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Bingham, Clifton (1859-1913)

Clifton Bingham (1859 - 1913), the author of numerous verses for children's picture books in the late Victorian and Edwardian period was better known as the writer of the lyrics of many popular sentimental songs, the most famous of which was "Love's Old Sweet Song".

Clifton Bingham

Clifton Bingham - Portrait from The Strand Musical Magazine, August 1897, p80. Shelfmark: PP.1947.cb © The British Library Board

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Graham Clifton Bingham was born in 1859 in Bristol. His birth was registered in the last quarter. At the age of 16, soon after his father's death, he entered the family's extensive bookselling business. In the 1881 census the 21-year old is listed as a bookseller in Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire. It was probably shortly after 1881 that his mother died, and the bookselling business was sold. He joined the staff of the Cheltenham Examiner. One of his duties was to be the drama critic, and he began to contribute short stories to newspapers and magazines. His first song "Sweet and Twenty", for which he also composed the music, was written in 1882. As he found his lyrics and verses in demand, he moved to London in 1886, and soon afterwards wrote "Dear Heart", and "Love's Old Sweet Song". Various composers wanted to set it, but James Molloy contacted him first by electric telegraph, and provided the music. The famous chorus runs:-

"Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low,
And the flick'ring shadows softly come and go.
Tho' the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight comes love's old sweet song."

Another popular song, a bolero, "In Old Madrid", was set by Henry Trotère. A parody, "In Old Kent Road", by Arthur Seldon, appeared in 1890. Trotère also set "The Angel Love", "A Corner in Your Heart", and "A Rose in Heaven" by Bingham.
He edited The Brighton and County Magazine from 1889 until February 1892. The most prominent series within the magazine is "Sussex Celebrities", mostly MPs, the aristocracy, the Mayor, clergy and other worthy figures. Clifton Bingham probably wrote the drama criticism, covering performances in Brighton and London. The 1901 census records him as living in the parish of Broadwater Down, which is near Frant and just south of Tunbridge Wells in Kent. He is aged 41, his profession is "Author", and his wife is Alice M., aged 29, and born in Bow, London.

The Animals' Academy cover

The Animals' Academy. Illustrated by Harry B Neilson. Verses by Clifton Bingham. [London]: Blackie and Son, [1903]. Shelfmark: 12812.c.25. Cover 27 x 20cm. © The British Library Board

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Clifton Bingham provided many verses for the lavishly printed picture books produced by the firms of Nister, Raphael Tuck, Blackie and Alf Cooke. His work was illustrated by Louis Wain, Harry Neilson, G.H.Thompson, John Hassall, and many anonymous artists. Pussy's Mixture, (1905) illustrated by William Foster, begins with a minstrel cat "On the Sands". "Black Tommy is a clever cat; In nice white suit, and smart new hat, He plays upon the old banjo, And sings about the Ohio."

Pussy's Mixture of Verse and Picture

Pussy's Mixture of Verse and Picture. With verses by Clifton Bingham. [Illustrated by William Foster et al.] London: Ernest Nister, [1905]. Shelfmark: 12802.dd.15. Cover 25 x 21 cm. © The British Library Board

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Beautiful Lady Belinda - the Story of a Doll, has extensive verses, telling of the many adventures of a doll; being seized by dogs, lost, nearly washed away at sea, and finally given to a poor child, who has to sell her. She is bought back by her former owner. It begins:-"Lady Belinda was young and fair, Lady Belinda had golden hair, A feathered hat and a wondrous gown - She was the loveliest doll in town."

Beautiful Lady Belinda - the Story of a Doll.

Beautiful Lady Belinda - the Story of a Doll. Words by Clifton Bingham. [Illustrated by E. Stewart]. [London]: Nelson, [1907]. Shelfmark: YK.1999.b.9873. Cover 28 x 22 cm. © The British Library Board

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The Times of February 13, 1899 reviews the comic opera The Coquette, with music by Justin Clerice, and libretto by H. Dam and Clifton Bingham. It was considered amusing and successful, with a notably comic scene of a local governor being tied to a mill-wheel at night and dunked in the water, in a case of mistaken identity. Bingham also wrote the words for two operettas for children, Bo-Peep and Boy Blue published in 1893, and Dolldom, published in 1900, and a cantata, The Elfin Well, published in 1893. A paragraph in The Sketch of Nov. 27 1901 describes him as critic, piano accompanist, and performer at concerts and recitations. The reporter writes "We have to congratulate him on the purity and elegance of his style, and the admirable expression and homely sentiments of his verses. He lives quietly in a pretty town on the borders of Sussex and Surrey, [Tunbridge Wells is in Kent and near Sussex in fact], his home life is as simple and refined as his contributions in verse…The high moral quality of his verses makes them welcome in the home circle."

Young Woman interviewed him in September 1900, in which article Mr Bingham said that songs were sermons, which made you think, cry and feel, and got at the heart more quickly than a sermon. He was most proud of his song "The Dear Homeland". He jotted down ideas on envelopes, on trains, buses and on seaside piers. Usually he wrote the words before they were set to music.

In 1899 Ernest Nister published Robert's Romance, by Clifton Bingham, (shelfmark: 012806.l.47), a novel for children in which a blacksmith's son leaves the country for London, joins the police, and clears the name of his sweetheart who has been wrongly accused of theft.

In 1911 Clifton Bingham published a novel Love's Old Sweet Song, (shelfmark: 012618.b.6). The first person narrator rescues a girl from poverty, encourages her to sing professionally, and then marries her, giving her as a wedding present a copy of the song "Love's Old Sweet Song". As his wife Alice was considerably younger than he, and born in Bow, perhaps there is an echo of his own love story.

The Times records a brief obituary on March 27 1913, writing that he had died of apoplexy the previous day in Bristol after a few days' illness. He had written songs since the age of 20, and had published 1,650 songs.

Sources

The Strand Musical Magazine, VI (August, 1897), p 80. Shelfmark PP.1947.cb
The Young Woman, VIII (September, 1900), p.453. Shelfmark PP.6004.oda
1881 and 1901 censuses.

For a list of works for which Clifton Bingham provided the verse search Explore the British Library under the name Bingham, Graham Clifton. He also used the pseudonym The Cockiolly Bird for some of his verse.

His prolific contributions to children's books were not always significant enough to merit mention on the title-page, and thus an entry in the catalogue.