Sail having been set

It was 1971, and Ron Webster, a silversmith from Birmingham, was putting the final touches on his poem, which he was going to send to a radio programme in London. Odd place for a poem? Not really. Said the host of that programme:

“[O]ne of the ideas I had was to invite listeners to send their poems or lyrics to me and I would make songs out of them. We got a million replies, and I did one each week for 26 weeks.”

In the States, you might have been suspicious of a scheme like that. But this was legit, and Mr Webster’s verses were selected for the programme; what’s more, the host himself recorded a version for EMI’s Columbia label, which failed to chart.

Cut to 1975. An American woman, a visitor to Canada, heard that recording on the radio, and liked it enough to suggest it to her husband, the program director for WSB Atlanta. He found the album, issued on RCA in the States, and gave the song several spins. To borrow a phrase, the phones lit up. And for that reason, today, you get to hear Mr Webster’s verses-turned-lyrics, and the voice of the host, born in Nairobi yet quintessentially English, Mr Roger Whittaker:

Eleven million copies later, it has lost none of its charm.

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