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Noel Gay [Willis]

Reginald Maxon Armitage was Noel Gay's given name, a name which was more suited to his original musical plans which were of classical intent. He was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, in 1898 and was a choirboy in that City's cathedral where, at the ripe old age of 12, he became the deputy assistant organist. Whilst still in his teens he accepted the appointment as assistant organist at the Chapel Royal, St. James's in London and rose to organist and director of music at St. Ann's, Soho. He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and then went on to Cambridge University, where he became the organist at Christ's College while taking his Master of Arts.

Noel Gay's dreams of forging a career as a serious composer got passed over when he found himself enjoying writing catchy, simple little tunes of which his fellow undergraduates at Cambridge seemed to approve. However, it took some time before his first efforts were heard by a wider public. He chose his theatrical name as a combination of two names of two great talents or the Twenties, the Noel of Noel Coward and the Gay of Maisie Gay, one of the biggest names in revue at that time. In 1925 the name of Noel Gay was first seen when he wrote much of the music for a touring revue called Stop Press which, although it never managed to reach London, brought Noel Gay to the notice of André Charlot, the great revue producer. Charlot hired him as musical director and composer alongside another young hopeful by the name of Dick (later Richard) Addinsell for his new revue, The Charlot Show Of 1926, which made a star of the then chorus girl, Jessie Matthews.

Throughout the 20s and 30s, songs of Noel Gay were often heard in revues and musical comedies, more often than not interpolated into scores by other composers. In 1927 he had songs in the Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge show Clowns In Clover, which gave Courtneidge one of her biggest hits, 'There's Something About A Soldier'. His song 'The King's Horses' went into her show Folly To Be Wise in 1931. Away from the stage, he wrote for the early talking pictures and for America's Tin Pan Alley which, in the days before hit parades, was the source of popular song successes.

Noel Gay's songs are as British as the Union Jack. They are rarely complicated and often concentrate on just a few notes which makes them easy for anyone to sing. The many stars he wrote for included Gracie Fields ('I Took My Harp To A Parry'), Flanagan and Allen ('Run, Rabbit, Run'), Evelyn Laye (You've Done Something To My Heart') and Tommy Trinder ('All Over The Place').

Other of the many hit shows he was associated with were Love Laughs!, starring Laddie Cliff and Renée Houston; Wild Oats for Sydney Howard, Arthur Riscoe and Vera Pearce; Lights Up, with Evelyn Laye and Doris Hare; and Bob's Your Uncle, with Leslie Henson, Valerie Tandy and Austin Melford.

Much of Noel Gay's time after 1938 was taken up with his own music publishing company, the Noel Gay Music Company which later became the Noel Gay Organisation, an international management, music publishing, television and theatrical company.

His son, Richard Armitage, took over when Noel Gay died in 1954 at the age of 55. When Richard Armitage died in 1986, having seen his dream of a revival of his father's Me And My Girl become a smash hit on Broadway, his son Alex Armitage took over the family business.