Norwegian singer/songwriter, poet, social critic, author and entertainer Alf Olafsen (1914-1970) was born and raised at the cotter's farm Prøysenstua in Hedmark county, Norway. As an adult he took the surname Prøysen, which his family has kept since. A scholarship sent him to county school, which would otherwise have been out of the question for this cotter's son, who allegedly went on to make his first earnings writing essays for his fellow students.
In 1938, Prøysen got a poem on print in a paper for the first time, and his literary debut came in 1945 with the publication of a collection of short stories. In 1948, three singles with Prøysen's songs were released, and a collection of lyrics was published. His singles became highly popular and Prøysen himself suddenly an artist in great demand, taking his guitar on tour around Norway.
During the 50s, Prøysen started recording what would become some of Norway's most popular radio shows for children ever (ask any - ANY - Norwegian over the age of 6 and I am quite sure they will be able to sing you the theme song and start shaking the nearest piggy bank). Amongst his most cherished literary characters is Mrs. Pepperpot (in Norwegian, she is actually called "Mrs Teaspoon"), a little old lady that has the - rather unusual - habit of shrinking to the size of a pepperpot (teaspoon). She has no control over these incidents, that occur to the great embarassment of her husband. The Mrs. Pepperpot stories are the most widely translated of Prøysen's many writings. His only novel for adults was published in 1950, and it was also made into a play (1952) and a movie (1955), the latter including new songs by Prøysen. The novel is a harsh story of life in the rural districts after the war, concerned with young people leaving the countryside to find work in the city. Norwegian author Odd Eidem reviewed the novel and wrote that Prøysen was "accurate in his malice, but never ill-natured" when describing the rural people.
A jack of most arts, Alf Prøysen also made a television series with children's author Anne-Cath. Vestly - a truly weird and bizarrely wonderful show that would probably be utterly impossible to translate, and so I can't imagine it has ever been exported. The show was about two street musicians called Kanutten (Vestly) and Romeo Clive (Prøysen). He also kept a regular column in a newspaper.
Alf Prøysen died of cancer in 1970. Although often portrayed as a jester, remembered for his cosy songs and shows for children, historians and others will, every other year, try to bring up for discussion the irony and social criticism of Prøysen. However, we all know it's there, really, and a lot of his songs of social differences are much appreciated - such as the one about King Solomon and George the hatter - "the sun will shine on you, casting a shadow on me, but the grass is green for all of us". His songs for children and adults are still recorded anew, tribute albums have been made by performers of all genres, and singer Katia Cardenal has even translated some of his songs to Spanish and given them a latin beat, recorded on the album "Navegas por las costas".
Some works by Prøysen available in English:
Little Old Mrs. Pepperpot
+ numerous other Mrs. P stories
Christmas Eve at Santa's
(also known as The Night Carpenter Anderson Bumped into Santa Claus, a Norwegian Christmas classic)