John Turnbull celebrates an equivocal song in favour of married life from one to whom it was something of an hidden enigma

Everything is ready for the wedding, the choir has been rehearsing for a week, the minister is standing in the pulpit, but the groom it seems is playing hide and seek. So here I am standing, waiting starry-eyed; when will I ever get to be a bride?’

It was sixty-five years ago that my favourite song was the hit of London. I am reminded of it by reading the obituary last month of its singer, the delightful Evelyn Dall. ‘I wanna get married’ was the main song of the show Follow the Girls, co-starring Arthur Askey, which ran for several months at the end of the war, mainly in London but also at other venues across the country.

Hugely popular, it was recorded on 23 November 1945; as was common in the days of 78s, with a Part One and Part Two covering both sides of the record, offering two bites of the cherry. Not every critic had enjoyed its mix of coyness and innuendo; one who enjoyed the show and Miss Dall in particular, nevertheless thought this song ‘should be cut as not in the best taste and quite unnecessary in a show of this description’.

Romantic normality

‘I wanna to get settled; I wanna play house. Though men are all no good, they say it feels so good to have your own particular louse. Give me a cosy shack, where the railroad never stops; I wanna to sleep in pajama tops; I wanna get married!’

Miss Dall was a beautiful young woman, with a delightful smile. Cute rather than sultry, a girl next door more than a femme fatale. The lyrics are amusing, the tune liltingly catchy, and perhaps most of all it expressed the yearning for simple, ordinary life after the rigours and tragedies of the war.

A lovely popular song that sums up a haunting moment of social history – with old-fashioned sentiments of a bygone age. And it has vanished from all but the

most comprehensive collections of the songs of the Forties.

But still more fascinating – at a time when marriage is under threat and less popular than at almost any time since full registration began – is the compromised, confused personal background. Miss Dall was a sort of Gracie Fields in reverse, an American who had come to Britain during the war, and maintained a punishing schedule of shows and appearances in towns up and down the country.

Wartime adultery

Why did she come here? She entered, it would appear, a marriage of convenience with Albert Holmes, manager of the Ambrose Orchestra, so that she could continue her affair with the band-leader Bert Ambrose himself, who remained married.

At the time of this show, it was becoming clear to her that Ambrose was never going to divorce his wife, and she was preparing to return to America to start a new life. Does it detract from the charm of the song? I don’t think so. It is rather a reminder that so much talk of marriage, including our own, however serious and high-minded, is still subject to the hidden, contradictory, often opaque emotions of all involved.

By way of postscript, she did get married, in 1946; they had a son and daughter; she seems never to have sung again; widowed in 1974, she died earlier this year at the age of 92. ND