Pounds, shillings and nonsense

“Hey! Who’s that little old man?”

Wilfred Brambell is an actor who will forvever be identified with two roles, that of the aged rag ‘n bone man Albert Steptoe and of Jimmy McCartney, Paul’s ‘very clean’ Irish grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night. Brambell committed the cardinal sin (and it would not be his only one) of being coaxed in to the recording studio one day in 1970 to record The Decimal Song,a single bemoaning Britain’s abandonment of our dear old pounds, shillings and pence (ha’pennys, thruppennys, farthings, ten bob notes and all) in readiness for our entrance in to the European Economic Union, or the Common Market as it was more popularly known.

Side two, Time Marches On, a poem about the break up of The Beatles set to music, was written by Malcolm Taylor. In 1966 Liverpudlian Taylor had released an album of poetry, Auparishtaka, based on the Kama Sutra and the Perfumed Garden. That same year he had released the 45 I Got You under the name Sheil and Mal: Sheil was noted actress Sheila Hancock, then starring in the hit TV comedy The Rag Trade.

The A-side was written by Taylor with the songwriting team of Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, a duo who got their first break with Joe Meek – they penned the British number one single Have I The Right for the Honeycombs – and who would later write for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, Peter Straker, gay glam act Starbuck (Do You Like Boys), and had songs recorded by Petula Clark and Elvis.

Born in 1912, Henry Wilfred Brambell is a divisive figure these days, a closeted gay man and alcoholic noted for his outrageous behaviour – according to a piece in the Guardian ‘on one infamous occasion he exposed himself to a woman at a party’ and ‘he routinely told adoring fans who met him in the street to “fuck off”.’ He began his acting career after the Second World War, debuting in British-made films in 1947, but became a household name after Steptoe and Son debuted in 1962. Brambell was homosexual at a time when it was unheard of for public figures to be openly gay, not least because male homosexual acts were illegal in the UK until 1967.

Brambell died in 1985. In 2012 two men accused him of having abused them when they were teenagers: the charges came 27 years after his death, and at the height of the independent inquiry into sex abuse by Jimmy Savile. He was never arrested or questioned over sex acts with minors during his lifetime, although he had been arrested in a toilet in Shepherd’s Bush for cottaging (importuning) in 1962 and given a conditional discharge.

The Decimal Song was issued just three days before Decimal Day, 15 February 1971. Can’t say I’ve heard anything as remotely beguiling to celebrate our abandonment of our European partners as we tumble headlong in to the mess that is Brexit.


Download Decimal HERE

Download Time HERE

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