Sep 06

SCAFFOLD – “Lily The Pink”

FT + Popular52 comments • 8,423 views

#262, 14th December 1968

SCAFFOLD – “Lily The Pink”As a small schoolboy a yearly highlight was “Camp 200” – this was something my school organised whereby 200 boys would go to a campsite in the wilds and woods of deepest Surrey and spend a weekend there. For an 8 or 9 year old it was exciting stuff: it involved a treasure hunt in the woods, a barbeque and an assault course. Scary stories were a big part of the experience: at the edge of the campsite was a ruined house, home of a spectral ‘White Lady’, and of course the woods were crawling with murderous tramps who would stab you through the wall of your tent if your eyes dared close.

The highlight though was the campfire. Mr White, the school’s token ‘trendy teacher’, would lead a sing-song and then tell ghost stories. Neither aspect was especially appealing in itself to cowardly young me but the atmosphere was intoxicating: being up excitingly late, and seeing teachers with guitars and off their guard (rumour had it that last year Mr. White had told a dirty joke). The songsheet was a mix of singalong scouting tunes, many in cleaner versions than their playground equivalents. “You’ll Never Go To Heaven In A Baked Bean Tin”, “Quartermaster’s Stores”, “On Top Of Old Smokey”, and folk songs like “Sloop John B” and “Streets Of London”. One of them was “Lily The Pink”.

It never occurred to me aged 8 that any of these songs had been written by anyone – except for “Streets Of London” which always carried a credit on the songsheet, perhaps Mr. White did not want to dis Ralph McTell.  I assumed they were all tunes which the teachers had themselves sung in their dim boyhood. So it’s very odd to come across “Lily The Pink” in the list of Number Ones: I remember similar shock when I realised that Play School favourite “Octopus’ Garden” was a Beatles tune.

In a previous comments thread somebody mentioned that 1968 saw the start of a dedicated children’s slot on Radio 1, and an increase in childrens’ hits getting to number one. “Lily The Pink” definitely qualifies: as an adult I think I would go mental if I had to listen to it again, but I can still feel its appeal as a rousing group tune – the thumping rhymes, the quick syllables of “medicinal compound”, the daffy verses all make it terrific fun to sing (if you’re 8). So take the mark on this one as even more irrelevant than usual: this is a bad record which does a job very well.

Now I’m around the age Mr White was then, I can understand the campfire songsheet more from his perspective: a collection of songs reflecting a taste and ethos as well as doing a job. He would have been a teen or young adult in the 1960s, quite possibly he was into the folk revival, and then the Beach Boys, and dug the wit and informality and reclaimed childishness of the Mersey Scene. He would not, really, have been trendy at all, but none the worse for that.



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  1. 1
    Tom on 1 Sep 2006 #

    This is also another in the run of (mostly bad) Beatles-related No.1s, broken only by Hugo M.

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    Doctor Casino on 1 Sep 2006 #

    It probably goes without saying that this was not a hit in the States, or if it was, it’s utterly disappeared from the popular consciousness since. There’s certain types of Britishness that just did not Invade very well, and this type of summer camp/pubby jollility is probably chief among them. Hearing it for the first time what strikes me most is the length – how do you get a #1 out of a four-plus-minute stomp through a really, REALLY repetitive alternation between verse and chorus? The false ending isn’t even a fun production trick, it’s more of an “oh, fuck, those bastards are coming back around again.” Tremendous dud in my opinion, although I have a feeling it’s going to pop up in my head at unwanted points throughout the future…

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    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 1 Sep 2006 #

    that is bcz the US has NO SENSE OF HISTORY

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    Oh No It's Dadaismus on 1 Sep 2006 #

    How many No. 1s (UK or US) have the word “efficacious” in the lyrics?

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    Oh No It's Dadaismus on 1 Sep 2006 #

    … and where does The Bonzos’ “Urban Spaceman” fit into all this? It was produced by Paul McCartney after all!

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    Doctor Mod on 1 Sep 2006 #

    I would be the first to agree that the US has no sense of history. And, no, Americans don’t know the meaning of “efficacious”, otherwise they’d elect a government that actually was.


    I have heard it said that the song is a reference to a patent medicine, named after one Mrs Lydia Pinkham, that was supposed to relieve what was once euphemistically known as “female troubles.”

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    Pete Baran on 1 Sep 2006 #

    I haf heard that too, but then I click on links…

    ROGER McGOUGH lets note, was involved in thsi shithole of a single. A man who had some rep as a kid friendly poet. Well let me tell you, as a child in the Eighties, McGough’s continuing presence almost wholly turn me off of poetry. He can rhyme, but so can a rhyming dictionary!

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    Chris Brown on 1 Sep 2006 #

    If you think this is repetitive, you should hear ‘Thank U Very Much’ (is that the first hit song title to use “U” for “you”, I wonder?)! Apparently they also had a minor hit with ‘Gin Gan Goolie’, which probably sums it up.

    Alas, ‘Urban Spaceman’ was never a Number One, but it was around the same era.

