b. Richard Moxon Armitage, 3 March 1898, Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, d. 3 March 1954, London England. A prolific composer and lyricist, Gay was responsible for many of the most popular and memorable songs in the UK during the 30s and 40s. A child prodigy, he was educated at Wakefield Cathedral School, and often deputized for the Cathedral organist. In 1913 he moved to London to study at the Royal College of Music, and later became the director of music and organist at St. Anne’s Church in Soho. After four years studying for his MA and B.Mus. at Christ’s Church College, Cambridge, he seemed destined for a career in a university or cathedral. However, while at Cambridge he became interested in the world of musical comedy, and started to write songs. After contributing to the revue Stop Press, he was commissioned to write the complete score for the Charlot Show Of 1926. He was also the principal composer for Clowns In Clover, which starred Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge, and ran for over 500 performances. Around this time he took the name of Noel Gay for his popular work to avoid embarrassment to the church authorities.
In 1930, Gay, with Harry Graham, wrote his most successful song to date, ‘The King’s Horses’, which was sung in another Charlot revue, Folly To Be Wise. He then collaborated with lyricist Desmond Carter for the score of his first musical show, Hold My Hand (1931). Starring Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale and Stanley Lupino, the songs included ‘Pied Piper’, ‘What’s In A Kiss’, ‘Hold My Hand’ and ‘Turn On The Music’. During the 30s Gay wrote complete, or contributed to, scores for popular shows such as She Couldn’t Say No, That’s A Pretty Thing, Jack O’Diamonds, Love Laughs!, O-Kay For Sound (one of the early Crazy Gang music hall-type revues at the London Palladium, in which Bud Flanagan sang Gay’s ‘The Fleet’s In Port Again’), Wild Oats and Me And My Girl (1937). The latter show, with a book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose, and starring Lupino Lane in the central role of Bill Sibson, ran for over 1, 600 performances and featured ‘The Lambeth Walk’, which became an enormously popular sequence dance craze - so popular, in fact, that when the show was filmed in 1939, it was re-titled The Lambeth Walk. In the same year, with Ralph Butler, Gay gave Bud Flanagan the big song, ‘Run, Rabbit, Run’, in another Crazy Gang revue, The Little Dog Laughed.
During the 40s, Gay wrote for several shows with lyrics mostly by Frank Eyton, including Lights Up (‘Let The People Sing’), ‘Only A Glass Of Champagne’ and ‘You’ve Done Something To My Heart’); Present Arms; La-Di-Da-Di-Da ’ ; The Love Racket; Meet Me Victoria; Sweetheart Mine; and Bob’s Your Uncle (1948). His songs for films included ‘All For A Shilling A Day’ and ‘There’s Something About A Soldier’, sung by Courtneidge in Me And Marlborough (1935); ‘Leaning On A Lamp Post’ introduced by comedian George Formby in Feather Your Nest; ‘Who’s Been Polishing The Sun’, sung by Jack Hulbert in The Camels Are Coming; ‘I Don’t Want To Go to Bed’ (Stanley Lupino in Sleepless Nights); and ‘All Over The Place’ (Sailors Three). Gay also composed ‘Tondeleyo’, the first song to be synchronized into a British talking picture (White Cargo). His other songs included ‘Round The Marble Arch’, ‘All For The Love Of A Lady’, ‘I Took My Harp To A Party’ (a hit for Gracie Fields), ‘Let’s Have A Tiddley At The Milk Bar’, ‘Red, White And Blue’, ‘Love Makes The World Go Round’, ‘The Moon Remembered, But You Forgot’, ‘The Girl Who Loves A Soldier’, ‘The Birthday Of The Little Princess’, ‘Are We Downhearted? - No!’, ‘Hey Little Hen’, ‘Happy Days Happy Months’, ‘I’ll Always Love You’, ‘Just A Little Fond Affection’, ‘When Alice Blue Gown Met Little Boy Blue’, ‘I Was Much Better Off In The Army’ and ‘My Thanks To You’ (co-written with Norman Newell).
Gay’s other collaborators included Archie Gottler, Clifford Grey, Dion Titheradge, Donavan Parsons and Ian Grant. In the early 50s Gay wrote very little, just a few songs such as ‘I Was Much Better Off In The Army’ and ‘You Smile At Everyone But Me’. He had been going deaf for some years, and had to wear a hearing aid. After his death in March 1954, his publishing company, Noel Gay Music, which he had formed in 1938, published one more song, ‘Love Me Now’. His son, Richard Armitage (b. 12 August 1928, Wakefield, England, d. 17 November 1986), a successful impresario and agent, took over the company, and extended and developed the organization into one of the biggest television and representational agencies in Europe. His clients included David Frost, Rowan Atkinson, Esther Rantzen, Russ Conway, Russell Harty, Jonathan Miller, John Cleese, the King’s Singers and many more. The publishing side had several hit copyrights, including the Scaffold’s ‘Thank U Very Much’. After mounting several minor productions, Armitage revived his father’s most popular show, Me And My Girl, in London in February 1985. With the versatile actor Robert Lindsay as Sibson, a revised book, and two other Gay hits, ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ and ‘Leaning On A Lamp Post’ interpolated into the score, the new production was an immediate success. It closed in 1993 following a stay of eight years. Around the same time, Radio Times, a new show featuring Noel Gay’s music, enjoyed a brief West End run. Opening on Broadway in 1986, Me And My Girl ran for over 1, 500 performances, New York’s biggest hit for years. Armitage died just three months after the show’s Broadway debut.