This article was first posted in November 2021, but was significantly updated in the light of important new information in January 2022, with an additional biographical note added in July 2023.
This article covers programmes 5 and 6 in the Thirsty Work series broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme between 9th April 1940 and 7th March 1941.
It makes most sense if you read the introduction to the series (‘Thirsty Work’ Part 1) before this one.
- Programme 5 was first broadcast on 22nd July 1940 from recordings made at the Ivy Inn, North Littleton, near Evesham, Worcestershire on 6th & 7th June 1940. The first six minutes of this programme were not broadcast due to a technical hitch, and so it was repeated on 17th Sept 1940.
- Programme 6 was broadcast on 28th November 1940 from recordings made at the Ebrington Inn, Ebrington, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, on 27th and 28th September 1940, and was repeated on 3rd January 1941.
As with Programme 4, there seemed to be no recordings in existence, so originally we had no information about the songs sung on these programmes (update: see ‘Thirsty Work’ Part 5 – Director’s Cut, for new details of recordings). A visit to the BBC Written Archives Centre has now revealed the details of the songs sung as well as the way these two locations only ten miles apart came to be chosen.
In a memo to Thirsty Work producer Maurice Brown written on 8th May 1940, BBC Midlands producer Robin Whitworth advised him: “There are some enthusiastic pub singers at North Littleton, about 5 miles from Evesham. There are two Pubs there, but the “Ivy” is the best.” Brown followed this up quickly, visiting the Ivy in company with Charles Gardiner on 21st and 22nd May and arrangements were made to record over the first weekend in June.
It seemed strange that the next programme was also from the Cotswolds, but again, information in the BBC archives has revealed something of the situation at the time: in a letter dated 1st July 1940, Brown wrote to Gardiner: “Could we visit a Cotswold pub as soon after July 22 as possible to fix a recording for August? Unfortunately all my East, South-east, South and South-west coastal pubs are unapproachable because of the military. What shall I do?!”
Gardiner’s response at the end of that month was: “There doesn’t seem to be a pub in Chipping Campden that is not occupied or “ear-marked” by the military and I have made provisional arrangements for a sing-song at the Ebrington Arms a mile and a half beyond Campden where you can be assured of a quiet truly rural atmosphere. We can easily get one or two good singers from Campden over there and they will be well known to the local company.” Brown agreed to this arrangement and recordings were made in the Ebrington Arms on 27th and 28th September.
Broadcast on 22nd July 1940 (repeated 17th September)
“An evening of country and popular songs recorded in a Worcestershire inn by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit. Produced by Maurice Brown. The singers are: Charles Gardiner, George Norledge, Harry Gisboume, Bill Norledge, Wilson Ballard, Frank Norledge, Dick Emms, Sidney Gisboume, Jack Brookes and other regulars of The Ivy, North Littleton.”
In the Radio Times it actually says North Dittleton, but it’s a misprint. It was North Littleton, and there’s also a South Littleton and Middle Littleton, all villages a few miles north of Evesham.
Bill and George Norledge were brothers, the oldest in the company of singers when this programme was made. They were brought up in the nearby villages of Todenham and Offenham (home to one of the tallest permanent maypoles in England). Bill (1867-1946) lived his married life in South Littleton where he worked as a farm carter and coal haulier. George (1870-1960) also lived in South Littleton all his adult life and had various jobs including stone quarrying as a young man and jobbing gardener in later life.
Frank Norledge (1900-1986) was George’s son and Bill’s nephew. He grew up in South Littleton but by 1939 was living in North Littleton and working as a sanitary labourer.
Harry and Sidney Gisbourne were also brothers, who grew up in North Littleton. Harry (1891-1966) served in the First World War, becoming a sergeant in the Worcestershire Regiment. By 1939 he was working as a market gardener and assistant postman and living near the Ivy Inn. His younger brother Sidney (1900-?) also lived nearby and worked as a market gardener.
Wilson Ballard (1882-1945) seems to have moved about a bit, but by 1939 was settled in North Littleton, working as a market gardener with three sons working alongside him.
Jack Brookes (1882-?) also lived in the village, and worked as market gardener in his younger life, though by 1939 he was working as a carter on a farm.
I wasn’t able to identify Dick Emms (also referred to as Harry) confidently until I got a tip off from Paul Burgess, who pointed me in the direction of Richard Henry Emms (1886-1967) – i.e. Dick Harry! This man was living in Monmouthshire at the time of the radio broadcasts, so he hadn’t been an obvious candidate, but he had enough local connections to convince both of us he was the man on the radio programme.
