'Two Little Boys' is a very good song.
There, I have said it, and I feel purged and clean, a simpler, purer hedgehog. Rolf Harris has been guilty of many crimes against taste, and took particular pleasure in perpetrating them on British television, but this is a great song. Of course, it's a children's song, you wouldn't try it at karaoke night down the Blind Beggar, you wouldn't want to hear it more than about twice a year and I don't see Bruce Springsteen covering it in the near future, but it is a finely crafted song, linking a simple, homely tale with an equally simple but horribly dramatic one, in an imaginative, elegant fashion, telling a tragic, but ultimately mundane story with humanity and power.
I am moved to make this admission by Ben Goldacre over at Bad Science, who, in the course of explaining possible flaws in a study of an aspect of human behaviour, tells the story behind the song, which I was not aware of:
'When he appeared on Desert Island Discs, Rolf Harris chose to take his own song “Two Little Boys” with him. When war broke out, Rolf explained, his father and uncle had both joined up, his father lying about his younger brother’s age so they could both join the fight. But their mother found out and dobbed them in, because she couldn’t bear the thought of losing both her sons so young. Rolf’s uncle joined up 2 years later when he came of age, was injured, and died on the front. Rolf’s dad was beside himself, and for the rest of his life he believed that no matter what the risks, if he had been in the same infantry, he could have crawled out and saved his younger brother, just like in the song. Rolf played “Two Little Boys” to his grandmother just once. She sat through it quietly, took it off at the end, and said quietly: “please don’t ever play that to me again”.'
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