Yes, I know that this song is a bit hackneyed these days. However, it is surely one of the best of the rediscovered songs from Britten’s early career. It is perhaps surprising that there are only three recordings of this catchy tune currently available on CD.
The song was written in 1935-36 to a text that is assumed to have been by W.H. Auden. Yet it did not receive its first formal performance until 15 June 1992 when it was given at Blythburgh Church as part of the Aldeburgh Festival. The performers at that occasion were Lucy Shelton, soprano and Ian Brown on the piano.
In the score Benjamin Britten does not identify the author of poem – there is no hand written text in Auden’s hand in existence. However Paul Banks suggests that this could be the song that Heidi Anderson, a chanteuse who was later to marry Louis MacNiece; she was to be the recipient of Britten’s Cabaret Songs. Philip Reed quotes an interview with Miss Anderson, she said “….as far as I can remember, I think it was to do with a film, Auden, GPO, I think…and I was asked to sing a song that Benjamin had written for them…”
Interestingly Auden was with the film unit between September 1935 and February 1936 so it is a safe bet that he is the source of the words. Even the briefest glance at the text (which is in copyright) would tend to confirm this view.
It was probably written as part of a promotional film to encourage the public to make use of public phone boxes.
Ian Bostridge and Graham Johnson give a fine performance of this song on Hyperion CDA66823