Eton Boating Song

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The "Eton Boating Song" is the best known of the school songs associated with Eton College that are sung at the end of year concert and on other important occasions. It is also played during the procession of boats. The words of the song were written by William Johnson Cory, an influential Master at the school. The melody was composed by an Old Etonian and former pupil of Cory, Captain Algernon Drummond and transcribed by T. L. Mitchell-Innes. The piano accompaniment was written by Evelyn Wodehouse.[1] It was first performed on 4 June 1863. Ordinarily, only the first, sixth, seventh and eighth stanzas are sung.[2] Contrary to popular belief, the "Eton Boating Song" is not the school song of Eton College, that being "Carmen Etonense".


The traditional status of Eton as the training grounds for Britain's wealthy elite endowed the song with a peculiar cultural cachet. For instance, writer George Orwell, an Old Etonian himself, wrote in his autobiographical essay "Such, Such Were the Joys" that:

From the whole decade before 1914 there seems to breathe forth a smell of the more vulgar, un-grown-up kind of luxury, a smell of brilliantine and crème-de-menthe and soft-centred chocolates — an atmosphere, as it were, of eating everlasting strawberry ices on green lawns to the tune of the Eton Boating Song.

Other uses[edit]

In 1939 the tune (at a quicker than usual tempo) was used as the theme for the film A Yank at Eton. In the 1960s, the tune was adopted by Coventry City as their club anthem. The lyrics were rewritten by Jimmy Hill and Derrick Robbins in order to be relevant to the club, and the song is still regularly sung by City fans today. In his appearance on Inside The Actor's Studio, Hugh Laurie, an Old Etonian, sang, with great embarrassment, the first verse of the "Eton Boating Song". He also dryly commented on the homoeroticism that can be read into the phrase 'With your bodies between your knees.'[3]

The song appears in the 1951 comedy film The Lavender Hill Mob, sung by the schoolgirls during the school scene.

The song features in the 1953 comedy film The Titfield Thunderbolt and the 1959 adventure film North West Frontier.

The "Eton Boating Song" features in the 1960s television series The Prisoner, in the episodes "The Girl Who Was Death" and "Once Upon a Time".[4]

It is briefly sung by the Earl of Gurney during his sanity examination in the play The Ruling Class and its 1972 film adaptation.

The song is sung in the 1980 Dennis Potter TV drama Blade on the Feather, which takes its title from one of the lines of the song.

A reworked version of the theme appears as the title music for the satirical 1989 horror movie Society.

In the second-to-final chapter of The Invisibles, Sir Miles Delacourt sings the song before he hangs himself from the aisles of Westminister Abbey.

During the 2010 British general election the song was parodied as "The Eton Voting Song", with reference to the fact that David Cameron, Boris Johnson and other leading politicians went to Eton.[5]

During the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, the song was briefly played during the Isles of Wonder introductory film charting the course of the River Thames, as it flows past Eton.


  1. ^ British Library Catalogue
  2. ^ "The Eton Boating Song Sheet Music (Retrieved December 24, 2008)
  3. ^ "Hugh on ITAS". YouTube. 2006-08-08. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 
  4. ^ Sound track collector,, retrieved 15 April 2009.
  5. ^ "Eton Voting Song: Celebrating Tory Old Etonians". YouTube. 2009-06-10. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 

"A.D.E.W." The Eton Boating Song London: Robert W. Ollivier 1878 & J Roberts & Co 1920. Both 9 pp folio.

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