Tag Archive: Jessie Matthews


Time May Change

We left Hugh Wade enjoying a “hit record” in 1946  (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/let-it-be-soon/).

His life-style, in many ways, had resumed its pre-war pattern. He still lived in the heart of theatre and club-land. Between 1945 and 1948 his address was 80 Long Acre (before the war he had lived at 73 Jermyn Street).He continued to be involved with providing music for Pantomime and Revues and, although I can find no hard evidence, was almost certainly playing piano at late-night clubs. Although his health was fading, he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1948, William Wade’s photographs suggest that he was, to the end, a recognised figure on the club circuit.

Around this time, he collaborated with the actor/producer Leigh Stafford in the musical comedy “Maid to Measure”. This provided him with his second post-war success. This show was intended to be a comeback vehicle for Jessie Matthews. Matthews had been the most glittering of pre-war British stars but her career had been disrupted by scandal and controversy (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/evergreen-jessie-matthews-and-buddy-bradley/). She also had a reputation for unpredictability and suffered more than one breakdown.

The show was not the triumphant return its producer had hoped it would be. It opened in Edinburgh to mixed reviews, toured, was very well received at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith but failed to take off at its most prestigious venue, the Cambridge Theatre. Its West End run was only 36 performances.Part of the problem was Jessie’s health but mostly it was the overall structure of the musical, whose flaws a strong cast (including a young Miriam Karlin) could not quite overcome. What was universally agreed was that the highlight of the show was a song, sung by Matthews, “Time May Change”. This was Hugh’s main contribution to the endeavour and, happily, took on a life of its own , becoming one of the major hits of 1948.

Early review of Maid to Measure

“Time May Change” is a trademark late Hugh Wade piece. Sentimental, wistful and with a distinctly nostalgic tone. The lyrics are functional, maudlin in print but effective when sung well, and the melody has an elegance to it,old-fashioned (even for the time) but full of emotion.

“Time may change the secret of the ocean

Time may change the language of devotion

Who knows what fate may have in store for us

Let’s make it more for us than ever before

Time may change the colour of the pages

Rearrange the tempo of the ages

These changing years may disappear from view

But time won’t change my love for you”

As with Hugh’s other compositions, some of the leading acts of the day recorded it. Again we see how the dance-band leaders from Elvira’s day – Ambrose, Geraldo, Joe Loss, Lou Preager – still held sway in post-war popular music.

Anne Shelton Jun-48 Decca F8898

Anne Shelton
Archie Lewis with The Geraldo Strings Jun-48 Parlophone F2294

Archie Lewis

Geraldo


Rita Williams Jul-48 Columbia FB3407

(Rita Williams sang with Lou Preager in the 1940s – she later formed the Rita Williams Singers who performed in innumerable variety shows on radio and TV in the 50s and 60s)

Lou Preager
Joe Loss and his Orchestra (Howard Jones) Aug-48 HMV BD6015

Joe Loss
Jack Simpson and his Sextet (Dave Kydd) Sep-48 Parlophone F2309

( Jack Simpson had been the drummer in Ambrose’s orchestra. A multi-instrumentalist, had he not concentrated, very lucratively is it happens, on the now despised xylophone he would be rememembered as the first great English jazz vibraphonist.)

Though I have a fondness for Simpson’s version, it is the recording by Archie Lewis that was the most popular and, in retrospect, the most significant. Lewis is a sadly neglected singer and deserves to be re-instated as one of the important black artists in the London musical landscape of the period. A baritone, he was known as “the Crosby of the Caribbean” or “the black Bing Crosby” and had a string of hits with a rather lugubrious take on a number of ballads that appealed to the immediate post-war audience. The best known and most typical is “In the Land of Beginning Again” which captured the mood of the time perfectly.

In many ways he represents the last in a line of sophisticated black cabaret artists that includes the BYP favourites Hutch and Turner Layton. “Time May Change” was tailor-made for him. However, it would have been Geraldo, a friend of Hugh’s, who would have chosen the song. That it was a sensible decision is evidenced by this early review in Gramophone,

“”Time May Change”, from ” Maid to Measure,” looks like becoming one of the hit tunes of the year, and Archie Lewis made a good choice in being among the first to record it. Full marks on all scores for this side.”

The song was indeed chart-bound, reaching number 4 (on sheet-music sales) and registering in the top twenty for 14 weeks. Sadly, by the end of its run on the Hit Parade Hugh was in steep physical decline.He was to have one more successful composition with “Souvenirs De Paris”, before his premature demise on the 10th of April 1949.

Here is a short clip from the end of Paul Rotha’s MOI film West Indies Calling (full version available on YouTube). The musicians backing Archie Lewis are some of the mainstays of the West End club scene and would have been familiar to Hugh and his associates.

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Jessie Matthews did not record Time may Change ,unfortunately. She has been treated rather harshly in some histories of popular culture and is yet another in need of a little revisionist appreciation. A useful site is this one – Jessie Matthews.

The Jack Jackson and Archie Lewis versions of TMC are available as downloads from Amazon etc.

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The 1930 Stage show Ever Green, which became the 1934 film Evergreen, was one of the more significant musicals of era. Written, in London, by Rodgers and Hart it was a huge success, running for 234 performances at the newly-restored Adelphi Theatre. It brought together some remarkable people, some of whom we have encountered already.