Charles Gardiner (1902-1966) was born and brought up in Cirencester. Sometime after his marriage in 1925, he moved to the Evesham area where he became Clerk to Evesham Rural District Council and several other local authorities. By 1939 he was living in the village of Aldington, where he remained for the rest of this life. It is apparent from the Register taken that year that he was very active in the War effort locally, with his extra jobs including ARP Officer, Food Executive Officer and National Registration Officer. But Gardiner also had a creative streak – we shall come to that a little later in the section titled Cotswold Dramas. Through this connection we know that he sang The Village Pump and Good Ale, although we don’t know if either of these featured in the Thirsty Work programme. We also know that he collected songs in his local area, although to what extent isn’t known.
Songs from the Littleton villages
The “Programme as broadcast” documentation held in the BBC archives reveals the songs broadcast in the two Littleton programmes – the incomplete first broadcast (just 4 songs, indicated with an asterisk here) and the repeat with the whole of the intended programme. It is not known who sang which songs, although only Harry Gisbourne, Frank Norledge and Jack Brookes were listed in the first programme, so they must have sung the starred items between them.
- Is Everybody Happy Here?
- Johnny George
- I’m a broken-down man
- Barley Mow *
- Two Little Girls in Blue *
- Buttercup Joe
- Swim, Sam, Swim
- Never let your braces dangle *
- Just like the Ivy *
These songs are a mixture of traditional, Music Hall and popular songs, in keeping with Brown’s broad criteria (see Part 1.)
There is also evidence of folk songs that were sung by some other people in the village.
James Madison Carpenter and Francis Collinson had both collected songs from singers in Littleton: Carpenter’s singer was Charles Rose, who was actually still alive when the Thirsty Work programmes were recorded – in his eighties, living in North Littleton. Carpenter made a wax cylinder recording of Rose singing Gaffy Gay, and noted down I am a Rover, King Arthur’s Three Sons and One-O. (Image above from VWML – see References & Links section.)
Collinson’s singer was Miss M. Osbourne, who sang Lord Nelson: this could have been either of two sisters from a pub-keeping family in the village. Millie May Osbourne was still alive in 1941, and living in North Littleton, where in 1939 she was licensee of the Blacksmith’s Arms: a pub evidently to known to BBC producer Robin Whitworth when he wrote the memo to Maurice Brown quoted previously, but which lost out to the Ivy for the Thirsty Work broadcast.
Whitworth may also have provided an introduction for Maurice Brown to local man Charles Gardiner, but it’s very likely that the two had already met, as Brown had actually lived in Evesham for a short while. In August 1939, the BBC Radio Features and Drama department evacuated to Wood Norton Hall in Evesham, and on the 1939 Register taken a few weeks later, Maurice Brown and his wife Dorothea were listed as living in the Market Place. The department moved on to Manchester in November, but Wood Norton Hall continued to be used by the Monitoring Service for the duration of the war. So Brown probably wasn’t in Evesham for more than a few months, but probably long enough to have come into contact with Charles Gardiner, who apart from his day job in local government, was also an amateur writer of “sketches” for the BBC Midlands Region. Correspondence in the BBC archives reveals much antagonism from the Midlands Regional Executive towards Brown, who worked for the National section of the BBC, accusing him of poaching on their patch and, in a particularly frosty and exasperated memo from October 1940: “I have given up asking Mr Brown to inform us beforehand of their visits,” and “I am responsible for any contracts between Mr Charles Gardiner, a very well known Midland broadcaster, and the corporation.”
Some of those rural vignettes written by Charles Gardiner featured other local singers that we are about to meet in the next pub …
Broadcast on 28th November 1940 (repeated 3rd January 1941)
“An evening of popular and country singing recorded by the BBC Mobile Recording Unit in a Cotswold inn. Chairman, Charles Gardiner. Singers: George Hawkins, Lionel Ellis, Ben Benfield, Garnet Keyte, Dick Taylor, Sydney Nicholls, and other regulars of the Ebrington Arms, Ebrington
Produced by Maurice Brown.
“Maurice Brown took the recording car to Ebrington Arms, Ebrington, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, a few weeks ago, and made the recordings there for this programme. The name Ebrington is pronounced ‘ Yommerton ‘ in these parts, and is known locally as ‘ the place where the fools come from’. The villagers, however, say that ‘ only fools go there’. The singers will include a coal seller, a bricklayer, a policeman, and a man who says he is a Jack-of-all-trades. Many of the songs have never been recorded before, and most of them are drinking songs.”
