Trivia: Which British songbird, in 1965, introduced “London Life,” Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ode to Swingin’ London? Hint: It’s not Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark or Cilla Black! The answer is Anita Harris, an actress and singer who, for a short period, seemed to poised to share the charts with those illustrious names. Harris charted a quartet of hits in the U.K. in 1967-1968, most notably Tom Springfield’s “Just Loving You” (No. 6) and “The Anniversary Waltz” (No. 21). Ultimately, her recording career didn’t thrive for long, but it did set the stage for Harris’ six decades (and counting!) as an entertainer, actress and television personality. Cherry Red’s Strike Force Entertainment label has recently reissued and expanded one of Harris’ four LPs originally released on CBS Records in the U.K., and despite its unorthodox origins, Anita in Jumbleland is one of the year’s happiest treats for collectors of sixties-vintage pop.
From the early days of her career on, Harris was a familiar presence on British television (including a stint as sidekick to magician David Nixon) and even appeared in a handful of films including two in the popular Carry On series. In 1970, the winsome vocalist headlined the Thames Television children’s series Anita in Jumbleland. Harris starred as Witch Witt Witty in the program which took place in an enchanted junkyard. Among a set of old chairs, a milk cart, a broken-down automobile and a “magic” player piano, Harris entertained her three child co-stars as well as those children watching at home. The main attraction, of course, was hearing Harris sing. The new liner notes for this release quote Harris to The Daily Mirror in 1970: “I had to learn fifty songs in about three days! It was murder!” Though reportedly just one episode of Anita in Jumbleland still exists, CBS Records – Harris’ home following stints at EMI and Pye – happily preserved Harris on fourteen of the show’s songs. For the LP (her fourth and final for the label), Harris was accompanied by the program’s musical arranger David Whitaker; the album sleeve was adorned with an image of Anita riding “Nittybug,” the custom-built green buggy that featured prominently in Jumbleland.
The material on Anita in Jumbleland comprises songs appropriate for children rather than “children’s songs,” albeit with themes such as animals and rainbows. The music is by and large presented in often lush and sometimes whimsical pop fashion that evokes a gentler time for children’s television programming. The opening track, “When You Were a Child,” was co-written by Anita’s husband, the television show’s producer and director Mike Margolis. It compares favorably to the sound of the late Jackie Trent’s sixties recordings, with its gently beguiling melody embellished by Bacharach-style brass. Harris also recorded one song by Trent’s then-husband Tony Hatch on Jumbleland, the novelty-esque “Messing About on the River.”
A host of impeccably-sung Hollywood and Broadway showtunes form the crux of the album. From the silver screen, Harris offers two Academy Award winners – Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Swinging on a Star” from 1944’s Going My Way, and Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s immortal “Over the Rainbow” from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz – plus Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke’s saucy Lady and the Tramp tune “He’s a Tramp,” and Arthur Hamilton’s “I Can Sing a Rainbow,” introduced by Lee in 1955’s Pete Kelly’s Blues but better-known at the time as the title song of 1966’s Top 5 album by Cilla Black. Of more recent Hollywood vintage are The Sherman Brothers’ “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins and Leslie Bricusse’s toe-tapping “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It” from Doctor Doolittle. Harris adopts a thick Cockney accent for “Flash! Bang! Wallop!” from David Heneker’s London-to-Broadway transplant Half a Sixpence.
Anita in Jumbleland also features Harris’ takes on varied fare including The Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” Stan Kelly-Bootle’s “Liverpool Lullaby” (also recorded by Cilla Black and Judy Collins), Ted Dicks and Myles Rudge’s and “Right Said Fred” (a 1962 hit for Bernard Cribbins). The album’s two oldest songs date back to the Roaring Twenties – a mildly groovy take on Broadway novelty “Yes, We Have No Bananas” (recently reprised in the musical Bullets Over Broadway) and DeSylva, Brown and Henderson’s “If I Had a Talking Picture of You” from the film Sunny Side Up, which Harris performs in voh-de-oh-doh fashion.
Strike Force’s reissue adds seven bonus tracks, all culled from non-LP singles released by CBS in 1969 and 1970. Most pertinent is Harris’ recording of the bouncy “Jumbleland.” Its lyrics name-check Walt Disney while the period arrangement is replete with perky horns. Mike Margolis’ “Ferdinand and His One-Man Band,” a novelty-esque story song, would have fit comfortably on the original Jumbleland album, as well. Also included is a welcome return to the Bacharach and David songbook with an enjoyable version of Promises, Promises’ hit “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” (In addition to “London Life,” Harris recorded other songs from the duo including “Trains and Boats and Planes,” “The Look of Love,” and Promises’ “Whoever You Are, I Love You.”) “Love is Everywhere,” a Harris/Margolis co-write, is a big sing-along number, while Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent’s catchy yet dramatic “The Only One to Love Me” (also recorded by Trent, Petula Clark and Friday Brown) is one of the finest tracks here and lodges itself quite happily in the brain. (“When You Were a Child” backed “The Only One” on 45.)
Since the days of Jumbleland, Anita Harris has had her share of ups and downs, but the showbiz survivor continues to perform on screen as well as onstage, where she has appeared in numerous musicals. She is currently scheduled to appear at London’s Royal Albert Hall on April 28 as part of an all-star cast concert of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.
Strike Force’s reissue of Anita in Jumbleland features new liner notes by Barney Ashton and numerous photos and memorabilia images. It’s not only fun for children of all ages, but a fine reminder of Harris’ contributions to pop’s classiest era. Here’s hoping reissues of Harris’ remaining CBS repertoire follows! You can order Anita in Jumbleland at the links below.
- When You Were a Child
- Swinging on a Star
- Feed the Birds
- Somewhere Over the Rainbow
- He’s a Tramp
- Flash Bang Wallop!
- Messing About on the River
- I Can Sing a Rainbow
- Never Seen Anything Like It
- Liverpool Lullabye
- Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
- Right Said Fred
- Yes, We Have No Bananas
- Talking Picture
- Jumbleland (CBS single 5377-A, 1970)
- Late Night Final (CBS single 5377-B, 1970)
- I’ll Never Fall in Love Again (CBS single 4467-A, 1970)
- Love is Everywhere (CBS single 4467-B, 1970)
- Loving You (CBS single 4157-A, 1970)
- Ferdinand and His One-Man Band (CBS single 4157-B, 1970)
- The Only One to Love Me (CBS single 4845-A, 1970)