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The Melody Lingers On: Ivor Novello

In this wonderfully moving column, Tony Thornton tells how Ivor Novello, the producer of breathtaking melodies, came to write in 1914 one of the most famous songs of the Great War.

Do read all Tony's columns in our archive. For a very special and memorable reading treat click on The Melody Lingers On in the contents column on the right-hand side of this page.

Ivor Novello Davies was brought up in a world of theatrical romance. At the turn of the century the Edwardian musical had reached its pinnacle - lavish spectacles filled with opulent scenery and beautiful girls in exquisite costumes. Ivor went to the theatre as often as he could, longing to be a part of it. He succeeded, and became the idol of millions.

He also produced breathtaking melodies such as Shine Through My Dreams, My Dearest Dear, Someday My Heart Will Awake and We’ll Gather Lilacs.

As a teenager he began writing revues and musical comedies drawing heavily from his obsession with the productions of the day. He wrote songs, ballads, dance numbers and got nowhere.

He was 21 in 1914 when the Great War broke out and his mother suggested he write a ‘war song’. He mused over this for weeks until one day he just sat down at the piano and played a melody straight off, knowing instinctively that it was right.

He called in lyricist Lena Guilbert Ford and, as he was trying to explain what he wanted, the maid came in and put some logs on the fire. “That’s the theme I want!” he said, “The fireside burning brightly.” Lena completed the lyric in 30 minutes.

Ivor was so convinced of the song’s merit, he asked Sybil Vane to sing it to his accompaniment at a concert.

The audience was somewhat disinterested as Ivor nervously played the introduction, but when Sybil came to the glorious chorus, he became aware that the people were picking up the tune and singing along.

Then they stood up and sang the song over and over.

The next day people swamped the shops wanting to buy the music. It was soon heard everywhere, in music halls, at concerts, in swish hotel lounges, and on barrel organs in the street.

When the British Army claimed it, some countries thought that it was the British National Anthem. The song has now become so entrenched in the realms of British folklore that most people today have no idea that Ivor Novello composed it.

The title of the song however, harks back to when he saw the maid putting the logs on the fire. It is of course, Keep The Home Fires Burning.

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