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There have been three recent articles in the Yeovil Times and Western Gazette

Yeovil Times 10 March 2004

King of Comic Song

by Jack Sweet

One of the world's best-known comic song writers died in Yeovil and is buried in an unmarked grave at Yeovil Cemetery. Harry Wincott, born Alfred James Walden, died in Yeovil on 20 April 1947, aged 81 years.

He wrote thousands of songs including 'Made- moiselle from Armentiers', 'Any Old Iron', 'How's Your Father?' and 'Boiled Beef and Carrots'.

If he had written his songs today he would be a wealthy man but Harry sold his songs for as little as seven shillings and sixpence and for a time he slept on the London Embankment when he could not find a lodging house within his meagre means.

Harry was just a boy when he started writing and Charlie Chaplin's father was one of his first customers.

At the time of his death he was living in Goldcroft, Yeovil.

Famous songwriter in unmarked grave

Described as "The King of Comic Songwriters" Harry Wincott, born Alfred James Walden, died in Yeovil on 20 April 1947, aged 80 years.

In May 1947, the Yeovil Review recorded: "He wrote thousands of songs.  Some of them are still sung "Mademoiselle from Armentiers", "Any Old Iron", "How's your Father" and "Boiled Beef and Carrots" to name but a few.

"Had he written them nowadays, when song writers are paid handsome royalties and are protected by the Performing Rights Society, he would have made a fortune.  Instead he knew hard times, often sleeping on the London Embankment and living in cheap lodging houses.

"Right up to the time of his death Harry used to tell his wife: 'I'm going to bet that I'll write another winner before I turn my toes up' - but he never did.

"He liked to remember, even at a time when he did not know where the next meal was coming from, that he had written more songs than any other living writer.

"He never grumbled because he knew poverty.  'I've lived a full life, had lots of fun, and met lots of good fellows.'  That was his philosophy.

"He was just a boy when he started writing, and Charlie Chaplin's father was one of the first artistes to whom he sold his work.  Film start Charlie was only a few months old then; often he took him on his knee and crooned his latest melody in his ear.

"That child," Chaplin senior used to say, "will be a great comedian one day".

"And I'll be one of the world's greatest rag-time writers," Harry would reply laughingly.   And they were both right.

" But there was very little money in song-writing in those days.  Although one of Harry's pieces, 'When the Old Dun Caw Caught Fire' sold a quarter of a million copies, he received exactly a guinea for it.  Song writers sold their songs outright to the artistes who were going to sing them and that was the end of financial reward for the writer, although his song might make the singer famous and wealthy almost overnight.  Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno liked his work.

"One night The Great Vance had an engagement at a smoking concert and asked Harry to go along with him.  After the show he persuaded Harry to go up to a gentleman present and call him 'Daddy' and another man sitting next to him 'Umbrella'.

"After a tense silence they both burst out laughing 'Daddy' was King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) and 'Umbrella' was the nick name of the Duke of Cambridge!

"The Great Vance paid him seven shillings and sixpence for the song he sang that night, which was quite a fair payment for those days.  On a later occasion, when Little Tich gave him 20 guineas for one number, everybody thought he was crazy.

"A few writers, including Wincott, formed themselves into a protection society called The Nibs and forced the price up from one guinea to two guineas per song.

"Harry could always profit from his misfortunes.  He was singing to some old fold at Walworth one night when a friend rushed up and whispered: 'Say Harry, did you know the brokers went into your house just after you left?'

"When he got home he found all the furniture gone.  So he sat down on a soap box and wrote 'The Broker's Man'.  As long as he had a pen and paper he was never at a loss to make a few pounds.

"He started writing when a boy.  At 19 he added an extra two pounds a week to his pay roll by becoming a "ledger clerk" but was sacked for writing couplets in the ledgers!

"Here is his own version of how he came to write his most famous song, 'Mademoiselle from Armentiers'.

'War broke out.  I walked into a recruiting office, but they said: 'Go away Grandpa and write your songs.'  Three of my sons joined the army.  They wrote to me from the battlefields and said 'Dad, why don't you write a song we can sing?'  I sat down and wrote 'Mademoiselle from Armentiers' and a few weeks later I stood at the side of the road watching troops marching along, singing my song and keeping pace with the rhythm of it.   My sons went over the top with the tune of my song on their lips and only 37 of their battalion came back.'

"But Harry barely managed to keep his head above water during those dreadful days of the First World War.  Already the style of music was changing.  The whole publishing business was becoming completely transformed.  America was competing and our song writers were starving.  That's what gave Harry the inspiration to writer for Harry Randall 'Its's a Fine Institution is the Workhouse!'

