Christmas with Vera Lynn
Music For Pleasure MFP 50315
I am no military historian and do not propose to dwell on the topic in any great depth, but there are many complex and convoluted reasons why the Germans eventually lost the Second World War. A failure to capitalise on their surrounding of the British forces on the beaches of Dunkirk? A sudden switch from the bombing of purely military targets to a civilian bombing campaign? Perhaps the powerful combined forces of the Russians and Americans joining with the Allies in 1941 made the task of the Axis powers impossible, the military odds simply too great to overcome. All of these are I’m sure valid reasons for the fall of the Third Reich, but from a purely British point of view it is hard to underestimate the vital role that light entertainment played in the long battle against fascism.
While Joseph Goebbels and the state propaganda ministry of Nazi Germany were making earnest, serious and often paranoid features intended to edify and motivate the German populace, the UK film industry was churning out hundreds of gleefully cheap films a year featuring all manner of buffoonish, slightly misshapen, yet always resolutely cheeky, cheerful and chipper stars. The likes of Tommy Trinder, George Formby, Will Hay, Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn were mobilised into action and all diligently did their light entertainment ‘bit’ for the war effort. These grinning, wonky-toothed starlets may not have actually won the war themselves, but by gum they did a sterling job entertaining and motivating all those brave souls who did eventually win the war, usually by utilising the more conventional means of guns and large khaki coloured pieces of machinery.
The glamorous (compared to George Formby at least) Vera Lynn was born in 1917 in East Ham, London, and was an attractive young girl in her early twenties when war broke out. Already an experienced performer by that early stage, having sung in big bands and on the radio since the early 1930s, she made an international name for herself with the hit single We’ll Meet Again, a deliberately mournful, yearning and wistful tune which effortlessly echoed the sentiments of thousands of families kept apart by the fighting overseas. The song was a huge hit for Vera and even inspired a 1943 film of the same name in which she starred.
After the war, Vera Lynn’s career went from strength to strength and unlike her wartime contemporaries her style and appeal changed with the times, allowing her popularity to remain steady over the years. A hit maker through the 1950s, she made the transition to become a popular variety performer in the TV dominated 1960s and 70s. She was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1975, in the days before knighthoods and damehoods were given out to all and sundry like cheap chocolate coins in an orphanage.
Remarkably, Dame Vera remains popular even today. Her 2009 album We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn reached number one and made her, at the age of 92, the oldest person ever to reach such dizzy heights. Given the propensity of pop stars to die early from all manner of unfortunate and unlikely mishaps, often involving fancy cocktails and bad behaviour, this looks to be a record that could stand for some time. Thankfully, by the time Ronan Keating reaches an age to beat it, I will have been under the ground for quite a few years or else be a cryogenically suspended brain observing the world through a glass jar. Either way, I will safely be beyond all forms of caring about the possible consequences of any centenarian boy-band reunion and subsequent cash-in live double album.
Pink Floyd, and Roger Waters in particular, seem to be quite dedicated Vera Lynn fans. Their 1979 album The Wall featured a song entitled Vera in which Roger asked the irrevocably rhetorical question, “does anybody else in here remember Vera Lynn?” Given that The Wall stadium tour opened with a playing of Vera singing We’ll Meet Again, and also given the fact that Vera Lynn had been on telly for the last forty years warbling her heart out, it seems likely that most people did. Later on, the 1982 film of The Wall chose to open with Vera’s maudlin, heart string tugging ballad The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot. This song seemed to echo brilliantly Roger Waters’ basic themes explored in The Wall of nearly everyone in the world being to blame for poor Roger the jaded multi-millionaire being quite a bit fed up and rich and not having any friends to play with. So in that spirit, here is the aforementioned maudlin Christmas ballad, presented without a turgid heavy-going two hour rock concept album about alienation, isolation and the end of innocence tagged on to the end. Let’s hear ya Vera.