"Public Sweetheart No. 1" featured image. Detail from Anne Anderson's illustration to "The Wife of Bath."

“Public Sweetheart No. 1” (1935)

“Public Sweetheart No. 1.” Lyrics by Graham John (pseudonym of Graham John Colmer), music by Martin Broones. Composed for the musical comedy Seeing Stars (1935). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on November 29, 1935. Decca F. 5818 mx. GB7528-1.

Elsie Carlisle – “Public Sweetheart No. 1” (1935)

Martin Broones, who also wrote the tune for “I Can’t Get Over a Girl Like You (Loving a Boy Like Me)” (which Elsie sang in 1927), collaborated in 1935 with Graham John Colmer to produce a score for a musical comedy called “Seeing Stars,” which opened at the Gaiety Theatre in London. With a run of 236 performances, it could be considered a success, in spite of critics’ having difficulty discerning any real plot. This lack of a conventional storyline might help to explain why a show set in a modern hotel on the French Riviera has a bawdy song set during the time of the Crusades in it.

The singer tells the story of herself as an English lady left all alone by her husband, who has gone off fighting abroad. This simple premise is followed by a brazen account of her life on the home front:

War is war, and in war, I knew,
There was work that only girls could do.
And so, while the others were ballyhooing,
Night and day I was doing
Quiet little acts of charity,
And what do you think they called me?
‘Public Sweeheart No. 1!’
Loved by every mother’s son.
While my old man was away,
I did one good deed each day.

The greatest impediment to her practicing, not the world’s oldest profession, surely, but perhaps its oldest avocation, is a chastity belt whose awkwardness proves to be quite funny: “Have you ever tried to run / When your undies weighed a ton?” the lady asks. At any rate, Richard the Lion-Hearted has a master key, so the “fireworks” and shamelessness can continue. The nickname “Public Sweetheart No. 1” is most likely a play on “Public Enemy No. 1,” the epithet given by the Chicago Police and later by the FBI to Al Capone, John Dillinger, and finally bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd in the years leading up to the opening of “Seeing Stars” in London.

Elsie Carlisle delivers the lyrics in a sort of parlando singing where natural English intonation often trumps the tune. One might be reminded of the recitatives of Rex Harrison, but whereas he appears to have been primarily motivated to sing thus by a very limited vocal range, Elsie’s leaning towards a more declamatory style has a very theatrical and comic effect. The overall sound of the song is closer to musical hall than dance band.

“Public Sweetheart No. 1” was also recorded in late 1935 by Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocalist Alan Breeze) and by Florence Desmond, who had introduced the song on stage in the first place.  It was also recorded as part of a “Seeing Stars” medley by the Debroy Somers Band, Somers having been the musical director for the stage production.

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"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.