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    Doctor Casino on 1 Sep 2006 #

    I think “Thank U Very Much” might have been used in a credit card advertisement over here with a sort of Dickensian milieu. At least, it involved a lot of people singing “Thank you very much!” and sounded a lot like “Lily the Pink,” although perhaps a bit more cleanly-produced.

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    doofuus on 2 Sep 2006 #

    New Year’s Eve, 1969, my uncle Vic’s pub in Cheltenham(The Golden Cross, long since demolished). I can hear the thump thump thump of LTP on the bar jukebox, from the upstairs rooms where I was as 13 year old. Then all hell breaks loose, the big bar fight starts and the place got trashed. My Dad, who was helping serve beer, always blamed the constant replaying of the thump, thump, thump, for inciting the fight. So, I guess that fits Tom’s statement about going mental…
    At least my uncle’s big wall-mounted photo of himself with Jane Asher and Paul McCartney wasn’t broken; Uncle Vic was stage door keeper at the Bristol Theatre Royal when Ms Asher was acting there and when Macca came to visit.
    Little bit of history there.

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    Geoff on 2 Sep 2006 #

    “I think “Thank U Very Much” might have been used in a credit card advertisement”

    over here it was used for Roses chocolates.

    as for lily the pink, i like it.

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    Marcello Carlin on 4 Sep 2006 #

    Lily The Pink + Urban Spaceman + Marmalade’s Ob-La-Di all in the New Year ’69 top five – seasonal kiddies’ vote but also compensation for absence of actual Beatles Xmas single that year?

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    Marcello Carlin on 4 Sep 2006 #

    Young Tim Rice on Lily The Pink backing vocal detail, btw.

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    intothefireuk on 6 Sep 2006 #

    It was mildly amusing when I heard it as a child – once. I can still remember the Scaffold’s bent knee squat thrusts which constituted their ‘hilarious’ dance routine. It was very much a Junior Choice favourite and does appear on Children’s compilation CDs & that’s where it’s best left.

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    Erithian on 6 Sep 2006 #

    Doctor Casino said: “There’s certain types of Britishness that just did not Invade very well, and this type of summer camp/pubby jollity is probably chief among them”. And yet back in 1965 two of the US number 1 hits that jump out at you from the list were Herman’s Hermits’ versions of “Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henery the Eighth I Am” – both pure music-hall. By ‘68 the Invasion had abated, and it turns out the only UK act other than the Beatles and Stones to have a US Number 1 in the last three years of the 60s was Lulu (“To Sir With Love”).

    LMAO at doofuus’s story about Uncle Vic’s pub btw.

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    Doctor Casino on 7 Sep 2006 #

    But “Mrs. Brown” is a love song, and a cutesy innocent one too. And “Henry The Eighth” is a rollicking Merseybeat rocker with nice loud bass and a fierce little solo. In fact, I don’t hear what either of these really has to do with “Lily The Pink,” aside from the fact that you probably could shout along with “Henry” the way they do in “Lily,” but thankfully, Herman and company spare us from having to hear it on record…

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    blount on 7 Sep 2006 #

    i’m thinking there has to be a book or something about the britmania that seized america in the early 60s – beef wellington, bond, beatles, my fair lady/mary poppins – is there any common cw explanation for it? in any case it’s probably never been matched before or since (even the ‘british invasion’ of the early 80s did cross mediums or dominate nearly to the extent of 64’s) and it had clearly ebbed by the late 60s (zeppelin less screamingly ‘british’ sounding than herman’s hermits).

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    Doctor Casino on 8 Sep 2006 #

    As a wee lad on holiday I once was chatting up this girl who had a pronounced British accent and indeed was from England – the topic got on to music and I was trying to make some sort of point about how interesting it was that all the bands I was into were also from England. On the mention of Led Zeppelin: “What? They’re British? They sound so American!”

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    Tom on 8 Sep 2006 #

    Blount the book I’m reading right now (general hist. of Britain in the 1960s) talks about it a bit but pins it on the Beatles, though the author doesn’t really offer an explanation of WHY exactly the US was so ready to embrace the Beatles (aside from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” being a good record!). The picture he paints is of a load of Brit chancers spending 1964 digging up any old kitsch music hall tat and frenziedly exporting it.

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    Erithian on 8 Sep 2006 #

    One popular theory is that the US as a whole needed a tonic after the death of JFK and found it in the Beatles, the hysteria for the latter mirroring the national mourning for the former. (But of course the groundwork had to be done and a massive pre-publicity exercise paved the way for the Beatles’ first visit to the States.) The “Britmania” came in the wake of this, and created the atmosphere where, for instance, the young John Ravenscroft had only to hint that he was from Merseyside to get a gig on various US radio stations as a confidant of the Fab Four, en route to becoming the John Peel we knew and loved.

    BTW, a quick search reveals that the song “Henery the Eighth” dates from 1910 and the music-hall era (I heard it given a pre-Merseybeat rock’n’roll treatment by Joe Brown and the Bruvvers), while “Mrs Brown” was, bizarrely, written by Trevor Peacock, an excellent actor sadly best known as the village idiot from “The Vicar of Dibley”.

