In honour of the annual Talk Like A Pirate Day, which was celebrated earlier this week and takes place every September 19 (and at the behest of my colleague Beccy), today I bring you something a little pirate-y (as Mr Mann would put it).
In 1962 Jon Pertwee – comic actor and the man who would go on to be THE Doctor Who (for my generation at least) recorded an album entitled Jon Pertwee Sings Songs for Vulgar Boatmen. Released on the Philips label, the album also spawned two EPs, amusingly titled Jon Pertwee Sings Songs for Vulgar Boatmen No. 1 and the even more original Jon Pertwee Sings Songs for Vulgar Boatmen No. 2.
Born in 1919, Pertwee’s career began shortly before World War 2, appearing as an ‘extra’ in the films A Yank At Oxford and The Four Just Men. He served in the Royal Navy before returning to the screen in 1946 (in Trouble in the Air), but it was on radio where he started to make a name for himself, in series including the long-running the Navy Lark. But for many of us it will be his stint as the third (if you discount peter Cushing in the cinema adaptations) Dr Who for which he will be forever remembered.
The tracks Pertwee performed on Songs for Vulgar Boatmen remind me a lot of Kenneth Williams’ brilliant Rambling Syd Rumpo songs and it’s clear that the producers of this cacophony were trying to appeal to the same audience. The humour is broad and not very sophisticated and even the sleeve notes are little more than a ham-fisted attempt at Carry On-style cheap laughs: Jon Pertwee…creates the remarkable illusion that he is not singing at all; we needed the specialised treatment of a man unshackled by trained musical technology; how to get the best out of this record: a blunt, or slightly chipped mind will be a great help. An added bonus is that the tracks are arranged (and, in the case of What a Shame, co-written) by our old friend Ivor Raymonde, who had worked with Williams on Hancock’s Half Hour.
The original choice for the role of Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army (his cousin Bill Pertwee played Warden Hodges), Songs for Vulgar Boatmen wouldn’t be Pertwee’s only brush with music: he later released singles in the UK based on his portrayal of Dr Who and inspired by his other great role, that of the perennial children’s favourite Worzel Gummidge.