As noted in the introduction here, it had originally been the hope to broadcast Programme 6 from a pub in Chipping Campden, but these were all too busy with soldiers, so this country pub a couple of miles away was suggested by Charles Gardiner. Several of the singers that Gardiner knew in Campden were taken down to the Ebrington arms, but interestingly Tom Hooke was not among the Campden contingent, despite being a very well-known community singer there; he had been born in London and had worked professionally on the music halls, so would probably not have fitted into Brown’s vision of the amateur country singer singing for singing’s sake.
The “Programme as broadcast” documentation reveals the songs recorded in the Ebrington Arms on 27th and 28th September 1940: there were a couple of drinking songs, and quite a few had been commercially recorded, so the Radio Time claim wasn’t particularly accurate, and unlike the introductory paragraph, was probably not written by Brown himself.
- Down by the old Abbey Gardens
- Foolish Boy
- Jones’ Ale
- The Fly be on the Turmut
- The Black Horse
- Granny’s Old Armchair
- The man who invented beer
See ‘Thirsty Work’ Part 5 – Director’s Cut, for new details of recordings from Programme 6.
Early folksong collecting in Ebrington and Chipping Campden
Ebrington turns out to be a well-trodden location for folk collectors. When Cecil Sharp visited the area in 1909 (during which time he was also collecting morris dances in the Cotswolds) he noted songs from several singers in Ebrington, including Charles Woodward, Albert Parnell and Thomas Coldicott. The latter singer had first come to the Folk Song Society’s attention in 1892 when his song We Shepherds are the Best of Men was published in English County Songs. Lucy Broadwood and Fuller Maitland had been introduced to Thomas Coldicott by Frederick Scarlett Potter, a sculptor and writer. Scarlett Potter also noted down The Barrel of Pork and Job Jenkins from Higford Keyte, who was related to Thirsty Work singer Garnet Keyte in some way.
Later on, Francis Collinson also collected at least one song in Chipping Campden – The Foolish Boy – from Garnet Keyte (no date, but quite likely to be 1940s).
The Thirsty Work singers
Garnet Keyte (1883-1971) was born and brought up in the nearby town of Chipping Campden where his father ran a coal business. On his first marriage he was described as a farmer, but a few years later when his father died he went into the coal business himself and was successful enough to buy two houses in 1919. That same year saw the death of his first wife, but he soon met and married his second wife, who was herself a widow with three young children after her first husband had been killed in World War One. By 1939 they had moved out of the centre of the town and were living in a new council house on Station Road, from where Keyte continued to run the coal business and he was a familiar face around the town carrying hundredweights of coal from the lorry to houses and cellars.
Lionel Ellis (1904-1986) was living in Chipping Campden High Street in 1939, where his widowed mother was running a fishmongers and greengrocery, whilst he was working as a market gardener. He married in December that year, and in 1945 he and his wife Dorrie had a house built at their market garden on Aston Road. He lived his whole life in the town, working in younger life in his father’s basket making business making skeps for the produce grown locally, and later running a successful market gardening and floristry business. In May 1920 Lionel Ellis, then aged 15, and two of his older brothers Michael (1904-1982) and Don (Percy McDonald, 1906-1993) first danced with the Chipping Campden Morris. Morris historian Keith Chandler interviewed both Lionel and his brother Don, and in 1997 he described Don as “the custodian of the tradition and its history across more than eighty years.” Lionel Ellis stopped dancing sometime in the 1950s. He and Garnet Keyte clearly knew each other well, as can be seen by their many radio projects detailed in the next section. In the interview with Keith Chandler, he sings a snatch of The Village Pump, but says “I never considered myself a singer … in fact I was damned nervous.”
Ben Benfield (1906-1979) also lived in Chipping Campden for his whole life and in 1939 was living on Aston Road and working in the building trade, although later he worked as a groundsman at the Grammar School. He was another morris dancer, joining the team in 1931 and remaining a member of the side until the mid 1950s.
Sydney Nicholls (1903-1975) was from Ebrington itself. He worked as a farm labourer and seemed never to have married.
Dick Taylor (1914-1986) lived in Ebrington and in 1939 was married and working as a builder’s labourer.
George Hawkins (1869-1961) was often known as “Shep” or “Shup”. In his youth he moved around a fair bit in villages around the Evesham and Stratford area, but when he was about 40 he settled in Ebrington where he remained for the rest of his 92 years. He is generally described as a shepherd, but in 1958 when he won a long service award from the Royal Agricultural Assocation, his employer Mr Harry Stanley told the Tewkesbury Register “It was impossible to put Shep in the wrong job. He was shepherd, shearer, thatcher, mole catcher, drainer, mower, ditcher and hedge cutter, and in the days when wheat crops were weeded by hoeing, Shep always set the pace for the rest of the team, even when he was 70.” Another report reveals that “Shep” Hawkins was also a noted athlete – winning sprint races at the age of 80. At the age of 78 he appeared on Wilfred Pickles’ popular Have a Go radio show and boasted that he had two children aged eight and nine with his second wife! Thirsty Work was not Hawkins’ first radio appearance, as he had been a guest on a 1939 radio programme scripted and hosted by Charles Gardiner (See next section), called Down on the Farm. This had been recorded in Evesham Town Hall, where Hawkins turned up in his full shepherd’s regalia.
