The Deepest Shelter in Town

[I posted this last Wednesday, but somehow, it was marked as "private" rather than "published", so nobody saw it but me! So I'm fixing that and bumping it to the top.]

The talk went off pretty well, I think -- at least I didn't hear any snoring and got some good questions at the end. The best part, though, was that "Four" Meaher (whose own paper on the political uses of the myth of the "great betrayal" -- ie of Australia, by Britain, in 1941-2 -- was one of the highlights of the day for me) put me on to this most amusing song called "The Deepest Shelter in Town", the lyrics of which are below. Googling, it turns out that it was sung by an English comedienne, Florence Desmond (whose first husband, incidentally, was one of the winners of the 1934 London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race, Tom Campbell Black). The reference to Herbert Morrison dates it to his early days at the Home Office (where he was responsible for air raid precautions), ie from October 1940, when he took over from John Anderson -- the height of the Blitz, which fits (though otherwise, the late 1930s might be an even better fit, when the left were attacking the government over the lack of deep air raid shelters).

Don't run away, mister,
Oh stay and play, mister.
Don't worry if you hear the siren go.
Though I'm not a lady of the highest virtue,
I wouldn't dream of letting anything hurt you.
And so before you go,
I think you ought to know

I got a cozy flat,
There's a place for your hat.
I'll wear a pink chiffon negligee gown.
And do I know my stuff?
But if that's not enough,
I've got the deepest shelter in town.

I've got a room for two,
A radio that's new,
An alarm clock that won't let you down.
And I've got central heat,
But to make it complete,
I've got the deepest shelter in town.

Ev'ry modern comfort
I can just guarantee.
If you hear the siren call,
Then it's probably me.

And sweetie, to revert,
I'll keep you on the alert.
I won't even be wearing a frown.
So you can hang around here
Until the "all clear,"
In the deepest shelter in town.

Now, honey, I don't sing
Of an Anderson thing,
Climbing in one, you look like a clown.
But if you came here to see
Why Sir John would agree
I've got the deepest shelter in town.

Now Mr. Morrison
Says he's getting things done,
And he's a man of the greatest renown.
But before it gets wrecked,
I hope he'll come and inspect
The deepest shelter in town.

Now, I was one of the first
To clear my attic of junk.
But when it comes to shelters,
Now-a-days, it's all bunk.

So, honey, don't get scared,
It's there to be shared!
And you'll feel like a king with a crown.
So please don't be mean,
Better men than you have been
In the deepest shelter in town.

Now, what she meant by 'I've got the deepest shelter in town' I'm sure I don't know, but I imagine she looked something like this when she was singing it!

Florence Desmond

Image source: Virtual History Film.

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7 thoughts on “The Deepest Shelter in Town

  1. Ah, the joy of the single entendre war song. Do you know Gert and Daisy's 'Please leave my butter alone' (also sung by Elsie Carlisle)' from the same period? Ostensibly about the difficulties of rationing, but since 'Nothing is better than butt..er/For keeping the old man at home', we can speculate about what exactly was being rationed. I often think it's a shame we have few accessible images of these artists performing in normal settings, since I suspect - rather like Shakespeare's comic characters - it's all about the performance, the facial expression (and the hand gestures). 'The Deepest Shelter in Town' - particularly that line about the siren call - seems a model of sophistication compared to Gert and Daisie, or to George Formby's 'It serves you right (you shouldn't have joined) ('I used to be a chimney sweep, in dear old Wigan town/I used to do the ladies in the street for half a crown/ But now I don't get nothing for the little jobs I do/I wish I was in Wigan sweeping Mrs Jones' flue')
    And let's not get started on Billy Ternant and his Orchestra's 'Cleaning my rifle (and thinking of you)'

  2. Brett Holman

    Post author

    No, I didn't know 'Please leave my butter alone', which itself seems a model of sophistication next to the works of Sir Mix-a-lot! I don't know many of these songs, actually. I suppose there must be CD compilations of them, it may be worth checking out the "nostalgia" section of the music store next time I visit. I have bought a few CDs from CD41 along these lines, which are pretty good. I should buy some more.

    Good point about the performance style, we probably also miss out a lot without seeing and hearing the audience's reaction. We'd certainly know which bits of the song they appreciated the most.

  3. I've found these songs a great help when teaching the topic as well. None of the discussion of sexuality in World War Two comes as close to capturing the impact of separation and enforced abstinence as 'Cleaning my rifle and thinking of you'. One of my students told me this year that this was the piece of teaching that he'd always remember. Sigh.

  4. Pingback:

  5. Post author

    Leslie:

    Funnily enough, somebody asked asked me the exact same question last week! Here's what I told them:

    Sorry, I can't help you with that. I did a bit of a Google search myself but turned up nothing. Nor do I have a feeling for whether it would have been published as sheet music or not -- before the war I would have said yes, but perhaps wartime paper rationing might have made that less likely? On the other hand anything that was good for morale would be encouraged so I don't know.

    I did find that the recording was published as His Master's Voice B.9133 (the B side of 'Oh! What A Surprise For The Duce!') in February 1941; if the score was published it probably would have been around then, perhaps collected with other songs.

    You might try contacting the British Library's Music Collections:

    http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/bldept/music/

    There is a link on the following page to ask them for advice:

    http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/music/findmusic/findprintedmusic/findprintedmusic.html

    They may even have a copy themselves, but at least they should be able to give you a more knowledgeable answer!

  6. Another avenue would be one of my ex-colleagues. I was privileged to work with some very knowledgeable people at Blackwell's Music Shop, Broad Street, Oxford. Give them a shout, ask for Peter, in sheet music.

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