Sep 06

SCAFFOLD – “Lily The Pink”

FT + Popular52 comments • 8,385 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. 31
    Anthony on 15 Oct 2006 #

    thank you for this, it reminds me of my scouting days

  2. 32
    Dan R on 2 Jun 2008 #

    I think this is a much more enjoyable song than most commentators on here. The jokes are a bit hit and miss but there are a couple of funny ones. I have a similar experience to Tom: our teacher made our class sing this in assembly, and even, in an act of educational lèse majesté, encouraged us to write a new concluding verse about our headmistress. I also thought the song was just some timeless classic like ‘Happy Birthday’ and had no idea it had been written only six years before we were singing it. The same teacher would sometimes bring a guitar in and sing songs like ‘Our House’ by Crosby, Stills, & Nash and ‘Moon Shadow’ by Cat Stevens. Ah the 70s, was grim in that dawn to be alive.

    It’s clearly only a song that could survive as a children’s song, but there’s no shame in that. With hindsight, it now strikes me as being another (albeit slightly late) instance of the adoption of militaria by Britain’s psychedelic culture; the martial rhythm of this song is part of the joke, suggesting tremendous heroism while the lyrics are nicely nonsensical.

  3. 33
    vinylscot on 18 Jul 2008 #

    This was on BBC4’s “Sounds of the 60s” a couple of nights ago, and the version they played, see link below, had the final line of every verse replaced with the final line from one of the other verses. Have a look, it’s quite interesting, although they fu**ed up the prayer and the jump, which is the bit I remember from this being #1 on my eighth birthday.


    Anyone any idea why? .. or was it just part of their Scouse wackiness?

    I quite liked the Scaffold actually.

  4. 34
    Matthew on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Oddly, Roger McGough is a superb poet when he gets down to it (his “Blazing Fruit” collection is maybe my favourite poetry volume ever), but he’s always been able to water it down for the kids. If nonsense rhymes and cub scout singalongs are the only way he can earn decent coin, then by golly that’s what he’ll do: and he’s obviously not the only poet/author who’s gone down this route in these days of Rowling/Pullman megastardom.

    It seems like half the songs of this time were aimed at or at least suitable for little kids, including a lot of the Beatles’ stuff. I wonder were the artists conscious of this at the time, that a good way to make a chart hit might be to pander to 10-year-olds? Probably nothing has changed in 2008 except that the 10-year-olds are into booze, knives and oral sex nowadays.

  5. 35
    Waldo on 27 Oct 2009 #

    I couldn’t agree more with Matthew’s last comment. I was on a train a year or two back chugging through the impoverished badlands of East Sussex when a group of about a dozen schoolgirls, aged about 12, I would say, got on. The majority of the folk already on the train were like me, middle-aged, male, newspaper readers. The children were supervised by two young people probably in their late twenties and soon after the train moved on, the girls broke into a song about a frog. I found this initially annoying but on reflection utterly charming. The kiddies got off at the next station and as they did, a guy sitting across the aisle from me mumbled something like: “Bloody noisy little madams. No respect for anyone!” As quick as a flash, the fellow opposite him said: “Have you got any children, sir?” The complainant glared at him. The other guy then made the very same point that Matthew makes about what modern kids would normally be singing and how very rare and pleasant a demonstration of innocence was. The growler disappeared back into his newspaper as a chorus of “well done!” rang out from those of us around.

    The girls might just as well have been singing “Lily The Pink”, a nonsensical ditty but entirely wholesome. It’s interesting that Tom should have encountered it aged 8, as that is how old I was in 1969. Thus, to me it has always been a kiddy campfire singalong and I too burst into verse back in the day without really knowing what “efficacious” meant or what “medicinal compound” was. One thing, though. I had always believed that the song had been newly written simply because of the line about Jennifer Eccles (complete with wolf-whistle). It now transpires that it was penned earlier which tells us that The Hollies nicked Jennifer from Lily and not t’other way round.

