b. Thomas P. Connor, 16 November 1904, Bloomsbury, London, England, d. 28 November 1993, Farnborough, Kent, England. A songwriter who wrote mainly lyrics for highly popular sentimental ballads and jaunty novelty numbers, from the early 30s, through until the 50s. Connor is credited with having the ‘common touch’, and of sensing the mood of ‘ordinary’ people, particularly during the years of World War II. From the age of 14 he worked as a call boy at London theatres such as the Kingsway, and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, during the years when operettas by Ivor Novello, Rudolph Friml and Oscar Hammerstein II were all the rage. In the late 20s he spent two years as a steward on the liner Empress of France, before returning to London with the intention of becoming a songwriter. In 1932, after several hard years of struggle, his first published song, ‘My Home Town’, was recorded by Little Mary Hagen, and a year later he had a hit with ‘Jump On The Wagon’, followed by the very popular ‘When The Guardsman Started Crooning On Parade’.
In 1935 Connor started writing with Eddie Lisbona, the pianist with Ambrose’s orchestra. Together they wrote the enormously successful ‘It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today’, which gave Arthur Tracy (‘The Street Singer’) a bestselling record. During the late 30s and 40s he contributed many songs to films and shows, as well as writing special material for performers such as Maurice Chevalier and Vera Lynn. In 1937, in collaboration with Jimmy Leach and Michael Carr, Connor wrote the first of his three famous Christmas songs, ‘The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot’, which was successful for Phyllis Robins. Robins also recorded the plaintive ‘I’m Sending A Letter To Santa’ (1939), which Connor wrote with Lanny Rogers, and Spencer Williams (composer of ‘Basin Street Blues’ and ‘Everybody Loves My Baby’, amongst others), but it was Britain’s top female entertainer, Gracie Fields, who gave the song the most impact. In 1938, Connor, together with Jimmy Harper and Will Haines, had presented Fields with one of her biggest ‘identity’ numbers, ‘The Biggest Aspidistra In The World’. Connor’s third festive offering, for which he wrote both music and lyric, the gently humorous ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’, came much later, in 1952, and sold well in the USA for Jimmy Boyd, and in the UK for the Beverley Sisters. In 1944 Connor wrote an English lyric to the German song, ‘Lili Marlene’, which, in its original version by Lale Anderson, had become a potent propaganda weapon. It gained even more renown with recordings by Marlene Dietrich and Anne Shelton, and a US version by Perry Como. Connor’s follow-up, ‘The Wedding Of Lili Marlene’ (1949), was a hit in the UK for Shelton, and in the USA for the Andrews Sisters.
Also in 1949, but in a completely different vein, Connor wrote the novelty, ‘Hang On The Bell, Nellie’, which was a favourite with the ebullient Billy Cotton Band. In the 50s he had UK Top 10 hits with ‘The Homing Waltz’ (Vera Lynn) and ‘Never Do A Tango With An Eskimo’ (Alma Cogan), before he retired in 1956. His other notable songs included ‘The Spreading Chestnut Tree’, ‘Till The Lights Shine Again’, ‘Be Like The Kettle And Sing’, ‘Down In The Glen’, ‘The Rose I Bring To You’, ‘Boys And Girls Love Saturday Night’, ‘I May Be Poor But I’m Honest’ and ‘Who’s Taking You Home Tonight?’, the inevitable coda to every UK palais dance during the war, and many years afterwards. Among his other collaborators were Horatio Nicholls, Hamilton Kennedy, Robert Stolz and Jimmy Kennedy.