"His resistance against the blows of fate broke down when his daughter, on her way to a party, was burned to death when her party dress caught fire.  A few months later his wife died of a broken heart.  He was never the same Harry Wincott afterwards.

"A few days ago John Rorke sang Harry Wincott's 'Boiled Beef and Carrots' on the radio, and his songs will be sung wherever folk like to gather and recall the good old days when the music halls erer the thing and motion picture were in their infancy."

Harry left a widow Margaret, his second wife of ten years, living in Goldcroft and who once managed her own troupe of dancers.  She told the Western Gazette that his last request was for a pint of beer.

Harry Wincott (Alfred James Walden) was buried in Yeovil Cemetery on 24 April 1947, and sadly lies in an unmarked grave.


Western Gazette 1 April 2004



A PENSIONER was so moved by the plight of a popular songster who is buried in an unmarked grave that he set up a fund to give him the memorial he deserves. Harry Wincott, buried at Yeovil Cemetery, was one of the world's best-known comic songwriters and if he had lived today would have been a wealthy man.

But he made so little from his songs that for a time he slept on London's Embankment, had a visit from the bailiffs and in 1947 was buried in an unmarked grave in Yeovil Cemetery.

Frank Leamon, aged 82, of North Street, Martock, read Harry's story in The Yeovil Times and believes something should be done to honour "part of Britain's heritage".

He said: "This man had a tremendous talent and it seems dreadful that he lies in an unmarked grave and no-one cares. We should care.

"He had a tremendous output and his songs are part of the British heritage.

"I don't want him to go on lying in a pauper's grave."

Mr Leamon has set up the fund to buy a fitting headstone for the man who has given him so much pleasure and he is prepared to get the ball rolling with a donation.

Mr Leamon remembers singing along to How's Your Father, Boiled Beef and Carrots, Any Old Iron and other hits, but Harry was writing before royalties were protected by the Performing Rights Society.

He was paid the princely sum of one guinea for his hit When the Old Dun Cow Caught Fire, which sold 250,000 copies.

With other writers he started a society called The Nibs which helped double the price paid for each song, but he had to supplement his income by becoming a clerk - although he got the sack when he started using the ledger pages for composing.

Three of his sons joined the army and wrote to him from the battlefields saying he should write a song for the troops so he penned Mademoiselle from Armen- tiers and watched as soldiers marched off to the front singing his song.

He died in Goldcroft leaving a widow, Margaret.

His first wife had died broken hearted when their daughter was burned alive after her dress caught fire.


Western Gazette 15 April 2004


A Campaign by a pensioner to provide a fitting memorial to a popular songwriter has started off on a high note. Frank Leamon read in Western Gazette's sister paper The Yeovil Times that World War One composer Harry Wincott was buried in an unmarked grave in Yeovil Cemetery.

Wincott whose formidable song list includes the classics Boiled Beef and Carrots and Any Old Iron would have been a wealthy man had he lived today.

But he made so little from his songs that for a time he slept on London's embankment and in 1947 died penniless.

Mr Leamon, who recalls singing along to the songs in his younger days, was so incensed when he learned of the songwriter's final resting place that he phoned The Western Gazette to announce that he was starting a fund to buy a memorial befitting Harry's place in the world of music.

Relatives in Ilminster read the story and contacted Harry's grandson Sid Walden who lives in Bournemouth.

Last week Mr Walden and members of his family visited the cemetery and have vowed to place a permanent memorial on the burial site.

Mr Walden said: "I was gutted when I read he had an unmarked grave. I couldn't believe it and was so disappointed.

"I heard Mr Leamon had started a fund but I said 'forget it, there is going to be a gravestone' and I got going.

"I was absolutely gutted to think that after what he's done for the musical world that he was not appreciated.

"That is going to be changed."

With wife Audrey, daughter Karen and grandchildren Jennifer and Andrew he visited the site of his famous ancestor's grave and is now busy with plans for a suitable headstone and memorial for the songwriter whose real name was Alfred Walden.

Sister-in-law Marjorie Berry read the story in The Yeovil Times and couldn't believe it.

She said: "I contacted Karen who had been doing a lot of work on the family tree so I knew she would be interested. They were thrilled to bits when I told them."

Mr Leamon said he hoped there would be a big ceremony when the memorial is in place. He said: "It is conceivable because of what I did that they started doing something about it."

Harry who also penned the classic, Mademoiselle From Arnmentiers, died a pauper in Goldcroft, Yeovil in 1947.

He was writing before the days when The Performing Rights Society protected royalties and for his hit When The Old Dun Cow Caught Fire he was paid only one guinea, even though it sold 250,000 copies.

He started The Nibs Society with other writers to help them see a better reward for their talent.

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