Monday, May 25, 2009

Colonel Bogey March

I watched David Lean's classic The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957 this evening on TCM. I couldn't help but wonder about that great familiar theme song; the one that makes you want to whistle along.

The version I remember from grade school was known as "Comet". The silly lyrics went something like this:

Comet, it makes your teeth turn green;
Comet, it tastes like Listerine;
Comet, will make you vomit;
So get some Comet and vomit today.

The "Colonel Bogey March" is a popular march that was written in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (1881-1945), a British military bandmaster who was director of music for the Royal Marines at Plymouth.

Supposedly, the tune was inspired by a military man and golfer who whistled a characteristic two-note phrase (a descending minor third interval) instead of shouting "Fore!". It is this descending interval which begins each line of the melody. Bogey is a golfing term meaning one over par. Edwardian golfers in North America often played matches against "Colonel Bogey".

The sheet music was a million-seller, and the march was recorded many times. Many popular lyrics circulated and the best known, which originated in England at the outset of World War II, goes by the title "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball".
Hitler has only one left ball
Göring has two but they are small.
Himmler was somewhat similar
And poor old Goebbels has no balls at all

The English composer Malcolm Arnold added a counter-march for use in The Bridge on the River Kwai, which was set during World War II. Although the vulgar lyrics were not used in the film, British audiences of the time fully understood the subtextual humor of "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball" being sung by prisoners of war. Because the tune is so identified with the film, many people now incorrectly refer to the "Colonel Bogey March" as "The River Kwai March".


  1. LMAO Willow! Not at the movie( loved it ) but the tune. Of course, I won't be teaching that to Princess Cheese( she knows too much as it is )! Oh great, now I've got this tune stuck in my head, as I go off to work! Thanks, luv :)

  2. Hey, and I just remembered another film that features the "Colonel Bogey March" is Walt Disney's original "Parent Trap", when Miss Inch takes the girls out to the secluded cabin.

  3. Good memory! And still one of faves. Off to work. Enjoy the rest of the long week-end, Willow :)

  4. What a gret bit of historical info Willow. I enjoy finding things out like this. Thanks!

  5. THAT is why I love history. Those little "known" facts...makes history come alive.

    I love that march, now I'll be laughing instead of "trying" to keep time.

  6. Aha! Great history, Willow, and now I shall never think of that tune without the "Hitler" lyrics!

  7. I am afraid the only lyrics I remember were the rude ones! Now I am going to be singing this all day- thanks!! xv

  8. Comet tasted like gasoline at my grade school. Oh man, I'm going to be singing that for days!!!!


  9. This was my parents' favorite film,
    and my father loved to whistle the march.

    Thank you for these fond childhood memories!

  10. My grandfather served with the Royal Flying Corps (forerunner of the RAF) in Russia in 1914. He recalled that every time he and his comrades marched anywhere, it was to the strains of Colonel Bogey. And, he told me, it drove him nuts.

  11. Willow,
    Thanks for remembering!

  12. P.S.
    I've never heard of an epidural needle getting stuck in a patient's back. The epidural catheter is another deal altogether. They sometimes knot themselves and can't be extracted easily.

  13. The version the males in my family know has to do with Hitler's anatomy. But that's all I can say. It's a family show.

  14."one ball.." ha.

  15. Amazing how the alternate lyrics are so catchy! Don't think I'll ever hear this one again without thinking about Hitler.

  16. Great to catch up with you Willow - as always your posts are full of such interesting facts.

    England, specifically Devon, was absolutely spectacular dressed for Spring - the prettiest countryside ever and good weather most of the time. I'm posting pics so hope you can stop by.

  17. Love that song and also remembered it from The Parent Trap. One of the best movies I've ever seen was about the lifeof John Phillip Sousa,that great marching band leader and songwriter...many, many years ago. Think Clifton Webb played Sousa, but may be wrong.

  18. Hello Willow,

    A very insistent tune, isn't it?!

    From childhood, I remember the first line going, "Scallops are in the chip shop now"! But I can't remember the rest.

    Scallops, I should point out were not the seafood we know today but were disks of potato rather than chips.

  19. Huh! I didn't know about the significance of "Colonel Bogey's March", especially the lyrics. We used to sing the "Comet" lyrics, too. But the British lyrics would have had to be changed for the locale of the movie. Luckily Tojo and Hitler are the same number of syllables. Heh, heh!

  20. Oh, that's one of my favorite movies of all time. I still cry every time I watch it. Love that music.

  21. Hi Willow,

    I wanted to stop by and say 'hi' to my bloggy friends on this Memorial Day. I do hope you are okay and my Netflix account (that you inspired me to get) is well used.

    Have a great day.


  22. Willow, just think of all the folks all over the world, humming or whistling this tune and giggling -- all because of you!

  23. I didn't know any of the back story of the song but I sure can hum it. Wish I could hear the clip. Since I got my computer back I haven't been able to get my speakers to work.

  24. Here are the rude lyrics I know:
    they do not strike me as so especially unprintable...
    I dare you!

    Hitler has only got one ball
    The other is in the Albert Hall
    Himmler is somewhat simla
    And Goebels has no balls at all.

    Do not publish unless you feel like it

  25. Universal Truth:
    the rude lyrics will always
    dance in your memory forever!

  26. Too funny......I'm glad you waited till I could laugh!That tune is hilarious!

  27. Elizabeth, I'm glad someone finally shared the lyrics! I had actually never heard them. Funny, and you're right, not so unprintable. ;^)

  28. oh no another earworm!

    last year when my little nephew underwent surgery to correct an undescended testicle - he made a remark about how happy he was for he was not going to be like hitler any more.... it took us aback and then we found out that hitler only had one ball.

    some things are just very strange indeed!

  29. My first husband worked as a POW on the bridge over the Kwai - he thought the film very realistic.
    As for Colonel Bogey - it is one of the tunes that everyone used to know when I was a child - not sure that it is still so now in the UK

  30. I'd forgotten all about the "comet" lyrics and had a good laugh. : ) I see you've given up on black tea in favor of a more summer-suitable beverage. And I just rented Australia, haven't watched it yet. I'm wondering if I should even bother then.

  31. My father whistles that march constantly. It's too bad he cannot carry a tune. I went to the River Kwai last year and I dug up a few of my photos for my blog today. Thanks for the inspiration.

  32. Hi! Willow,
    Thanks for sharing!...the information about the theme song from David Lean's classic film
    The Bridge on the River Kwai, (1957)
    Very interesting indeed!...

    DeeDee ;-D

  33. Hah! I remember singing the same "Comet song" in grade school. We thought we were so clever.

  34. I haven't seen this in years and I always loved it when I was younger. Thanks for that clip.

    Greetinsg from London.

  35. "The Bridge on the River Kwai"-love this movie. Although my oldest sister's father who was actually a POW there did not like the movie as it was far too friendly to the Japanese who were truly sadistic--most of them --not just a handful. They had no honour for POWs and loved to invent ways to add cruelty to their English captors.

  36. I know Elizabeth's lyrics, except in the second line we would replace the Albert Hall bit with,
    " Goering has two, but they are small."

    Canada's Parliament in Ottawa, is based on the British Parliamentary model and in Ottawa the guard changes each day while the accompanying marching band plays the "Colonel Bogey March". It's tradition.

    Bridge on the River Kwai is a movie classic! Thanks for sharing.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)