R. P. Weston

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Robert Patrick Weston (1878 – 6 November 1936) was an English songwriter. He was born and died in London. Among other songs, he co-authored (with Bert Lee), "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm", a macabre little ditty about the ghost of Anne Boleyn haunting the Tower of London, seeking revenge on Henry VIII for having her beheaded.[1]

Weston's real name was Robert Harris and he was born in Kingsbury Road, Islington, very close to Dalston Junction. His father ran a grocery shop and the family lived over it. Harris became a railway clerk (as listed in the 1911 census), but took up performing and song writing. At this time, he was living at 46 Hemmingford Road in Islington with his wife Maud. In 1915 in the offices of his music publisher, Francis Day and Hunter, he met his future collaborator Bert Lee and they spent the next twenty years working together on songs, monologues, musicals and films. Some of their most durable work arose out their collaboration with Stanley Holloway. They also worked with Gracie Fields and the Crazy Gang. This collaboration was conducted in Weston's house in Twickenham until his death in 1936.

Towards the end of Robert's life, his son, Harris Weston (born Robert Edgar Harris) also collaborated with his father and Bert Lee and the three of them produced the song "Harmonica Dan" in 1936. After Robert's death, Harris continued the collaboration with Lee and produced "Knees Up Mother Brown" in 1938. Like his father, Harris had talent as an amateur artist and in December 1939 produced a painting showing a riotous party scene entitled "Knees Up Mother Brown". On the back of the painting Harris describes the scene as "The Costers' Party on the 100th Anniversary of Ma Brown". This indicates that this song must have been inspired by, or arose from, the costermonger community of London. Both Robert and Harris Weston drew inspiration from London's cockney culture for many of their songs, some of which were often sung in a cockney accent. These include Robert Weston's "What a Mouth" which was recorded as a pop song by Tommy Steele in 1960 and "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am" (with Fred Murray), which became US pop chart number 1 for Herman's Hermits in the 1965. Robert Weston's paintings also reflect his London background and include a watercolour of Houndsditch Market painted in 1916.

After Robert Weston's death, the house was occupied by Weston's two daughters who lived there into old age, with Weston and Lee's papers sitting untouched and unlooked-at. Their present whereabouts are unknown though several items have appeared on eBay, including Weston and Lee's three-volume work-book, containing manuscript versions of many, if not all, their songs. It is now known that this item is in the hands of a collector of music hall memorabilia. Robert and Maud Weston both enjoyed sketching and painting on an amateur basis and a selection of their art work was auctioned with other family items in 2008.

The actor and singer Roy Hudd created a stage show based on the songs of Robert Weston and Bert Lee (Just a Verse and a Chorus) and wrote the only authoritative article of any length about Weston and Lee in a now defunct periodical, Theatrephile (Volume 2 No. 6), in 1985. In the article, Hudd reproduced the only known photograph of Weston and Lee together. Roy Hudd also adapted the stage show into a series of shows for Radio 2 and directed by Jonathan James Moore. These are in the BBC Archive. A programme exploring their lives and work was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 16 June 2009, presented by Children's Laureate Michael Rosen, produced by Emma Williams. It was a Unique Production. An earlier radio programme about the partners entitled "The Perfect Partners" was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme in 1946. In describing the programme, the Radio Times of the period states that they "wrote more than three thousand songs, as well as countless sketches, adaptations and revues".

Weston also wrote "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am" (with Fred Murray), "I've Got Rings On My Fingers" and "When Father Papered the Parlour" (both with Fred J. Barnes). In fact the collaboration with Barnes was especially fruitful. Besides these two songs, Weston and Barnes produced "Somebody Would Shout Out Shop", "Hush Here Comes the Dream Man" (parodied by First World War soldiers as 'Hush Here comes a Whizzbang' and sung in the Theatre Workshop production of Oh, What a Lovely War!, 1963) and "Sister Suzie's Sewing Shirts For Soldiers" which was Al Jolson's first hit. It was stated in an email to Michael Rosen from Barnes's grandson, that Barnes wrote the lyrics to these songs. Then, in his early forties, Barnes volunteered for the army and was drowned when the troop ship RMS Aragon was torpedoed off Alexandria on 30 December 1917. He was buried in the military cemetery in Alexandria.

Selected filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm