Better known by the pseudonym of Kenneth J. Alford, Frederick Joseph “Joe” Ricketts was born in 1881 in England. His father was a coal merchant in London. Ricketts had studied organ and piano as a youth. He joined the Royal Irish Regiment as a “band boy” while still a teenager. Ricketts also learned to play cornet, violin and euphonium when he was still a young man. He was hired to be the organist and assistant director at the Royal College of Music after completing his studies there. Subsequently, he was engaged as band master of the Second Battalion of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in what is now South Africa. While with this organization, he began to compose many of his marches and continued to do so over the next two decades.
His band became the resident organization for the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition in Wellington, New Zealand. There they performed two concerts each day for their six month posting. Ricketts was promoted to Lieutenant and Director of Music for the Royal Marines in 1927, located in the south of England at Deal. He transferred to Plymouth where he remained until his retirement in 1944.
Ricketts has been called the British March King, although he composed works in many other genres. He published all of them under the name of Kenneth J. Alford. Alford was his mother’s maiden name. At the time, British soldiers were not allowed to have outside professions. A younger brother, Randolph Robjent Ricketts was also a composer and published his musical works under the pseudonym of Leo Stanley.
Ricketts is rightfully compared with American composer John Philip Souza in the depth and quality of his work. Perhaps his most memorable composition is “Colonel Bogey” but his many fine works include marches such as “Army of the Nile,” “Eagle Squadron,” “The Great Little Army,” “ The Mad Major, “ “The Middy,” “ On the Quarter Deck, “ “The Standard of St. George, “ “The Thin Red Line, “ “The Vanished Army” and “The Voice of the Guns.”
He retired from the military in 1944 due to ill health and died the following year after an operation for cancer. In all, Ricketts had served almost fifty years in British military bands. The genesis for “Colonel Bogey” is said to have come from two whistled notes. Bogey is a golf term, of course. In British golf circles, players at the time would whistle two notes, the first one and then a second that was lower than the first by three half steps, rather than to announce their presence by yelling “fore.” Ricketts was thought to have expanded this motif into the first strain of his march. Although composer Sir Malcolm Arnold did not use the entire march in his score, melodies from it were popularized in the 1957 feature film “Bridge on the Rover Kwai.” What you hear in the film is Arnold’s adaptation rather than Rickett’s compete work, though it did lead to something of a resurgence of popularity in Rickett’s music.