1. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Donald Peers and Hattie Jacques (Released by His Master’s Voice (B. 9984) in 1950.) Donald Peers was born in Wales in July 1908. By his late teens he was working as a house painter, and began singing in a band during the evenings, making his radio debut in December 1927. In 1929 he made his debut on the London stage, and his recording career began in 1934 when he signed to Eclipse Records (the label owned by, and sold exclusively in, Woolworths stores.) His recordings for Eclipse include “Little Man, you’ve had a busy day”, “The Man on the flying trapeze” and “I’ll string along with you”. In the early ’40s he signed with Decca Records and his recordings for them include “When they sound the last all clear”, “Homecoming Waltz” and “In a shady nook, by a babbling brook” (which became his signature tune). In 1949 he moved to His Master’s Voice, and recorded songs such as “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)”, “Sleepy Town Express”, “Music! Music! Music! (Put another nickel in)”, “(If I knew you were comin’) I’d have baked a cake” and “Why Worry”. During the ’50s and ’60s Donald Peers made regular radio and TV appearances in the UK, before spending a few years in Australia. In 1969 he scored his biggest UK hit, “Please don’t go” (most of his best selling records were released before the UK records chart began). He died in August 1973. Hattie Jacques (1922-1980) began her career in theatre but came to national prominence when she appeared in three popular radio series in the 1950s-“It’s That Man Again”, “Educating Archie” and “Hancock’s Half Hour”. She went on to appear in many Carry On films and had a long running role as Eric Sykes’ sister in many series of his TV shows.
2. Christmas in Killarney by Bing Crosby (Released by Brunswick (04838) in 1951). Bing Crosby was born in May 1903, in Tacoma, Washington, US (originally named Harry, he was nicknamed Bing as a child and the name stuck). As a teenager he saw singers while working at his local auditorium, but it wasn’t until he was 20 that he started singing in a band himself, called The Musicaladers. Two years later this band split and he started singing with a vocal trio, The Three Harmony Aces. He then formed a duo with Al Rinker, with whom he made his first record, “I’ve got the girl” in 1926. The act then expanded to a trio again, with the addition of Harry Barris, and were rechristened The Rhythm Boys. Several successful records followed before Bing was offered a solo recording contract in 1931 with Brunswick records. Over the next decade he became one of the most successful American singers worldwide, with hits such as “Stardust” (1931), “Please” (1932), “Let me call you sweetheart” (1935), “Basin Street Blues” (1937) and “My melancholy baby” (1939). It was during the ’30s that Bing also started appearing in films, such as “College Humor” (1933), “She loves me not” (1934), “Anything goes” (1936), “Sing, you sinners” (1938) and “East side of heaven” (1939). As well as appearing in films and releasing records, Bing also had his own US radio series. In 1942 Bing released what would become his most famous recording, “White Christmas”, which was also used in the film “Holiday Inn”. He re-recorded the song in 1947 after the original master became damaged and the record still sells every Christmas. Bing continued recording, appearing in films, radio and TV into the 1970s, right until his death in October 1977 (he gave his last live performance 4 days before his death, and recorded his last radio session and interview the following day.)
3. Jingle Bells by Fats Waller and his Rhythm (Released by His Master’s Voice (B.D. 1229) in 1948.) Thomas Wright (aka “Fats”) Waller was born in New York in 1904, the youngest of 11 children. He started playing the piano at the age of six and by the age of ten was playing organ in his clergyman father’s church. Despite opposition from his father he became a professional musician at the age of 15, playing organ at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem. He began his recording career in 1926 when he signed to the US Victor label, recording under various names over the next few years (Fats Waller’s Buddies, Morris’s Hot Babes, and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers), but in 1934 he started releasing records as Fats Waller and his Rhythm, a name which stuck and under which he released for the next decade, until his premature death in 1943. Some of these releases include “12th Street Rag” (1935), “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter” (1936), “Basin street blues” (1937), “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (1938), “Your feets too big” (1939), “Abercrombie had a zombie” (1940) and “Your socks don’t match” (1943).
4. Jingle Bells by The Singing Dogs (Released by PYE Nixa (N 15009) in 1955.) The Singing Dogs were the brainchild of recording engineer Carl Weissmann, who had been recording birdsong and accidentally also recorded dogs barking. He got the idea to record dogs barking (using five different dogs) and then splicing the different pitched barks together to form songs. He got Danish record producer Don Charles to provide the musical accompaniment. Only two Singing Dogs records were produced, with “Jingle Bells” being part of a medley which also included “Pat-a-Cake Pat-a-Cake” and “Three Blind Mice”.
