Fifty years on, how ‘Hev Yew Gotta Light, Boy?’ lit up our lives
- Credit: Archant
It was fifty years ago when a Norfolk postman delivered his last letter... and turned into a 'pop star.' His name was Allan Smethurst and he was The Singing Postman.
In June of 1965 he was outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in this region, people were queuing up to meet him and he took to the stage at Great Yarmouth for a summer season alongside comedy legend Jimmy Wheeler.
He sang his top twenty hit asking the question, Hev Yew Gotta Light, Boy? A question being asked up and down the country in the swinging 60s.
Then it all went so badly wrong. He was an innocent in the tough world of showbusiness.
Allan was a quiet, shy and modest fellow who preferred to sit in a corner with his guitar surrounded by his followers rather than on a stage in front of hundreds of people. Many of whom had a job to understand what he was singing about.
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As the pressure to perform in front of larger audiences and on television grew, there was even talk of him touring America, he reached for the bottle, again and again, to give himself 'Dutch courage' and the alcohol took over.
After a brief but memorable spell in the spotlight with his glorious songs reflecting Norfolk life and folk so wonderfully well, he stepped into the shadows... away from the bright lights which scared him so much.
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Dear Allan went on to spend much of his life as a recluse in a Salvation Army Hostel in Grimsby where he died at the end of 2000 – at a time when people were once again listening to his songs again and realising just how clever and entertaining they were.
Much has been written about the life and times of Allan Smethurst. Norfolk's own Keith Skipper wrote a lovely book called Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy some years ago and it is well worth searching a copy out.
More than ten years after his big hit, in 1976, Allan wrote a rare article in the East Anglian Magazine in which he reflected on his early days on the North Norfolk coast.
Let's learn about the man through his own words which reveal a deep passion and love for the old Norfolk ways.
'As my mother was born in Stiffkey, the Norfolk accent was the first one I heard: and I've been hearing it ever since. When I was two my mother, father and nine-year-old sister moved to Sheringham, in search of better fortunes. People did say there was a lot of money to be made out of picking stones.
'Right up to the war I spent every holiday with my great Granny at Stiffkey, and I was never happier than at these times. My fondest recollections are of the field at harvest time. My visits were during the last days of the horse-drawn binders at harvest time that were fighting a losing battle with tractors.
'How much I wish I could return to those days, endless weeks of enjoyment with no more to spend than an odd penny in my pocket,' wrote Allan.
Aged 17 at the end of the war he was called up for National Service. 'I got no further than the first cubicle where they test your eyesight and I was rejected on the spot.
'It wasn't until 1949, when I had turned 21, that I toyed with the idea of playing a guitar. My particular tastes in music went back to the artists of the 20s and 30s. People like George Formby.
'My twelve years as a postman were happy and uneventful enough and my guitar was only for strumming in the privacy of my bedroom. No one could have persuaded me to sing for my supper in any club or pub. Besides, I had a tin-opener at home,' said Allan.
He had written a song about Sheringham and his old school pal Albert suggested he sent it to the BBC in Norwich and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the summer of 1964 he met Ralph Tuck who worked for the BBC and also ran what he called 'the smallest recording organisation in the world.' He made four recordings. One was Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy? And it was later played by Jack de Manio on the national radio programme Today.
'I expected thousands of letters from fans – I received one: and that came from a young German. His name was Wolfgang and he lived in Hamburg.
But the people loved him and his record climbed the charts turning this shy postman into an unlikely pop star.
'My days with the post bag were numbered by the news that the Windmill Theatre, Great Yarmouth, were interested in booking me for the summer season and in 1965 I left the Post Office for good,' said Allan.
Fame came and went quickly as Allan reached for the bottle to give him the courage to walk on stage. A stage too far.
'The following year, after a minor heart attack, I went on air in a series of TWW programmes from Cardiff called '1034 and All That.' As well as glimpsing the big time I also travelled around Norfolk and Suffolk, visiting lots of delightful towns and villages. I would never have been able to see them if I had stayed a postman,' he wrote.
Thanks for the memories Allan....cheeeeeerioooo.