Ray Noble

Raymond Stanley Noble (17 December 1903 – 2 April 1978) was an English bandleader, composer, arranger, radio comedian, and actor. Noble wrote both lyrics and music for many popular songs during the British dance band era, known as the "Golden Age of British music", notably for his longtime friend and associate Al Bowlly, including "Love Is the Sweetest Thing", "Cherokee", "The Touch of Your Lips", "I Hadn't Anyone Till You", and his signature tune, "The Very Thought of You". Noble also played a radio comedian opposite American ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's stage act of Mortimer Snerd and Charlie McCarthy, and American comedy duo Burns and Allen, later transferring these roles from radio to TV and popular films.

Ray Noble
Ray Noble and his orchestra in 1935
Background information
Birth nameRaymond Stanley Noble
Born(1903-12-17)17 December 1903
Brighton, Sussex, England, UK
Died2 April 1978(1978-04-02) (aged 74)
London, England, UK
GenresJazz, big band
Occupation(s)Bandleader, composer, arranger, comedian, actor
Associated actsAl Bowlly

Early life and career

Noble was born at 1 Montpelier Terrace in the Montpelier area of Brighton, England. A blue plaque on the house commemorates him.[1]

Noble studied at the Royal Academy of Music and in 1927 won a competition for the best British dance band orchestrator that was advertised in Melody Maker. In 1929, he became leader of the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra, an HMV Records studio band that featured members of many of the top hotel orchestras of the day. (Noble recorded prolifically during this time and US Victor released many of his HMV recordings.)

The most popular vocalist with Noble's studio band was Al Bowlly, who joined in 1930.[2] During this time Noble co-wrote "Turkish Delight", "By the Fireside" and "Goodnight, Sweetheart". The latter song was a number one hit for Guy Lombardo in the United States charts. It was also used (with vocals by Al Bowlly) on the original television series Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever.[3]

Career in the United States

Noble moved to New York City in 1934. The Bowlly/Noble recordings with the British New Mayfair Dance Orchestra on HMV had achieved popularity in the United States and Noble had several number one hits on the US pop singles charts:

  • "Love is the Sweetest Thing", 1933, #1 for five weeks;
  • "Old Spinning Wheel", 1934, #1 for three weeks;
  • "The Very Thought of You", 1934, #1 for five weeks;
  • "Isle of Capri", 1935, #1 for seven weeks;

and with the American band:

  • "Paris in the Spring", 1935, #1 for 1 week.

Noble took Al Bowlly and his drummer Bill Harty to the US and asked Glenn Miller to recruit American musicians to complete the band. Miller played the trombone in the Ray Noble orchestra which performed Glenn Miller's composition "Dese Dem Dose" as part of the medley "Dese Dem Dose/An Hour Ago This Minute/Solitude" during a performance at the Rainbow Room in 1935. The American Ray Noble band had a successful run at the Rainbow Room in New York City with Bowlly as principal vocalist.

Although Noble was no singer, he did appear twice as an upper-class Englishman on two of his more popular New York records, 1935's "Top Hat" and 1937's "Slumming on Park Avenue". Noble was also an arranger who scored many record hits in the 1930s: "Mad About the Boy" (1932), "Paris in the Spring" (1935) and "Easy to Love" (1936),

Noble and his orchestra appeared in the 1937 film A Damsel in Distress with Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, George Burns and Gracie Allen. Noble played a somewhat "dense" character who was in love with Gracie Allen. Al Bowlly returned to England in 1938 but Noble continued to lead bands in America, moving into an acting career portraying a stereotypical upper-class English idiot.

Ray Noble played the piano but seldom did so with his orchestra. In a movie short from the 1940s featuring Ray Noble and Buddy Clark (one of his most popular band singers), Ray Noble is asked by the announcer to play one of his most popular hits. He sits down at the piano and plays "Goodnight, Sweetheart".

Ray Noble provided music for many radio shows such as The Chase and Sanborn Hour, The Charlie McCarthy Show, Burns and Allen and On Stage with Cathy and Elliott Lewis and also guest-appeared in some of their films. He worked with Bergen for nearly fifteen years, playing the foil to McCarthy and the slow-witted Mortimer Snerd, and his orchestra appeared with Edgar Bergen in the 1942 film Here We Go Again. He also provided the orchestration for the 1942 Lou Gehrig biopic The Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper. Noble's last major successes as a bandleader came with Buddy Clark in the late 1940s.


The ventriloquist TV show ended in the mid-1950s, and Noble retired to Santa Barbara, California. In the late 1960s Noble relocated to Jersey in the Channel Islands. In March 1978 he flew to London for treatment of cancer, and later died of the disease at a London hospital.[4][5]

Specialist dance band radio stations continue to play his records. Ray Noble has also featured regularly on the Manx Radio programme Sweet & Swing, presented by Howard Caine.

Posthumous honours

  • In 1987 Noble was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
  • In 1996 Noble was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • In 2005 "The Very Thought of You", recorded by Ray Noble and His Orchestra on Victor in 1934, received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award


  1. Collis, Rose (2010). The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton. (based on the original by Tim Carder) (1st ed.). Brighton: Brighton & Hove Libraries. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-9564664-0-2.
  2. Ades, David; Bickerdyke, Percy; Holmes, Eric (July 1999). This England's Book of British Dance Bands. Cheltenham: This England Books. pp. 21–24. ISBN 0-906324-25-4.
  3. Mark Clark, Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise, Chapter 24, "Memorable Music Moments" (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1557837929).
  4. "Ray Noble, Composer of Goodnight Sweetheart'", St. Petersburg Times, p. 11B, 5 April 1978
  5. Wilson, John S. (4 April 1978), "Ray Noble, 71, Dies; Popular Composer", The New York Times, p. 36
  6. "The Russia House Script – Dialogue Transcript". script-o-rama.com. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
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