Obituary: George Elrick

Denis Gifford
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:27

CATCHPHRASES WERE really born with radio, back in 1922; every repeated phrase from "This is London" to Stuart Hibberd's closing "Goodnight, everybody . . . goodnight" became trademarks repeated by crystal-set listeners, then by comedians happy to show how up-to-date they were.

Children's Hour brought "Hullo twins" and Uncle Mac's "Goodnight children . . . everywhere", and after the Second World War came the first musical catchphrase, which began with "Dooodle-dum-de- doodle-dum" and finished with "I'll be with you all again tomorrow morning". This was ad-libbed into an open microphone one day in 1948 by George Elrick, disc-jockey for a fortnight on perhaps BBC Radio's most popular record request show ever, Housewives' Choice.

It became so suddenly popular that it stuck as his trademark, from that five-to-ten farewell for the next 20 years or so, and ever more. And none of the many others who followed him into the DJ saddle ever dared copy it. The previously wordless signature tune was called "In Party Mood".

Elrick, universally known as "The Smiling Voice of Radio", was born in Aberdeen in 1910. He was educated locally at Gordon's College, and his first ambition was to become a doctor. To help pay his fees he played the drums in amateur dance bands, but the double strain of music and study proved too much. His funds ran out and he had to give up his medical studies.

His interest in things medical helped find him his first job, and in 1925 he worked in a chemical laboratory, then as a commercial traveller. Able to devote more time to his love for popular music, he was soon back playing the drums for local dance bands at night. This led to the formation of his own dance band and in 1928 they competed in the first All-Scottish Dance Band Championship.

This was run by Percy Brown, the editor of the music trade weekly Melody Maker, at the Marie Gordon Ballroom, and Elrick's Embassy Band won all the individual gold medals. The chief judge, none other than Carroll Gibbons, leader of the famous Savoy Hotel Orpheans, gave the bright young Scotsman some sound advice. "You should spread your wings, son, and go to London," he drawled, in his dark brown Canadian voice. First Elrick turned full-time professional, forming his own band at the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen. Two years later, he followed the good advice and took his first trip to London.

Elrick's lucky day was Friday the 13th of January 1931, when he landed his first big town job, "on spec", playing the drums in a small night- club, of which there were many at that time. By 1932, he was mixing with the many dance band notables of the day, and fondly recalled his visit to the premiere of Bing Crosby's star-studded musical The Big Broadcast.

Among the specially invited crowd he rubbed shoulders (not easy for a small-built man!) with the crooner Al Bowlly, the comedy drummer Max Bacon, from the Ambrose Orchestra, and Carroll Gibbons once again. Elrick and Bowlly became sporting pals and would frequently spend their off-peak hours playing snooker at the Ascot Club in Charing Cross Road.

Elrick cut his first record in February 1935, playing the drums for Billy Mason and his Orchestra. The tunes were "St Louis Blues" and the Eddie Cantor hit, "If You Knew Susie". Later that year he was invited to join Henry Hall and his BBC Dance Orchestra as a replacement for Len Bermon. Bermon had been drumming and occasionally vocalising for Hall since 1932; his big hit was "Leave the Pretty Girls Alone".

The chirpy, always smiling Elrick was soon given the chance to sing a song or two, and had his first hit in November 1935 with his record of "When the Guardsman Started Crooning on Parade". But that was nothing when compared to Elrick's January 1936 release.

This was "The Music Goes Round and Around" with its catchy chorus of "Who-ho-ho-ho and it comes out here!" Radio listeners, and there were many for Hall in those hard-up Thirties, went wild. Elrick was suddenly a star. Somebody coined him a catchline that suited the cheery chap perfectly: "The Smiling Voice of Radio".

Elrick's regular records now traded in on his hearty but ever Scots-accented happiness. Among the many were "There's a Song they Sing at a Singsong in Sing-Sing", a double-sided selection entitled Favourite Comedy Songs which included "A Thick Thick Fog in London", "I Laughed So Hard I Nearly Died" and "I'm Just Nuts on Screwy Music". When Hall conducted the dance band on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary, Elrick stayed behind to sing "I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones".

In 1937 Elrick, ambitious from the earliest years, left Hall to form his own band once again and, billed as George Elrick and his Goofy Swing, was booked for a variety tour as top of the bill. Radio dates for the new combo came in thick and fast, and a new recording contract with Columbia spun off to a splendid start with a double-sided disc of six of his hits. The title was George Elrick Encores.

To keep in with the public taste, the name of the band was changed to George Elrick and his Swing Music Makers; they made their record debut with "Oh They're Tough Mighty Tough in the West". In August 1937 came another recorded medley of six George Elrick Successes which included "The Cross-eyed Cowboy on the Cross-eyed Horse". By 1939 Elrick had disbanded his Music Makers and become a solo star. As such he recorded four sides with Jack Payne and his Band. Released not long after the declaration of the Second World War, the songs included the topical hit, "Oh Ain't It Grand to Be in the Navy".

Sadly British films failed to make anything of Elrick, and it was left to the minor newsreel company of Pathe to bring his talents to the cinema screen. "Run Adolf Run", using the popular comedy song by Noel Gay, a satirical variation of "Run Rabbit Run", formed an uproarious finale to the January edition of Pathe Gazette. It was an animated cartoon by Joe Noble, which meant only Elrick's voice was used. However, the singer did star in person in three editions of the magazine short Pathe Pictorial, the best being his version of the early war hit "We're Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line".

During the war, Elrick formed a new band and in 1944 recorded once again, this time for the somewhat cheaper label of Rex. There was one other war song, this time from the United States: "We Don't Know Where We're Going Until We're There", and for the first time on record his signature song, "When You're Smiling, the Whole World Smiles With You".

This song, perfect for the Smiling Voice of Radio, became the title of his first self-promoted touring revue, When You're Smiling, which travelled round the Moss Empires in 1948, traded on his new career as the Housewives' Choice favourite disc-jockey and, although a rather economical production (it co-starred two double acts, Al Gold and Lola Cordell, and Billy Whittaker and Mimi Law, plus the Gordon Ray Girls), it did very well at the box office. "A star- showered show," Elrick called it, perhaps hoping for a new catchphrase.

The following year, Elrick visited America and did a turn on the radio as a visiting disc-jockey from England.

After retiring from the singing scene, Elrick became something of an impresario and also acted as an agent for such notable musicians as Mantovani. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Variety Artists' Federation, and of the show-business charity the Water Rats.

How better to conclude than with his own regular sign-off: "This is Mrs Elrick's wee son George saying thanks for your company - and cheerio!"

George Elrick, radio presenter: born Aberdeen 29 December 1910; married (one son); died London 15 December 1999.

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