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    blount on 8 Sep 2006 #

    yes, much aware of ‘the beatles lifted a weary nation’s head in the wake of jfk assasination’ (much much prefer ”surfin bird’ lifted a weary nation’s head in the wake of jfk assasination’ theory) – but the early 60s anglophilia (bond, beef wellington, camelot on broadway) predates nov. 63, though 64 obv the peak with british invasion + mary poppins/my fair lady. possibly fallout from g.i. brides/oversexed, overpaid, overhere/undersexed, underpaid, under eisenhower ? churchill granted (first ever) ‘honorary us citizenship’ in 63 – was it all just cold war santorum?

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    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 8 Sep 2006 #

    how about this? one of the motors of shifts in taste in the us in the 50s was a proliferation of rival formats and meida which enabled the niche marketing of middlebrow poshness as something distinct from mass pop — viz the record market split into the 45 and the 33 long player

    so that FIRST you had this big exciting upwelling of elvis etc; but within one tranche of the buying public, and counter to r&r t-bird “southern” culture and pulling away from it, you had a niche-market enabled upsurge of the middlebrow — albums of classy broadway shows blah blah — which locked well into an “english-speaking union” type market (my mum’s parents were very caught up in the UK wing of this, so that their house and the stuff they had and ate was quite american, but in a very “upscale”, new yorkerish way)

    bond would fit this bcz — while it’s plainly pulp — it’s kinda “posh” pulp (bond in the books is a MONUMENTAL SNOB when it comes to eating and drinking eg); jfk said that from russia w.love was (from memory) his second favourite book, after “le rouge et le noir” (!)

    and mary poppins would also fit into this “english-speaking union” both-ways marriage of interested unlikes, maybe (the ESU actually existed — it was founded by churchill, i think; and consisted of regular lecture-tours and film clubs and stuff abt how cool america was and how their destinies were intertwined)

    anyway, the beatles functioned as a reaction AGAINST this anglo-poshness middlebrow thing — they voiced a verncular-cheeky-energetic aspect of anglo (which not conicidentally reflected black and validated the elvis wing of us pop culture); but the very fact that the english invasion had this evolutionary two-leg element have it enormously much more presence within us pop culture — because it became a way of inflecting and expanding a division that was already there, and coming to a head

    (a split you could kind of characterise as into vietnam and out again; camelot as the myth of the brightest and the best, the liberal technocrats who made up jfk’s pretorian guard; and the beatle-stones-yardbirds wing as the folks who revolted against the war, and the whole ESU folderol)

    henery the 8th is a total anomaly on both sides of course — hardly anyone in the uk wd think of it as anything but an antiquated quaint holdover from the days of dan leno and little lottie collins

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    blount on 8 Sep 2006 #

    thx! (movie)bond dismisses the beatles as rubbish in either goldfinger or from russia w/ love i think too. also: obligatory shoutout to ‘the long tail’ yr explanation screamed for.

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    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 8 Sep 2006 #

    i think moviebond — which was global-market canny enough to STOP being anti-soviet by about 1966!! — gets a teeny bit more “with it” as time goes on (tho full on austin powers-ishness belongs more to modesty blaise etc)

    what’s a “long tail” — don”t get yr banter old fellow!!

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    blount on 8 Sep 2006 #

    ‘the long tail’ – this year’s meme, from a two, maybe three year old wired article (now available in possibly puffed out hardback bestseller form) that explains ‘everything’ (and in fact does explain a bit – reynolds could definitely stand to read it for instance).

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    Doctor Casino on 9 Sep 2006 #

    to elaborate – long tail refers to (IIRC) bell curves where the quantities in the “tails,” summed up, are actually a significant group or maybe even the majority. to much of the thinking world this is just one of the many reasons why we have other statistics for measuring things, but i guess it has a certain appeal and fits with things like nixon’s “silent majority”….

    (oh, and it’s in goldfinger btw…)

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    blount on 9 Sep 2006 #

    well yeah but it’s a buzzword right now specifically for paradox of choice/death of common culture/the interweb what has changed everything blather – here’s the essay: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/tail.html,

    here’s a promo/tie-in site to the book (which i haven’t read yet) – http://www.thelongtail.com/

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    Tom on 9 Sep 2006 #

    I cite the Long Tail all the time at work (despite not having actually read it either) – it always goes down very well despite having in truth not much to do with what I actually do.

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    Mike Jones on 4 Oct 2006 #

    Nothing evokes memories of my auntie’s Dansette (it probably wasn’t a Dansette, I think it was some Philips self-contained record-player thing) like “Lily The Pink”. Maybe “Morningtown Ride”.

    The same aunt insisted that “When I’m 64” was a very old song predating the Beatles by decades and was originally called “When I’m Six Foot Four”. Which really doesn’t make any sense.

    Here’s the Scaffold on the Wall of Fame in Mathew Street (or thereabouts) in Liverpool – every Scouse act to have a #1 is there, from Lita Rosa to Atomic Kitten…


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    Mike Jones on 6 Oct 2006 #

    I joked with p^nk s last night that perhaps the Goodison choir roared this one out in response to the Kop staking their claim to the Beatles catalogue, but the reality is far worse:


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