When Alex James was celebrated in a music hall song… (recording included)

On this day in 1953 the great Alex James – the genius creative midfielder of the great Arsenal teams of the 1930s – passed away.  But apart from his magnificence on the football pitch, Alex was also known for being mentioned in a 1934 popular song by Stanley Holloway, “With her head tucked underneath her arm”.

The chorus of the song is varied as the song progresses, until at the third rendition it reads…

With her head tucked underneath her arm
She walks the Bloody Tower
With her head tucked underneath her arm
At the midnight hour
The sentries think that it's a football
That she carries in
And when they've had a few they shout
'Is Ars'nal going to win?'
They think it's Alex James
Instead of poor old Ann Boleyn
With her head tucked underneath her arm!

Incidentally the custom of the times was for the lyrics to be re-written over time to coincide with current topics.

Here are the anniversaries…

? June 1892: Alf Singleton and Henry Stewart surprisingly failed to get elected to the committee running Royal Arsenal – the first sign of the split within the club that ultimately led to the formation of professional Woolwich Arsenal and amateur Royal Ordnance Factories as two separate clubs.

? June 1893: In response to the demand for a much higher rent for the Invicta Ground Woolwich Arsenal instead purchased the Manor Field opposite the Invicta as their new ground.

? June 1913: William Hall resigned as a director of Fulham, allowing him to focus full-time on the preparation of the Highbury ground and taking Woolwich Arsenal FC to Islington for the 1913/14 season.

1 June 1940: Arsenal 5 Southampton 0 in the final wartime League South “C” Division game.  Because of the abandonment of the actual League programme after three matches the wartime league had not started until the end of October, hence its late finish.  The next season however still started in August.

1 June 1953: Alex James died suddenly from cancer on the 24th anniversary of his signing.  During the war he served in the Royal Artillery, and in 1949 he was invited back to Arsenal to coach the club’s youth sides.  He was mentioned in the 1930s song “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” by Stanley Holloway.

1 June 1955: Ben Marden was transferred to Watford.  Although playing only 42 games for Arsenal these included the last game of the 1952/3 season to win the league and Liverpool 1 Arsenal 5 on 15 November 1952.

1 June 1979: West Bromwich Albion who had just had their best season since winning the league for the one and only time in 1920, decided to sell winger Laurie Cunningham to Real Madrid for £995,000.  It caused uproar.  The end of football was predicted by the media.  As ever, they were wrong. 

1 June 1999: Moritz Volz joined Arsenal from Schalke.  He stayed for five years but never played a league game (but did play two league cup games) before being loaned to Wimbledon and finally transferred to Fulham.

1 June 2001: Lee Conoville transferred to Torquay on a free transfer.  He had had a short loan spell with Northampton before playing 112 league games for Torquay, scoring two goals.

1 June 2001: John Lukic retired from football.  He is one of just a tiny number of players who have played top flight football across four decades.   Others were  Peter Shilton, Steve Ogrizovic and Sir Stanley Matthews.

1 June 2002: Sol Campbell, David Seaman and Ashley Cole featured in England’s 1-1 World Cup draw with Sweden.

1 June 2003: Philippe Senderos joined Arsenal from Servette having played 26 games in one season with the club.    He went on to play 84 times for Arsenal across four seasons before moving on loan to Milan.

1 June 2007: Gilberto Silva captained Brazil against England, becoming the first and thus far the only Arsenal player ever to captain Brazil.  In the last minute of the game Gilberto Silva provided the cross that allowed Brazil to score to make it 1-1.

1 June 2010: Aaron Ramsey signed a new long term contract having signed for Arsenal in 2008 and having made 27 league appearances in his first two seasons.

1 June 2010: Silvestre and Gallas left Arsenal at the end of their contracts.  Silvestre moved on to Werder Bremen while Gallas went on to play for Tottenham Hotspur.

4 Replies to “When Alex James was celebrated in a music hall song… (recording included)”

  1. Thanks Tony, just love that old recording. Stanley Holloway was of course famous for his monologues and another hilarious two I recall were ‘Albert and the Lion’ and ‘My Word You Do Look Queer’.He even went on to star in ‘My Fair Lady’ much later as dustman Alfred Doolittle on the West End and Broadway plus the film in the mid ‘sixties.
    Very rarely are there any comedy record hits these days which is a pity as they were just good old fashioned fun. The youngsters do not get to experience songs such as Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie’ or Bernard Cribbins’s ‘Hole In The Ground’ etc and although I was an avid Beatles fan still had time to enjoy some comedy hits.
    Brilliant Arsenal and the great Alex James (my Dad always called him wee Alex) are mentioned as I hadn’t noticed that before. Keep unearthing gems like this if you possibly can please.

  2. Nigel there were many recordings made of the song, and only a few had that reference in, so it is more than likely that rather than you missing the reference you might well not have had recording with those lines in.

  3. The song was written by Weston and Lee. Robert Patrick Weston was born in Islington. He and Bert Lee also published the first written version of Knees Up Mother Brown.
    I recall reading in my youth that it was Arsenal fans who brought ‘Mother Brown’ to the terraces, but it is attributed, like all things cockney, to the Hammers now. I do fondly remember it being sung at the Arsenal and many grounds, but sadly no more at our place. We just singalong to American Sports anthems like ‘Sweet Caroline’ Shame.
    Great website chaps!!

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