Eric Maschwitz Articles

“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” (1941)

“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four.” Words by Eric Maschwitz, music by George Posford. Composed for the Eric Maschwitz revue New Faces (1940). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur in London on February 10, 1941. Rex 9934.

Elsie Carlisle – “Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” (1941)

Original 78 rpm Transfer by Charles Hippisley-Cox

“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” has its origins in the 1940 revue New Faces, which is also where “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was introduced. The lyrics describe a woman’s happy memory of a night spent with her lover in a luxury hotel too expensive for either of them. She describes the night as “her very first and only rendezvous,” and for good reason: this comparatively wholesome song is about a honeymoon, not a tryst. It is tame, therefore, by the standards of Elsie Carlisle’s songbook, which includes not just “My Man o’ War” but also “Public Sweetheart No. 1.”

Elsie Carlisle committed “Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” to shellac in her last year of recording. While I generally prefer the underlying compositions of her earlier period, it is delightful to hear her voice on her later Rex-label records. Elsie’s later style of singing seems slightly more confident, and the crisp beauty of her voice is made even more evident by the more modern recording techniques available by that time — in spite of Rex’s reputation for “crackly” shellac. The studio band’s virtuosity is showcased nicely in their rather swingy instrumental segment.

Other versions of “Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” were recorded in Britain in 1940-1941 by Vera Lynn (accompanied by Jay Wilbur and His Band), Geraldo and His Orchesta (v. Dorothy Carless), The Savoy Hotel Orpheans (dir. Carroll Gibbons, v. Anne Lenner), Ambrose and His Orchestra (v. Ann Shelton), again by Jay Wilbur and His Band (v. Anne Lenner), and by Binnie Hale.

"Room Five-Hundred-and-Four" sheet music
“Room Five-Hundred-and-Four” sheet music

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (1940)

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”  Words by Eric Maschwitz, music by Manning Sherwin (1940).  Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur on April 11, 1940.  Rex 9816.

A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square – Elsie Carlisle

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square – Elsie Carlisle

Video by hawkmoon03111951 (YouTube)

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is a simple, sentimental love song that recounts the circumstances of the first meeting of two lovers in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, which happens to be only five blocks from where Elsie Carlisle lived for decades.  On April 11, 1940 she recorded this atmospheric composition for the Rex label to the accompaniment of an electric organ.  Hers remains one of the memorable early versions of the piece, which continues to see treatments by popular artists to this day.

First performed in the musical revue New Faces by Judy Campbell, the song was popular with British dance bands in June and July of 1940:  there were versions by Carrol Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (with Anne Lenner singing), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Anne Shelton as vocalist), Geraldo and His Orchestra (with Dorothy Carless), Billy Cotton and His Band (Alan Breeze, vocalist), and Joe Loss and His Band (with Paula Greene singing).  It was included in medleys by Jay Wilbur and His Band (Sam Browne, vocalist) and by Joe Loss.  Other than Elsie Carlisle’s, the most notable solo recording that year was by Vera Lynn, who is unusual in having sung the first stanza, which is traditionally omitted.

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was popular in America that fall and was recorded by Gene Krupa and His Orchestra (with vocalist Howard Dulaney), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (Larry Stewart, vocalist), and Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (with singer Ray Eberle)Kate Smith would make a notable solo recording of the song (like Vera Lynn, she sings the first stanza).

Sadly, German bombs would fall on Berkeley Square only months after Elsie Carlisle made her recording.

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