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Allan Wilmot, singer with the Southlanders, whose song The Mole in a Hole made them a fixture for two decades on BBC Radio’s Junior Choice – obituary

Allan Wilmot in 2019 during the making of the programme The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files - Harriet Thomas
Allan Wilmot in 2019 during the making of the programme The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files - Harriet Thomas

Allan Wilmot, who has died aged 96, was one of the Windrush generation who brought to Britain the sound of the Caribbean.

After fighting in the Royal Navy and the RAF’s Marine Section during the Second World War, he settled in London and had his first recording experience in the Trinidadian Edric Connor’s four-part-harmony backing group, the Caribbeans.

The quartet was completed by his fellow Jamaicans Vernon Nesbeth, Frank Mannah and Wilmot’s brother, Harry – father of the comedian Gary Wilmot – and accompanied by the pianist Earl Inkman.

Their 1954 album Songs from Jamaica was a revelation to British audiences, who wondered at titles such as Wata Come a Me Y’ey and Ball Gwan Roun. Day Dah Light was even credited as an inspiration for Harry Belafonte’s 1956 hit The Banana Boat Song (Day-O).

Edric Connor and the Caribbeans performed in cabaret, and when the Grade Organisation became the quartet’s agent in 1954 they changed their name to the Southlanders, joining Connor for another LP, Songs from Trinidad (1955).

On their own, they broke from their Caribbean musical roots, had the future Beatles producer George Martin as their recording manager and made singles at Abbey Road Studios.

Alone gave them a Top 20 hit in 1957, but their legacy was secured with The Mole in a Hole the following year.

Its jolly singalong verse began: “I’m not a bat or a rat or a cat / I’m not a gnu or a kangaroo / I’m not a goose or a moose on the loose.”

But the novelty song is remembered for its next line, “I am a mole and I live in a hole”, sung solo by the bass Harry. Although like their other later releases it failed to chart, the number became a favourite on the BBC radio show Junior Choice for more than 20 years.

The Southlanders toured Europe and appeared on bills with stars such as Frankie Vaughan and Marty Wilde.

Allan Charles Wilmot was born on August 24 1925 in Kingston, Jamaica, to Alice (née Hay), a social worker, and Charles Wilmot, captain of a local shipping agency’s cargo boat.

The Southlanders on television in 1960 - Popperfoto
The Southlanders on television in 1960 - Popperfoto

On leaving Wesley School he saw few opportunities in Jamaica, and as a British subject he volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1941.

His wartime service began in the minesweeper Hauken, destroying mines and escorting ships to defend them from being torpedoed by German submarines in the Caribbean. After two years, Wilmot applied to switch to the RAF Marine Section’s air-sea rescue service in Britain, recovering troops shot down or stranded at sea.

While finding American soldiers openly racist, he was asked by British people on telling them he was from Jamaica: “What part of Africa is that?”

On demob in 1946 he took a job in Jamaica’s Customs & Excise office but soon felt the island offered him few opportunities.

The following year he travelled to London to start a new life, and for a while slept inside Tube trains at night after finding boarding houses with signs proclaiming: “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.” He found work at a factory and washed dishes at the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch.

Wilmot in 2008 beside a photo of him as a boy at the exhibition From War to Windrush at the Imperial War Museum in London - Cate Gillon
Wilmot in 2008 beside a photo of him as a boy at the exhibition From War to Windrush at the Imperial War Museum in London - Cate Gillon

Then came the chance to display his singing talents when he joined the Ken Hunter Quartet, a close harmony group, in 1950.

Wilmot left the Southlanders in 1974 and worked as a telephone operator until retiring in 1990.

He was also a voluntary worker for the West Indian Ex-Service Association (now named the West Indian Association of Service Personnel), which highlights the contributions made by 16,000 Caribbeans during the Second World War. Its activities enabled him to meet the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Boris Johnson.

His autobiography, Now You Know, was published in 2015.

Wilmot’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1966 he married Joyce (née Fletcher). They later separated and she died in 2020. He is survived by their daughter and by the three daughters of his first marriage.

Allan Wilmot, born August 24 1925, died October 20 2021