Two Little Boys

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"Two Little Boys"
Songwriter(s)Edward Madden
Composer(s)Theodore F. Morse

"Two Little Boys" is a song written by American composer Theodore F. Morse and lyricist Edward Madden. It was written in 1902 and became a popular music hall song of the time, especially by Scottish singer Harry Lauder. It describes the story of two boys who grow up to fight in a war. In 1969, it became a surprise No. 1 top-selling single for entertainer Rolf Harris in the United Kingdom.

Rolf Harris[edit]

In 1969, it was revived by Australian entertainer Rolf Harris with Alan Braden co-writing and arranging the song after having it sung down the phone from Australia to him by Harris. Back in the UK, Harris persuaded his television producer to incorporate the song into his BBC variety show. Alan Braden arranged and co-wrote the song for the TV show, and a favourable audience reaction prompted Harris to record and release it as a single. The song reached No. 1 on the singles chart on 18th December 1969, where it stayed for six weeks, thus becoming the first No. 1 single of the 1970s as well as the last of the 1960s. On BBC Radio Blackburn in 1979, Margaret Thatcher picked it as a favourite song.[1]

In October 2008, Harris announced he would re-record the song, backed by North Wales' Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir, to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I.[2] Proceeds from the new release went to The Poppy Appeal.[3] Harris was inspired to make the recording after participating in My Family at War, a short series of programmes in the BBC's Remembrance season, which was broadcast in November 2008.[4] He discovered that the experiences of his father and uncle during World War I mirrored the lyrics of the Civil War song.[5]

Harris sang an a cappella version of the song during the Concert to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in London in June 2012. It was an impromptu performance to fill a gap while Stevie Wonder's band was getting ready for their set. The assembled audience in front of Buckingham Palace and along The Mall sang along. However, Harris had only just started the second verse when Lenny Henry cut him short as the band was ready. Henry was then promptly booed for the interruption.

Other versions[edit]

Hearts & Flowers recorded the song and included it on their album "Of Horses, Kids, and Forgotten Women", which was released in 1968.

John Denver performed this song at the Nowhere Coffeehouse in University of Cincinnati Student Union on May 9, 1969.

The UK post-punk band 'Splodgenessabounds' issued a version in 1979/80. It was part homage to and part parody of the Rolf Harris version.

Probably[original research?] the most popular version in the United States of the song was by Beryl Middleton, recorded in 1969 on the Walters Productions label. It was released as a single as well as appearing on her album, "Hello, I'm Beryl Middleton". She also recorded a version of "Two Little Boys" with the Airmen of Note - the U.S. Air Force band - and was featured on the Voice of America. Her version was voted the number one song in Washington, DC by radio station WMAL in 1970. Middleton was born in Yorkshire, England, but became an American resident and citizen. Middleton claims[citation needed] that the song is about two brothers who end on opposite sides in the U.S. Civil War.

Kenny Rogers sang a version of the song while he was lead singer of the country-rock band The First Edition, which was released on their 1971 album Transition. The song was later revived in 1980 by Splodgenessabounds and reached #27 on the UK singles chart. Scottish duo Hue and Cry recorded a jazz-inspired version for their 2009 Xmasday album.

Hartlepool United football fans have sung "Two Little Boys" on the terraces since the 1980s. A version by a group of Hartlepool fans was released as a double A-side with "Never Say Die" on the single "Poolie Pride", recorded under the name of "Monkey Hangerz", reaching #24 on the UK Singles Chart in 2006. Rolf Harris' version was played at the 2005 League One play-off final as the Hartlepool United anthem before the kickoff.

The song is also commonly played by Irish band The Frames during live performance of their song "Star Star**", as well as by the Canadian-Irish band The Irish Rovers on the album Children Of The Unicorn.

Since at least 2008[6] Australian singer Tim Freedman has been performing his interpretation of "Two Little Boys". He closed the June 25, 2012 episode of ABC TV Q&A with a live rendition of the song.

The bluegrass band The Country Gentlemen released "Two Little Boys" in their album Bluegrass at Carnegie Hall. They subsequently released "Two Little Boys" in four more of their compilation albums.

South African singer/songwriter Des Lindberg recorded a slightly modified version of the song, published as the B-side to Ramblin' Boy in 1966. The B-side was incorrectly credited as Traditional. In the modified version the boys are an Afrikaans (Boer) boy and an English boy who grow up to fight on opposite sides of the Anglo Boer War.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

A version by Roger Whittaker appears briefly in "A Pair of Charlies", an episode of Budgie, the early seventies British drama series starring Adam Faith.

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly recorded a parody of the song with new lyrics entitled 'Two little boys in blue' on his Raw meat for the balcony LP in 1977. This version of the song told the story of two boys who grow up to be policemen.

American cartoonist and songwriter Shel Silverstein also recorded a parody, called "Civil War Song," for his 1962 album Inside Folk Songs which is sung from the perspective of a third brother wearing tight blue pants and a grey sport jacket who opts out of fighting to "stay at home with the girls."

A version with the names changed is sung by the character Spud in the film Trainspotting after Tommy's funeral.

Two Little Boys is the original title of New Zealand film Deano and Nige's Best Last Day Ever. imdb The Rolf Harris version appears early in the film before giving way to a punk version as the two leads are introduced. Throughout the film one of them imagines himself as a soldier helping his childhood friend despite the cost to himself. As the actors/characters are from Australia and New Zealand, this could also serve as a nod to the ANZAC spirit - the historic military brotherhood shared between the two countries since World War I.

"Two Little Boys" was a title of an episode of The Brittas Empire, the song is referenced during the episode and its tune is played towards the end of the episode.[8]

The song would appear to have its origins in the fiction of the Victorian children's writer Juliana Horatia Ewing, whose book Jackanapes was a story about the eponymous hero and his friend Tom, who having ridden wooden horses as two little boys end up together on a battlefield. There Jackanapes rides to the rescue of the wounded and dismounted Tom. Jackanapes nobly replies to Tom's entreaties to save himself, "Leave you"? "To save my skin"? "No, Tom, not to save my soul". And unfortunately takes a fatal bullet in the process.[9]

In an interview for their film X-Men: First Class, at critic Peter Travers' request, actors Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy sang a rendition of the song as representation of the relationship between their characters Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr.

Football chants[edit]

"Two Little Boys" is sung by fans of Hartlepool United and Shamrock Rovers fans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Two little boys, but in which war?". BBC News. 2008-11-13. Retrieved 2010-05-26.
  2. ^ "Rolf remakes Two Little Boys hit". BBC News: Wales. BBC. 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
  3. ^ "Rolf re-releases 1969 classic track". The Press Association. The Press Association. 2008-11-11. Retrieved 2008-11-11.[dead link]
  4. ^ "Yahoo New Zealand News". Archived from the original on 2014-08-13. Retrieved 2014-03-21.
  5. ^ Adams, Stephen (2008-11-11). "Rolf Harris re-records Two Little Boys to mark 90th anniversary of end of WWI". London: Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
  6. ^ "Wobbleboard Enters ARIA Hall Of Fame". ABC DiG. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  7. ^ "45cat - Des Lindberg - Ramblin' Boy / Two Little Boys - CBS - South Africa - SSC.731". Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  8. ^ "The Brittas Empire | Series 3 - 4. Two Little Boys". Radio Times. Retrieved 2014-03-21.
  9. ^ Graham Stewart. Cautionary tale of author J. H. Ewing . The Times. July 21, 2007.

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