory, when Benny Hill singing "Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West" could crash the Top 20, and Stan Freberg used to do it regularly, but how could that happen again? Once, merchants of comic songs like Flanders and Swann, and Tom Lehrer, could fill London theatres. Not now. Music these days has become such a grim business, with so much amplification and so little fun, all heat and no light, that the very idea of comic songs has been pushed off the playing field.

I was at a convivial newspaper dinner before Christmas where our host conceived the idea of going round the table, getting everyone in turn to sing a song. Two or three guests were prepared for such an eventuality and acquitted themselves manfully. Most of us sputtered and failed.

I was, myself, in a strange position. I had been a member for 20 years of the cabaret group Instant Sunshine, for which Peter Christie had written loads of funny and imaginative songs. Unfortunately, being the bass player, I had never sung any of them, and couldn't remember the words of any of them.

"Miles, sing a song!" they said.

"Bass players never sing songs," I said gruffly, and thus copped out. But ever since then I have been trying to work out which song I should have in readiness, come next Christmas, and I realise, to my amazement, that the chief candidates are all comic songs from the same era as that Jack Hylton hit. An Arthur Askey patter song, perhaps. ("Knitting" would be my choice there.) Much more likely a song recorded by Frank Crumit, such as "The Prune Song".

Know it ?

No matter how young a prune may be,

It's always full of wrinkles.

We get wrinkles on our face

- Prunes get them every place!

Or his classic portrait of the insurance salesman...

There's no one with endurance

Like the man who sells insurance,

He is everybody's best friend!

You may dodge him, you may shun him,

You can try to outrun him,

But he gets us all in the end!

Yes, they don't write songs like that any more.

Actually, I don't think they even try. Someone prove me wrong, please.