Minor British Institutions: Colonel Bogey

Sean O'Grady
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:01

The first thing to know about Colonel Bogey is that there was no Colonel Bogey. Not a real one, at any rate. In 1914, an ex-military man and keen golfer, apparently nicknamed Colonel Bogey (after the golfing term for a one-above-par round) was out on the golf course and whistled two notes – a descending minor third interval. This was overheard by a Lieutenant Frederick Joseph Ricketts, director of music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth, and inspired him to compose the now-famous tune, "The Colonel Bogey March".

Chirpy and memorable as it is, it cried out for lyrics. These were supplied at the start of the Second World War to a popular song with the lines: "Hitler has only got one ball/Himmler has something sim'lar/ But poor Goebbels has no balls at all". By the time it was used in the 1957 classic movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, it was part of the British way of life and earthy mirth, an unofficial national anthem to rudeness.

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