Home » Uncategorized » Kenneth J. Alford (F. J. Ricketts) and the “Colonel Bogey March”

Kenneth J. Alford (F. J. Ricketts) and the “Colonel Bogey March”

Kenneth J. Alford was the pen name of Frederick Joseph Ricketts (February 21, 1881–May 15, 1945), a British composer of marches for band. Ricketts was born on February 21, 1881, the fourth child of Robert and Louisa (née Alford) Ricketts in the Thameside hamlet of Ratcliff, within the parish of Shadwell in London’s East End. Ricketts’ father died when he was seven and his mother when he was fourteen. His early musical training had been on playing the piano and organ and working as a church chorister in the parish church of St. Paul’s. As a boy living in London’s East End he would often hear street musicians and bands, including German bands and early Salvation Army bands. Fascinated by the sound of instruments, the orphaned Ricketts determined that the best course for his future would be to join an army band. Therefore, he joined the Royal Irish Regiment in 1895. He was enlisted as a Band Boy. Well-liked, ambitious, and a good student with natural ability, he was proficient enough on cornet within a very few months and taken into the regimental band. His first composition at the age of 15 was “For Service Overseas.” It has never been published. The band went on postings with the regiment, first to Limerick in Ireland, then to India. Ricketts used every spare moment to learn to play all the instruments in the band. He was very popular with the regular soldiers because of his piano-playing ability in the various messes, as he was promoted.

When Ricketts concluded seven years of man-service, in 1903, the Colonel Commanding the Royal Irish Regiment, and his bandmaster, Mr. J. Phillips, recommended Ricketts for entry into the Student Bandmaster Course at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, in Twickenham, Middlesex, on the outskirts of London. Ricketts two-year course at Kneller Hall began in the summer of 1904. Studies were rigorous. The first year consisted of a firm grounding in harmony, counterpoint, instrumentation, aural training, composition and arranging, carried out by a graduated senior student. Graduating in 1906, so highly was he regarded that Ricketts stayed on at Kneller Hall as chapel organist and assistant to the Director of Music, Lieutenant (later Lieut. Colonel) Arthur Stretton, for two years. While on staff at the Royal Military School of Music, Ricketts was married to Miss Annie Louisa Holmes. In 1908, Ricketts was finally given his own band. He was posted as Bandmaster to the Band of the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, joining them in the Orange River Colony (formerly the Orange Free State) in what is now the Republic of South Africa. The colonel asked him to write a new regimental march for the Argylls, and he responded with “The Thin Red Line”, based on two bars of the regiment’s bugle call.

Ricketts had a desire to compose music. The problem was that it was frowned upon for commissioned officers and warrant officers class 1 to be engaged in commercial activities in the civilian world. The answer for Ricketts was to compose and publish under a nom-de-plume. The pseudonym Kenneth J. Alford was constructed from his eldest son’s name (Kenneth), his own middle name (Joseph) and his mother’s maiden name (Alford). The first march written under the new pen name was “Holyrood” inn July 1911. In 1914, a few weeks before the start of World War I, Ricketts composed his most famous work, “Colonel Bogey March.” 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 that begins each line of the melody. The name “Colonel Bogey” began in the later 19th century as the imaginary “standard opponent” of the Colonel Bogey scoring system. The sheet music was a million-seller, and the march was recorded many times.

Shortly after hostilities began in August, the adult musicians of most line bands were pressed into service as stretcher bearers and medical orderlies. During the war Ricketts wrote several marches dedicated to the fighting forces: “The Great Little Army” (1916), “On The Quarter Deck,” “The Middy,” and “The Voice of the Guns” (1917), and “The Vanished Army” (1919) which was subtitled “They Never Die”. By the end of the war the Band Boys had matured into a group considered by many to be the finest regimental band in the British Army. The 1920s were perhaps the high point for the 2nd Battalion Band. Under Ricketts, they had become a popular fixture in London parks, seaside holiday resorts and everywhere they performed. In 1925 the Band of the 2nd Battalion undertook a six-month tour to New Zealand where Ricketts wrote “Dunedin” (published 1928). Returning to the United Kingdom aboard the New Zealand Shipping Company’s S.S. Remuera via the Panama Canal, Ricketts was moved to compose the march “Old Panama” (published 1929).

In 1927 a Royal Marine vacancy occurred, and Ricketts applied, was approved, and commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Marines Band Service on July 4, 1927. He was posted to the Band of the Marines’ Depot at Deal in Kent. When the headquarters of the Band Service was transferred to Deal in 1930, Ricketts was posted to the Band of the Plymouth Division, Royal Marines, the principal band of the Royal Marines. From 1935 to 1939 Ricketts conducted the Plymouth Band on a one-hour biweekly BBC Radio program, and the band was in constant demand to visit military camps and war production factories throughout the Second World War. The workload at that time put a temporary hiatus to his composing, but he resumed in 1941 with “By Land and Sea” and “Army of the Nile”, and in 1942 with “Eagle Squadron” dedicated to the Americans who were flying with the Royal Air Force. It was to be his final march. Ricketts was confirmed as a full Major on July 4, 1942. Ricketts retired from the Royal Marines on June 1, 1944 because of ill health and died at his home in Reigate, Surrey, on May 15, 1945, after an operation for cancer.

Alford’s marches have been favorably compared to those of Sousa, both having a thorough grounding in classical music, and he has been called “The British March King.” Although he is best known for his marches, he wrote many other pieces –- hymns, fantasias, humoresques, xylophone solos, and duets. He often combined well-known tunes with new compositions or juxtaposed one with another. His championing of the saxophone played its part in getting the instrument accepted in military bands, and he is also credited with the first arrangements for bagpipes with military band. Like Sousa, he had a remarkable memory and tended to conduct without scores. There is some confusion about the march Colonel Bogey and its use in the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai. While Sir Malcolm Arnold did use Colonel Bogey in his score for the film, it was only the first theme and a bit of the second theme of Colonel Bogey, whistled unaccompanied by the British prisoners several times as they marched into the prison camp. Arnold added a counter-march, The River Kwai March which was based on the same chord progression, to support the whistled theme. The two marches were recorded together by Mitch Miller as “March from the River Kwai – Colonel Bogey.” Consequently, the “Colonel Bogey March” is often mis-credited as “River Kwai March.”

My collection contains the following work by Ricketts/Alford:

Colonel Bogey March

—material taken, adapted, and edited from several different sources


One thought on “Kenneth J. Alford (F. J. Ricketts) and the “Colonel Bogey March”

  1. Thanks for this comprehensive information. I believe I am related to Frederick Ricketts but not sure quite how. My great grandfather James Ricketts was born in London in 1845, so I think that it’s most likely that Frederick was his nephew.

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