Peter Kennedy visited Shep Hawkins in 1957. Hawkins had memories of the morris dancing tradition in Ilmington as well as songs he had learned from older generations, such as The Little Black Horse, or The Penny Wager, which Peter Kennedy recorded from him in 1957. See the Links section below to listen to that recording.
Finally we get to consider the circumstances in which this group of men came to be gathered for the Thirsty Work recording, and to find out more about the man who arranged it, who acted as chairman for this session and who also sang in the Ivy Inn in North Littleton: Charles Gardiner.
And in fact, according to notes made in 1952 by Peter Kennedy, it was Gardiner who had originally collected the song mentioned above, The Little Black Horse.
Searching the Radio Times genome archive for Gardiner turned up a number of programmes written by him: mostly dialect “sketches” set in the fictional village of Upper Slocombe, which ran until the mid 1950s. Garnet Keyte and Lionel Ellis were regularly performers in these regional dramas, but their first radio appearance actually predated Gardiner’s work, when they were in The Campden Wonder, written by John Masefield, on 9th January 1935. Ellis had been on the radio even earlier, on a documentary in 1934 called The Microphone at Large, the first edition of which came from Chipping Campden.
Gardiner’s first programme was broadcast on 18th March, 1936: Motor Cars or Hosses – “Being a Truthful Account of one of the more Deplorable Episodes in the History of the Parish Council of the Cotswold Village of Upper Slocombe.” The Gloucestershire Echo (20th March) commented after the programmes that: “Very few people could have recognised the voice of the author in the preliminary anecdotes, nor will many realise that the solo which was rendered in the inn scene was actually sung by Mr. Gardiner.”
The second in the series was Pump and Circumstance broadcast in May 1937 and again (with a different producer) in 1938 – “A faithful account of another deplorable episode in the History of the Parish Council of the Worcestershire village of Upper Slocombe. Reconstructed from the unofficial records by C. H. Gardiner. Re- enacted by a group of Local Inhabitants. The first ‘ deplorable episode’ reconstructed by C. H. Gardiner, who is Clerk to Evesham District Council, concerned a conflict between advocates of ‘hosses’ and ‘motor’ for a new fire engine. The present play deals with a dispute about whether the parish pump, the water of which is contaminated, shall be replaced by a piped water supply. Pump and Circumstance will be acted by Worcestershire players in the local dialect.”
A full listing of Charles Gardiner’s output (so far as I have been able to ascertain) is appended here as a PDF: Charles Gardiner’s radio programmes Just a reminder here, that if you would like to use or refer to any of this original research, please credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source.
In the 1982 interview with Keith Chandler the Morris historian, Lionel Ellis describes how, as a result of him and several others refusing to join the Actors’ Union, Equity, their involvement in this dramatic work came to an end. The story within the family was that Ellis and a couple of others asked to be paid for rehearsals. This was refused and Ellis “stormed off”! His last drama was The Silver Bowl (1955), a retelling of The Campden Wonder, written this time by Georgie Herschel, who had produced a costumed version for the Chipping Campden celebrations of the Festival of Britain in 1951. He continued with occasional involvement in features and documentaries, such as the 1957 programme People Today where he was the subject of an interview by film-maker Philip Donellan, who also included both Lionel and his wife in his 1966 film The Abbey of the English about Westminster Abbey.
You may recognise the name Bob Arnold in this group of men. He went on to play the part of Tom Forrest in the long-running radio series The Archers – set in the fictional village of Ambridge, which is said to be based on the village of Inkberrow, a few miles northwest of North Littleton.
Other men in this photo who were regulars in Gardiner’s dramatic productions and who subsequently went on to be long-running cast members of The Archers were Bill Payne from Ebrington who played Ned Larkin, and George Hart from Campden who played Jethro Larkin, until 1987.
Bob Arnold worked with Charles Gardiner regularly, and in the library of the English Folk Dance and Song Society is a proposal by Gardiner for a radio programme Songs of the Upper Thames, about the folksong collector Alfred Williams, detailing the songs the two of them would sing (see Links). This was broadcast on the Western regional programme on 1st July 1949.
