Little Donkey star Eric dies

The Wearside-born songwriter who penned one of the nation's favourite Christmas carols has died.

Eric Boswell's Little Donkey shared the music charts of 1959 with the hits of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard.

The song – originally written as a Children's Christmas carol – proved a hit for both Gracie Fields and the Beverley Sisters in November of that year.

Eric, the son of a tailor, was born in Sunderland and brought up in Millfield. He took up music lessons at the age of seven and his mother Louise picked up on his talents.

But the young Eric's parents were too poor to send him to a music academy, and he studied instead under Clifford Hartley, the organist and choirmaster at Bishopwearmouth Church.

Eventually he was lured by the bright lights of London to write songs, many of which were regularly performed at the capital's Wigmore Hall in the 1950s.

In the 60s he turned to writing songs for the likes of Matt Monro.

But eventually Eric became homesick for his native North East and returned to live in High Barnes, penning music inspired by the region.

Much of his material was showcased at the Geordierama Shows at Newcastle City Hall during the 70s, and comedian Bobby Thompson also made them part of his act.

One of Eric's proudest achievements came in 1983 when he set one of Catherine Cookson's best-selling novels – Katie Mullholland – to music in 1983.

During his varied career he also worked with Frank Wappat, Spectrum, Mick Macabe and Consett opera singer Graeme Danby.

But it is for Little Donkey that he is best remembered.

Speaking to the Echo about his career, he said: "I wracked my brains to think of aspects of the Christmas Story that hadn't been sung about, and came up with the idea of the donkey riding into Bethlehem.

"My music publishing house were interested in the song, and it just so happened I bumped into Gracie Fields there and she immediately said she was going to record it."

Little Donkey turned out to be Gracie's last chart hit, but the festive favourite has stood the test of time and is now sung in every school in the land.

"It's often difficult to think of something original to write about, but I was fortunate with Little Donkey," said Eric. "It has stood me in good stead for many years."

Eric's death was reported this morning.