One of Britain's most successful composers and lyricists from the Golden Age of musicals, Noel Gay (born Richard Moxon Armitage) attended Wakefield Cathedral School where he would regularly play the Cathedral organ from the age of eight years old and just four years later held the honorary position of deputy organist. Winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London at the exceptionally young age of fifteen he became the Musical Director and principle organist at St, Anne's Church in the heart of Soho by the time he was eighteen. After being conscripted during the First World War he spent time gaining his Master Of Arts and Bachelor of Music at Cambridge University's Christ Church College and despite his long held desire to follow a career in sacred music he became enamoured of musical comedy. Building a significant catalogue of songs he used the pseudonyms of both Noel Gay and Stanley Hill and began writing songs for revues such as Stop Press while his major break came when he was invited to compose the score for French impresario André Charlot's 1926 London revue.
Becoming an in-demand songwriter, Gay was commissioned to compose songs for the immensely popular husband and wife acting duo of Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge and their production of Clowns In Clover at London's Adelphi Theatre that would run for more than five hundred performances between 1927 and 1929. In collaboration with lyricist Harry Graham he composed 'The King's Horse And The King's Men' for André Charlot's Folly To Be Wise before he and lyricist Desmond Carter created the score for the 1931 show Hold My Hand which contained such memorable songs as 'Pied Piper', 'What's In A Kiss', 'Hold My Hand' and 'Turn On The Music'. Throughout the 30s and 40s Gay's prolific output included She Couldn't Say No, That's A Pretty Thing, Jack O'Diamonds, Love Laughs!, O-Kay For Sound (featuring Bud Flanagan singing the song 'The Fleet's In Port Again'), Wild Oats, The Little Dog Laughed (another starring role for Bud Flanagan this time singing 'Run Rabbit Run'), Light's Up, Present Arms, The Love Racket, Meet Me Victoria, Sweetheart Mine and Bob's Your Uncle. Unlike many of his contemporaries Gay was both a gifted and confident composer and lyricist and as such could turn his hand to either. As the former he was employed to set writers Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose's words and lyrics to music for the 1937 West End production Me And My Girl that apart from the title song yielded such classics as 'The Lambeth Walk'. So famous was that song that when the show was made into a film two years later (starring Lupino Lane who reprised his stage role) 'The Lambeth Walk' lent its name to the film's title. As a collaborator Gay worked with some of the most famous composers and lyricists of the day including Frank Eyton, Norman Newell, Ian Grant, Dion Titheradge, Archie Gottler, Clifford Grey and Donavan Parsons.
A towering figure in the history of musical theatre Gay was phenomenally successful and many of his songs originally featured in stage shows and films became exceptionally popular including; 'Let The People Sing', 'Only A Glass Of Champagne', 'You've Done Something To My Heart', 'All For A Shilling A Day', 'There's Something About A Soldier', 'Who's Been Polishing The Sun', 'I Don't Want To Go To Bed', 'All Over The Place', 'Tondeleyo', 'Round The Marble Arch', 'All For The Love Of A Lady', 'I Took My Harp To A Party', 'Let's Have A Tiddley At The Milk Bar', 'Red, White And Blue', 'Love Makes The World Go Round', 'The Moon Remembered, But You Forgot', 'The Girl Who Loves A Soldier', 'The Birthday Of The Little Princess', 'Are We Downhearted" - No!', 'Hey Little Hen', 'Happy Days Happy Months', 'I'll Always Love You', 'Just A Little Fond Affection', 'When Alice Blue Gown Met Little Boy Blue', 'I Was Much Better Off In The Army', 'My Thanks To You' and the enduing 'Leaning On A Lamp Post' which was popularised by comedian George Formby whose signature tune it became. Despite the increasing deafness which forced him to wear a hearing aid he carried on working for many years and died at the age of fifty-five in March 1954. His legacy was kept alive by his son Richard Armitage who continued to run the Noel Gay Music publishing company and even broadened its interests to include the management of popular artists. While Armitage died in 1986 he lived long enough to see the successful revival of Me And My Girl (which was revised to include two more of his father's other perennially popular songs; 'Leaning On A Lamp-Post' and 'The Sun Has Got His Hat On') complete a spectacularly popular run in London's West End and a successful opening on New York's Broadway.
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