Allan Smethurst, the man who would become known as The Singing Postman, was born at Bury, Lancashire on November 18, 1927. When he was two years old, he moved to Sheringham, spending his boyhood holidays with his great-grandmother at Stiffkey, where his mother was born. He was there when the Second World War broke out. After the War he was called up for National Service, but was rejected due to poor eyesight; in 1953 he began a twelve year stint with the Post Office as a delivery man. Four years earlier he had bought a guitar and begun playing and composing for his own enjoyment; he was a fan of the Lancashire-born ukulele player, singer and actor George Formby, and of the American country singer Jimmie Rogers.
In 1959, he wrote a song about Sheringham, reminiscences of his boyhood, and sent it to the BBC at Norwich on the suggestion of his boyhood friend, Albert. The Beeb were impressed, and he recorded three songs for their mobile recording unit: "Come Along O'Me," "Moind Yer Hid, Boy" and "Ar You Alroight, Boy."
Later, he was contacted by Ralph Tuck, who worked in farming on the management side, and also presented a regional BBC radio program: Wednesday Morning. As well as plugging Allan's songs, Tuck put his money where his mouth was, and in December 1964, The Singing Postman released a promotional EP on the Four Winds label, backed by Ralph Tuck Promotions Ltd. The others songs on the record were "Come Along A Me," "Moind Yer Hid Boy" and "A Miss From Diss". (The spelling and punctuation of the song titles vary).
Tuck ordered a mere hundred copies for his first pressing; in four months he sold nearly ten thousand! Briefly, the record outsold the Beatles in East Anglia. The same four tracks were later released by EMI as "First Delivery."
The first time Alan Smethurst heard one of his tapes played on national radio was by Jack de Manio on Radio Four's Today program. "I expected thousands of letters from fans" he said, but received one! This was from a young man in Hamburg, the record though reached number seven in the national chart.
In 1966, "Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?" won an Ivor Novello Novelty Song Award. The same year saw the publication of Songs Of The Singing Postman Allan Smethurst Souvenir Album by Dick James Music. The Foreword written by James himself predicted a bright future for the off-beat folk singer, hinting that he would even crack the enormous American market, but The Singing Postman had already reached his zenith; he suffered a mild heart attack, and developed arthritis which affected his guitar playing adversely. He also suffered from stage fright, and by 1970 he was unemployed and broke, having by his own admission gone through some twenty thousand pounds, about eight times his annual salary as a postman.
His big hit, "Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?" is a love song which sees him romancing local girl Molly Windley; they marry, she presents him with triplets, and they live happily ever after. The actual story is somewhat different, and far sadder. Allan Smethurst never married, and spent the last twenty years of his life living in a Salvation Army Hostel in Grimsby. He died alone and in poverty in December 2000. In his BBC obituary, Molly Bayfield, who was some six years his junior and the inspiration for his award winning song, said she was saddened by his death. Just before he died he was visited by Rolf Harris, who had also recorded the song. Performing as he did in his old postman's uniform, and having both buck teeth and poor eyesight, it was inevitable he would spawn a number of tribute and copycat acts. In 1994, his big hit was parodied for an Ovaltine advertisement; the song itself was re-released by Anglian Music as "Hev You Gotta Loight Bor?", the title track of one of a seven CD set said to contain his complete recordings.
While Allan Smethurst was afraid he would be remembered for just the one song, like the man himself it has become a metaphor for a fast disappearing way of life in the face of an increasingly Cosmopolitan Britain. His biography which is of course entitled Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?
was published by Keith Skipper in 2000.
Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above