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The enduring appeal of Roger McGough

Roger McGough, who stands a chance of being voted Britain's favourite poet, has another claim to fame. He was a  member of the band, The Scaffold, that topped the BBC Top 20 chart with the hit single, Lily The Pink, in 1968. The trio also included Paul McCartney's brother, Mike McGear (real name Mike McCartney), and John Gorman.

McGough is the curly-haired, bespectacled one who sings solo the the verse beginning "Jennifer Eccles had terrible freckles" at the end of the first minute in this video.

McGough, with fellow Liverpool poets Adrian Henri and Brian Patten, also wrote the biggest-selling collection of postwar English poems. Their Penguin anthology, The Mersey Sound, has sold more copies than any other postwar poetry collection, says the Guardian. First published in 1967, it has been reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic. I loved it at first sight and have written about it before (here and here).

Now McGough is one of the 30 poets BBC website visitors can vote for in the poll to choose Britain's favourite poet. The shortlist prepared by a panel of judges includes:

The current poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, TS Eliot, WB Yeats, WH Auden, Dylan Thomas, Milton, John Donne, William Blake, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Kipling, Hopkins, Wilfred Owen, Philip Larkin, the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, and the late poet laureates John Betjeman and Ted Hughes. (Visit the BBC Poetry Season site to read some of their poems.)

But not on the shortlist is the previous poet laureate Andrew Motion.

That's only poetic justice, McGough might say.

He can't forget the former poet laureate did not include him in The Penguin Book of British Contemporary Poetry, published in 1982.

McGough told the Guardian:

When Motion and Morrison edited the Penguin Book of British Poetry, we were totally omitted…Those years when Motion was editor of Poetry Review, and Craig Raine was poetry editor at Faber … I felt we were always in the position of having to defend ourselves. We got cheesed off at being referred to as small-town Mantovanis, or the pop brigade. I suppose because we didn't do English at university, or because the poetry I was writing could be appreciated by my mother or my aunties. It came out of a sort of naivety.

By "we", he meant the Liverpool poets: Adrian Henri, Brian Patten and himself.

About The Mersey Sound, he said:

When Penguin brought Adrian, Brian and me together for the Penguin Modern Poets series, they decided to call the book The Mersey Sound. We didn't want it. Penguin Modern Poets 10 would have been fine.

(It was part of the Penguin Modern Poets series, which also included featuring an anthology featuring Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg – Penguin Modern Poets 5. The Mersey Sound was unusual in having a name instead of just a number like the other anthologies in the series.)

Meanwhile, here are the lyrics to Lily The Pink. It spent five weeks at the top of the UK chart – four weeks in December 1968 and in the second week of January 1969, according to Wikipedia. The previous chart-topper was the theme from the movie,The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, performed by Mantovani, and the next, the Marmalade cover of the Beatles hit, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

Lily The Pink

We'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink
The saviour of the human race
For she invented medicinal compound
Most efficacious in every case.

Mr. Frears
had sticky-out ears
and it made him awful shy
and so they gave him medicinal compound
and now he's learning how to fly.

Brother Tony
Was notably bony
He would never eat his meals
And so they gave him medicinal compound
Now they move him round on wheels.

We'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink
The saviour of the human race
For she invented medicinal compound
Most efficacious in every case.

Old Ebeneezer
Thought he was Julius Caesar
And so they put him in a Home
where they gave him medicinal compound
and now he's Emperor of Rome.

Johnny Hammer
Had a terrible stammer
He could hardly say a word
And so they gave him medicinal compound
Now he's seen (but never heard)!

We'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink
The saviour of the human race
For she invented medicinal compound
Most efficacious in every case.

Auntie Millie
Ran willy-nilly
When her legs, they did recede
And so they rubbed on medicinal compound
And now they call her Millipede.

Jennifer Eccles
had terrible freckles
and the boys all called her names
but she changed with medicinal compound
and now he joins in all their games.

We'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink
The saviour of the human race
For she invented medicinal compound
Most efficacious in every case.

Lily the Pink, she
Turned to drink, she
Filled up with paraffin inside
and despite her medicinal compound
Sadly Picca-Lily died.

Up to Heaven
Her soul ascended
All the church bells they did ring
She took with her medicinal compound
Hark the herald angels sing.

Oooooooooooooooo Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink
The saviour of the human race
For she invented medicinal compound
Most efficacious in every case.

Categories: Books Poetry

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Abhijit

Abhijit loves reading and writing.

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