The driving force behind the show was Charles B.Cochran. Although he is largely remembered now for his competing with rival producer Andre Charlot to see who could get the most chorus girls to fit on a London stage, Cochran was possibly the single most influential figure in catering to and shaping English tastes in theatre and music between the wars. He worked extensively with Noel Coward, He discovered Gertrude Lawrence, Jessie Matthews, Evelyn Laye and the Dolly Sisters. He hired the likes of Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler to design his sets. He mixed high culture with popular culture. The cast lists and production credits run the gamut of artistic talent in the period – from William Walton and the Sitwells to Flanagan and Allen and The Crazy Gang. By bringing the Blackbirds revue over in 1926 (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/blackbirds-revue-of-1926/ ) he pretty well initiated the craze for jazz and black culture among the Bright Young People.

The star of both stage-show Ever Green and the subsequent film was Jessie Matthews. Matthews was the most popular West End performer with the general public albeit one with a scandalous and tragic private life. She was born in Soho and her childhood friends included Henry Degrasse, barman and Ham Yard club proprietor, housebreaker and thief. As Mark Benney, he wrote the best insider descriptions of Soho night life (in Low Company (1938)) and later worked with Talcott Parsons and the influential Chicago School of Sociologists.Matthews, like Benney, always felt outsiders despite their considerable achievements.

Jessie Matthews 1927

Jessie Matthews (1907-1981) had started as a dancer in Charlot’s revues, then Cochran spotted her star potential. Her combination of a plucky, fresh-faced English persona and an aptitude for the new “American” dancing styles made her very marketable. Off stage her life was unbelievably messy.Her mental health was always fragile and she was notoriously “difficult”. Being raped by and or/hired out to various aristocrats for sex cannot have helped. The full story is very depressing – you can get a flavour of it here Jessie Matthews – Diva of Debauchery

The high-profile divorce case featuring Sonnie Hale (co-star in Evergreen) and Evelyn “Boo” Laye (a BYP favourite) that cited her as co-respondent nearly finished her career. At the same time she was being pursued by Harry Milton, brother of Elvira’s friend Billy. Harry was married to the redoubtable Chili Bouchier but found himself blacklisted from the London stage as a result of his advances – by whom is never made quite clear.

Anyway, High Society has a lot to thank Jessie Matthews for. Apart from her own contributions to some of the best loved shows, she encouraged Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson (her accompanist on several recordings) to sing as well as play the piano and did much to launch his career as the era’s preferred black performer (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/leslie-hutch-hutchinson/ ) .

Another, very different, black artist is associated with Ever Green. This is the remarkable Buddy Bradley (1905-1971).Bradley and Billy Pierce were brought to England (by Cochran) from Harlem to choreograph the show. Pierce ran a successful dance studio whose forte was teaching African-American dance styles to white artistes (see Pierce Dance Studio The Afro-American 1929 ). Bradley was the main instructor and an innovative choreographer in his own right.Several Broadway shows owed their success to his input but he was rarely given credit. Evergreen was the first “white” show where his name appeared in the programme

Ever Green

Pierce returned to Harlem but Bradley stayed in London, opening the Buddy Bradley School of Stage Dancing at 25a Old Compton Street ( near Wheelers restaurant) in Soho, where it thrived throughout the 1930s.Here, Bradley tutored the big names of british musical theatre such as Jack Buchanan. He worked closely with Jessie Matthews on all of her routines for stage and screen.

Bradley, Matthews and Buchanan 1936

In the 1940s the Dance Studio moved to nearby  Denman Street and was still there in the 1960s.Bradley continued to teach and advise, but he remained a background, and eventually neglected, figure. However traces ofhHis legacy can still be glimpsed on saturday night television, as a young Bruce Forsythe was sent to Bradley to polish up his juvenile song-and-dance act. Bradley’s UK career is assessed here  Black in the British Frame Stephen Bourne .

In retrospect, Bradley’s Golden Age was the 1930s. In that decade,some of his most interesting projects were developed in conjunction with Frederick Ashton, ballet-dancer,choreographer and part of the circle around Edward Burra and Billy Chappell. The best known of these was High Yellow (1932) performed at the Savoy Theatre – with Alicia Markova earning the nickname “Snake Hips” for her ability to mimic Harlem movements.Vanessa Bell did the set design and Billy Chappell the costumes.Other Ashton/Bradley collaborations, nearly all produced by Cochran, included  Magic Nights (1932) at the Trocadero Restaurant, Ballyhoo (1933) with Hermione Baddely at the Comedy Theatre,  Follow The Sun (1936) and Floodlights (1937) – the latter written by Beverley Nichols. If anybody tells you that High Culture/Pop Culture cross-pollination only started in the swinging sixties just point them in the direction of the programmes for these shows.

Freddy Ashton

High Yellow used the music of Spike Hughes (specifically “Six Bells Stampede”), himself first inspired by Cochran’s Blackbirds of 1926. I don’t think that Hughes would have thought much of Evergreen but you can judge for yourself as to its merits. Buddy Bradley makes, as far as I know, his only (very brief) appearance in front of camera about 42 minutes in.

The white-room, Art Deco set for”” Dancing on the Ceiling” is justly famous and it strikes me that the plot (such as it is) employs the “looking back” trope in ways that Coward’s Cavalcade would do a year after Ever Green’s stage debut. Matthews’ Charleston is still impressive,the first world war set-piece truly bizarre and Over My Shoulder became not only Matthews theme song but a “Depression” morale booster on the lines of “Keep Your Sunny Side Up”. Although it is obviously a film,(extra dialogue by none other than  Emlyn Williams) enough of the stage show remains to give us a sense of the lavishness of a Cochran musical revue.

One final note – Matthews’ career faded in the late forties (and only really revived when she took over the role of Mrs.Dale in 1963 in the long running radio soap-opera, “Mrs.Dale’s Diary”). She did attempt a comeback musical in 1947 with “Maid To Measure”. The music was composed by Blue Lantern resident pianist, Hugh Wade. It was not a success.