  6. 36
    enitharmon on 27 Oct 2009 #

    I can’t believe I haven’t previously commented on this! Not least because Roger McGough is the only chart-topping performer I’ve ever actually met (he was a near neighbour in my Notting Hill days). I’ve actually met more Oscar winners (Julie Christie; Glenda Jackson, for whom I once filled in at a public election meeting; Nick Park). Mark Knopfler – another Notting Hill neighbour, Kim Wilde – with whom I briefly shared the same school, and somebody else I can’t quite remember at the moment all peaked at two. Perhaps it’s a kind of enitharmic curse.

    Anyway, Scaffold did a grand job of preserving the Liverpool street culture, of which this is surely an example, which was already moribund in 1969. Thanks, no doubt, to the rise of rock and roll. That’s not a complaint, just an anthropological observation.

  7. 37
    Waldo on 27 Oct 2009 #

    Enitharmon – I once accepted a declaration in the Red Channel from Glenda Jackson. She was a junior minister at the time, Transport, I think, returning with a delegation from Argentina. The declaration was for a case of wine she had been given by her hosts. I remember being very impressed that she had declared this personally rather than dispatching a flunkey to do this on her behalf. I addressed her as “minister”.

    I’m still recovering from your “Julie Christie once sat on my bed story”, btw. (See Rosie passim)

  8. 38
    Erithian on 27 Oct 2009 #

    When Glenda Jackson became a Transport Department minister her first instruction to staff was “Call me Glenda”, which was itself all of a piece with the fresh approach of those heady days of May ‘97. Not so fresh an approach was the story that she’d tried to get her office disconnected from the building’s smoke alarm system so she could have a fag in peace!

  9. 39
    Waldo on 27 Oct 2009 #

    “I once worked with Eric and Ernie and look what happened to me!”

  10. 40
    cooper41 on 2 Jan 2011 #

    The highlight though was the campfire. Mr White, the school

  11. 41
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #


    Charlie Cairoli, Circus Clown(1976).

  12. 42
    enitharmon on 12 Oct 2011 #

    It’s another sibling #1 double of course, this one featuring Paul McCartney’s younger brother Michael, trading as Mike McGear.

  13. 43
    Mark G on 12 Oct 2011 #

    7 Hollies Jennifer Eccles Mar 1968
    1 Scaffold Lily The Pink Nov 1968

    Nah, didn’t think so!

  14. 44
    Jimmy the Swede on 13 Oct 2011 #


    On further examination, Mark, it appears that you are right, although I’m not sure that when these records charted means much. Popular have examined many examples of records topping the charts long after they were recorded and/or performed. It might well be that Scaffold had had the main body of Lily on their repertoire well in advance of The Hollies recording Jennifer but simply modified it for the 1968 recording to include that verse.

  15. 45
    Mark G on 14 Oct 2011 #

    You do know it’s Graham Nash singing that line, yeah?

  16. 46
    Jimmy the Swede on 14 Oct 2011 #

    Well I certainly do now! Reg was there too, as was Jack Bruce. Wonderful stuff.

  17. 48
    Lena on 21 Dec 2011 #

    Nostalgia ahoy: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-we-used-to-live-des-oconnor-one-two.html Thanks for reading, tout le monde!

  18. 49
    Lena on 22 Dec 2011 #

    Sheer optimism: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/12/boy-toy-foundations-build-me-up.html Thanks for reading, everyone, and happy holidays!

  19. 50
    lonepilgrim on 3 Nov 2016 #

    There’s an energy to the chorus that I found quite endearing as a kid and I enjoyed the long words in the verses even if I didn’t fully understand them. I sometimes feel some residual affection for the song which swiftly disappears as I start listening to it

  20. 51
    Billy on 24 Dec 2016 #

    Gambo played ‘Thank You Very Much’ when he went through the hits of December 1967. Now investigating their back catalogue, what an odd band, bursting with ideas. The Bonzos must have nicked a few moves from them or vice versa.

    More importantly who or what is the ‘Aintree Iron’? Guardian ‘Notes and Queries’ is inconclusive with Mike McGear or someone claiming to be him unwilling to shine any light on this. https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1840,00.html

  21. 52
    Gareth Parker on 4 May 2021 #

    I’m going to have to give this one the dreaded 1/10 I’m afraid!

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