371. ‘Whispering Grass’, by Windsor Davies & Don Estelle

Well, what have we here then… On first glance, I thought it sounds quite poetic: ‘Whispering Grass’. Something Wordsworth might have written about on one of his Lakeland walks…

Whispering Grass, by Windsor Davies & Don Estelle (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 1st – 22nd June 1975

I’m going to have to split this review into two parts. Part I is what I make of the song, Part II will be what the hell this record actually is. Here goes. It’s quite nice – a lilting piano and some nice harmonies – and very old-fashioned. This must be a cover of an oldie, from the twenties or thirties.

The two vocalists, I am unsure which one is Davies and which is Estelle, are contrasting. One has a deep, Welsh baritone, and does a spoken intro and outro, and some backing bum-bum-bums. The other does most of the actual singing: Why do you whisper, Green grass…? Whispering grass, The trees don’t have to know….

So it’s a bit of a pun: grass as in the green stuff growing from the ground, and grass as in a tell-tale. It’s cute. Don’t you tell it to the trees, Or she will tell it to the birds and bees… the Welshman intones. It’s a novelty, that much is clear, but it’s not an offensively annoying one. This is quite a listenable record. But… I give up. Time for Part II. Help me, Google…

OK, so I half-knew that this was a spin-off single from a popular sitcom, ‘It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum’, set among an army theatre troop in British India in the Second World War. Windsor Davies and Don Estelle are performing it in character: Davies as Sgt Major Williams and Estelle as Gunner ‘Lofty’ Sugden. It was quite the popular show, running for eight series until 1981.

But, as pleasant as this record is, I can’t help feeling a bit left out. It’s clearly some kind of in-joke that you would have got had you been alive in 1975, and a fan of the programme. At this far of a remove it’s little more than a shrug and move along moment. I have never seen ‘It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum’, as it doesn’t get repeated very often. (A ‘70s sitcom, set in the colonies, with white actors playing Indians, featuring lots of men in theatre drag… You can imagine it being deemed ‘problematic’ nowadays. Having never seen it, I will defer judgement.)

‘Whispering Grass’ was indeed a hit from the ‘40s – 1940 to be precise – for The Ink Spots. What’s clear from this and the previous #1 – ‘Stand By Your Man’ – is that the grown-ups had momentarily wrested control of the top spot from the young ‘uns. You can imagine this record being bought by mums and dads, grannies and grandads, in their droves. While the kids, and the bloggers writing about the song forty-five years later, look slightly bemused, and then move on.

12 thoughts on “371. ‘Whispering Grass’, by Windsor Davies & Don Estelle

  1. As someone who remembers loving the sitcom when it was being shown on the BBC, and has just been heartily enjoying the DVD set recently with an elderly father-in-law, I can testify that this was quite amusing as a novelty record at the time, although it was a bit of an in-joke and won’t mean so much to, er, a younger generation. ‘Lofty’ did have a decent ‘proper’ singing voice, and Sergeant ‘Oh dear. How sad. Never mind…SHUUUUUUDUP!’ was definitely the star of the show. I think it’s one of the few select series that is a little too politically incorrect – borderline racism and homophobia – for general viewing on the main channels these days, though as they warn you on Britbox before settling down to contemporary fare like ‘Rising Damp’ and ‘Minder’, it does ‘reflect the attitudes of the time’. The record still raises a chuckle, but you had to be there at the time. It’s a bit of a joke, but arguably a better-executed one than Ray Stevens’ ‘The Streak’.

    • Oh yeah, this is 10 times better than The Streak! I’d willingly hear this again. I have truly never seen an episode of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Given that it wasn’t even being repeated much in the 90s, compared to Dad’s Army, which was still on every weekend, perhaps says something.

  2. Very much a spin-off, part of the love of the record is that short dumpy Don Estelle, playing a nervous bullied nerd, had such an amazing singing voice. The older generation loved The Inkspots, so it would be like errr someone older loving a cover of a-ha or madonna circa 1985 in 2021!

    I wasn’t a huge fan of the show, but we only had 3 channels to choose from then, so, yes I watched it. I was more impressed with Melvyn Hayes having been in Summer Holiday (Cliff’s movie) and Windsor Davies turning up as voice of a robot ball in Terrahawks. Around the late 70’s/early 80’s we had a day trip to Southport, popped into Woolworths and Don Estelle was signing autographs. Dad was a fan, he bought the record when it topped the chart – probably why it got on my nerves after a while!

      • Yes, it’s quite mind-blowing how much popular music developed and evolved inside 30 years to 1970, and how little it has evolved since the 80’s. By 1980 there had already been the roots of most future genres, electronic, rap & variations, soul, disco, rock, heavy, indie, folk, punk, country, prog, reggae and so on. I even heard a track from 1968 2 years ago that you could swear was the hippie inspiration for Chemical Brothers, if you speeded it up and put heavier beats in 🙂

  3. Well it’s nice…feel like it’s WW2 but it’s nice. I can’t really complain about it…it’s just odd that it’s a hit at this time.

      • No I don’t remember that one… the ones I remember were Doctor Who, Are You Being Served, Fawlty Towers, and The Good Life… and of course Benny Hill and Dave Allen at Large… and Monty Python… more than I thought!

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