5. I’m Walking backwards for Christmas by The Goons (Released by Decca (F. 10756) in 1956.) The Goon Show was broadcast by the BBC throughout the 1950s, the first series (which was called “Crazy People”) aired in 1951, and the last series (the tenth) began on 24 December 1959 and ended on 28th January 1960. The Goons comprised Spike Milligan (1918-2002), Peter Sellers (1925-1980), Harry Secombe (1921-2001) and (for the first two series only) Michael Bentine (1922-1996). The earlier series were not recorded, and only a handful of episodes exist from the first four series. From series five onwards all episodes survive, although some were edited. The Radio series was wildly successful and led to spin off records and films. In 1956 two records- “I’m walking backwards for Christmas” (with “Bluebottle blues” on the B side), and “Bloodnok’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Call”/”The Ying Tong Song” made the UK top 10 singles chart (the latter was also a hit on re-issue in 1973). In 1951 Sellers, Milligan and Secombe appeared in the film “Penny Points to Paradise” and the following year they appeared (along with Bentine) in the film “Down among the Z men”. Although the radio series ended in January 1960, there was further Goon activity-in 1963/4 a puppet TV series, The Telegoons, featured the voices of the three Goons, running to 26 episodes. In 1968 Thames TV made a one off TV re-enactment of the radio episode “Tales of Men’s shirts”, and in 1972 the BBC televised another one off, called “The last Goon show of all”. In 1978, the three Goons made a final one off record, “The Raspberry song”/”Rhymes”.
6. Where did my snowman go by Petula Clark (Released by Polygon (P 1056) in 1952). Petula Clark was born in November 1932, and began singing at an early age, making her first stage appearance at 6 and first radio appearance at 9. At 12 she was performing at the Royal Albert Hall, where she was seen by film director Maurice Elvey who cast her in the film “Medal for the General”, the first of a string of films which included “Vote for Huggett” and “The Huggets Abroad” (both 1949), “Made in Heaven” (1952), and “The Gay Dog” (1954). In 1946 she was given her own TV series by the BBC, and her recording career began shortly afterwards, initially with Columbia Records, but her first big successes were with Polygon Records (a label co-founded by her father) in the early ’50s. Her records for Polygon included “Tennessee Waltz” (1951), “It had to be you” (1952), “Made in Heaven” (1953), “The Little Shoemaker” (1954), and “Romance in Rome” (1955). In 1955 Polygon was sold to the PYE/Nixa label where Petula stayed for more than a decade and a half-her releases on 78 for the label including “Band of gold” (1956), “Alone” (1957), “Baby Lover” (1958), and “Where do I go from here?” (1959). During the ’60s Petula scored huge hits with “Downtown” and “Don’t sleep in the subway”, as well as appearing on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’s “Give peace a chance”. In 1957 Petula appeared at the Paris Olympia and became a huge star in France, where she signed to Vogue Records. Because of her French success she recorded many songs in French (as well as German, Italian and Spanish). Petula remains active to this day, her latest new album being released in 2016.
7. A Jolly Christmas (Uncredited) (Released by Zonophone (X-49279 C. 1905)
8. Walking in a Winter Wonderland by The King Brothers (Released by Parlophone (R 4367) in 1957). The King Brothers comprised three British brothers-Denis, Michael and Anthony King. They first came to the public’s attention when they appeared on the TV programme “Shop Window” in 1952, although they didn’t release their first record, “Marianne” until early 1957, when they signed to the Parlophone label. Although “Marianne” wasn’t a hit, their next record, “A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)” made number 6 in the UK charts and was followed by several other hits over the next four years, including “In the middle of an island”, “Wake up little Susie”, “Put a light in the window”, “Standing on the corner”, “Doll House” and “76 Trombones”. The hits dried up and The King Brothers left Parlophone in 1962. A few records were released later in the ’60s by Pye, Oriole, CBS and Page One Records but none were hits and the group split in 1970. Denis King went on to have a successful career as a TV theme writer, penning the themes for “The Adventures of Black Beauty”, “Within these walls”, “Lovejoy”, “We’ll meet again” and “Hannay”, among others. He has also composed music for films and theatre productions.
9. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus By Billy Cotton and his band (Released by Decca (F. 10206) in 1953). Billy Cotton was born in London on May 6th 1899. He started playing drums during the Great War, and went professional in the early ’20s, starting his own band in 1925. His recording career started shortly after and he made many records over the years, including “I’m Smiling through my tears” (1928), “The new Tiger rag” (1930), “Rhymes” (1931), “Skirts” (1933), “I’m on a see saw” (1934), “Basin Street blues” (1936), and “I wish I could fish” (1941). During the Second World War he spent time entertaining the troops, and in the ’50s and ’60s he presented “The Billy Cotton Band show” on radio and TV. He died on March 25th, 1969.