Hymn No 68
See him lying on a bed of straw
a draughty stable with an open door
Mary cradling the babe she bore –
the Prince of glory is his name.
Michael Arnold Perry (1942 – 1996) was a Church of England clergyman and one of the leading British hymnodists of the 20th century.
He was born in Beckenham, Kent on 8 March 1942, and was educated at Dulwich College then went on to study at University College London; Oak Hill Theological College, London; Ridley Hall, Cambridge; and the University of Southampton.
It was during his student days at Oak Hill in 1964 that Perry wrote his best-known hymn, the Calypso Carol, the first line of which is ‘See him lying on a bed of straw’. He wrote this for a college concert, and it only became famous by accident when Cliff Richard substituted it for a missing recording in a radio show.
After his ordination in the Diocese of Liverpool, Perry ministered at St Helens, Merseyside. During his time there he married Beatrice Mary at St Helens Parish Church in 1967. They had two children, Helen and Simon.
He moved to Bitterne, Southampton, where he was curate and then vicar. During his time at Bitterne he was on the committees that produced the popular hymn books Psalm Praise (1973) and c (1982). From 1981 to 1989 Perry served as Rector of Eversley, Hampshire.
In 1982 he became Secretary of Jubilate Hymns, and was involved in editing most of their books. His contemporary, hymn-writer Christopher Idle, paid tribute to his business acumen in ‘sorting out what had been a copyright jungle’. At the time critics expected songwriters to make no charge since their work was ‘for the Lord’.
In addition, he worked as Chaplain and lecturer at the National Police Staff College, Bramshill. He was also elected to the Church of England’s General Synod in 1985.
Perry’s last posting was as Vicar of Tonbridge in his native Kent from 1989 until 1996. He was appointed Chairman of the Church Pastoral Aid Society in 1993, and again to the General Synod in 1994.
Sadly, from early 1996 Perry was increasingly disabled by an inoperable brain tumour. He died at home on 9th December 1996.