Arnold (born George Richard Arnold, 1910-1998) came from Asthall near Burford, in the south Cotswolds, and had a successful radio career melding together singing (especially before the War), reading (Morning Story, Children’s Hour), acting (The Mayor of Casterbridge) and compering, with a busy sideline in being a guest celebrity asked to open fetes etc. He credited his early radio involvement to influential acquaintances such as William and Peggy Kettlewell who lived in Burwell; the latter was the first secretary at the English Folk Dance Society in 1911, and the two were acquaintances of Cecil Sharp; these links with the EFDSS provided Arnold with further radio work such as English Dance Party in the 1950s. A BBC radio producer who was involved in the earliest actuality recordings from the Cotswolds in 1934 – Owen Reed – also produced The Mayor of Casterbridge and other programmes where Bob Arnold was involved in an acting role some twenty years later.
Bob Arnold first heard folksongs in the pub run by his grandfather, The Three Horseshoes (now the Maytime Inn) in Asthall and learned Good Ale from Charles Gardiner. He made an LP Mornin’ All in 1972 with the Yetties consisting of a selection of standard rural folk songs. His last appearance on The Archers was at Christmas 1997, when – very appropriately – he was singing folksongs in the Ambridge pub, The Bull.
So there you have it, the roots of The Archers in the “Upper Slocombe” series of sketches, written by Charles Gardiner and featuring several of the singers from Programme 6 in the Thirsty Work series. I have often wondered if the name of Gardiner’s fictitious village was inspired by Marie Slocombe, who worked for the BBC: she was based at Evesham in the War and went on to become an integral part of the team fronted by Peter Kennedy that recorded folk song in many more locations than the seven featured in this radio series (see Part 1).
‘Thirsty Work’ Part 2: the North – singing from Ambleside, Redmire and Harome
‘Thirsty Work’ Part 3: East Anglia and the East Midlands – singing from the Eel’s Foot Inn, Suffolk and Wakerley, Northamptonshire
‘Thirsty Work’ part 5: Director’s Cut – recordings from Programmes 5 & 6 and other updates.
I originally found out about the Thirsty Work programmes on the Radio Times Programme Index (previously known as the Genome project), which is very easy to browse and search. Further information on the making of these programmes has been added from the BBC Written Archives Centre, which is by appointment only, in person.
Thanks to Gwilym Davies, Judith Ellis, Keith Chandler and Paul Burgess.
Gwilym and Carol Davies and team have put together a splendid local resource on their Glostrad website.
Peter Kennedy’s 1957 recording of Shep Hawkins singing The Little Black Horse may be heard on the British Library Sound Archive website.
Peter Kennedy’s typewritten reports for the BBC make fascinating reading: here’s a link to one of his 1952 trips which included Charles Gardiner, Lionel Ellis and Bob Arnold as well as referring to the dialect liaison link: Peter Kennedy Archive (see pp 1, 8, 9, 10).
Francis Collinson’s transcription of Garnet Keyte singing The Foolish Boy is in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and can be seen in their digital archive.
Charles Gardiner’s outline of his 1949 radio feature Songs of the Upper Thames on the work of Alfred Williams may also be read in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library digital archive. Gardiner had a lifelong interest in dialect, publishing a number of articles in the Evesham Post in 1959-1960, which were gathered together in a booklet entitled The Old Cotswold Dialect published by the Evesham Historical Society in 2008.
James Madison Carpenter’s collection of songs, mumming plays etc has an online catalogue.
Chipping Campden Morris can trace their history back to the 18th century. They have a unique tradition which has been passed on down the generations and is not danced by any other morris sides. For more history on the team, see Chipping Campden Morris Dancers – an outline history by Keith Chandler, The Morris Dancer, 1997.
The Chipping Campden Historical Society has a brilliant website with several related stories on it, from where I sourced the good quality photo of the Cotswolds drama team in 1949. Here’s a link to the Have-A-Go story from the Evesham Journal on their site. They also published a booklet called Campden Characters in 2011 which includes Garnet Keyte and the Ellis family, and mentions morris dancing, singing and mumming.
The Ivy Inn in North Littleton has its own folktale The Mystery of the Ivy Inn, told on its website.
Anyone wishing to cite this original research should credit it to Katie Howson and cite this website as the source. © Katie Howson, 2021.
It is due to be published in print form in the near future, and details will be posted here when known. Should you wish to use any of the information or images here, please do contact me first.
I have far more biographical and anecdotal evidence about the singers than can be published here – if you are a relative or a researcher, please do get in touch, I would be very happy to share the information I have.