The Robert Farnon Society celebrated its first 50 Years with a special meeting on 2 April 2006, followed by Dinner afterwards. Peter Burt looks back on that milestone in our Society’s history, which he simply calls …
A Memorable Afternoon
Around 40 members and friends attended the very first meeting of the Robert Farnon Appreciation Society, as it then was, on Sunday 15 April 1956 at the Bonnington Hotel. Three times as many of us made our way on 2 April 2006 to the same venue in London’s Bloomsbury, to celebrate the first 50 years of meetings. One thing I am sure of is that those pioneer members were not faced with such an array of sound and vision equipment that, courtesy of our technical wizard Tony Clayden, enhanced our afternoon’s enjoyment. And what an afternoon!
Bob’s High Street preceded the announcement summoning us to our seats, followed by his ‘The Road to Hong Kong’ Overture. It was then into the programme proper with another Farnon composition, Proscenium. David Ades welcomed us – especially "two very, very special guests", David and Patricia Farnon – before handing over to his co-host Albert Killman, who introduced ‘Farnon Fantasy’: a pot-pourri of A Star is Born, Peanut Polka, Jumping Bean, Westminster Waltz, Portrait of a Flirt and State Occasion. This had been recorded by the LPO at a Royal Festival Hall concert in 1974 conducted by Bob who, we were reminded, had fronted all of the four major London symphony orchestras.
There followed a particularly poignant part of the programme as David and Albert remembered RFS members and friends no longer with us. These were, naturally, Bob himself, Kenneth Head [one of our founders], Michael Maine, Don Furnell, Percy and Edna Foster, Jimmy Gibbs, George Collins, Peter Bunfield, Robert Rudhall, Joy Fox, Ron Goodwin, Clive Richardson, Sir Vivian Dunn, former British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath [who wrote for this magazine], Trevor Duncan, Alan Dell, Adelaide Hall, Robin Boyle and Dame Anna Neagle [another JIM contributor]. Mention was also made of Dorothy Head who was unwell. [She sadly passed away a few days after the meeting, as reported in our last issue].
David next introduced the first video of the afternoon. This comprised short extracts from RFS meetings in November 1986, the first ever to be recorded on videotape, and May 1987 when Bob’s 70th birthday was prematurely celebrated and another special guest was a very amusing Alan Dell. It was great to hear that distinctive voice again. Fenella Ades had been behind the video recorder when it seemed The Bonnington was not quite as upmarket as it is nowadays.
We then had a few words from Brian Reynolds about his new book ‘Music While You Work – An Era in Broadcasting’ [Book Guild] which traces the story of the well-loved BBC radio programme from 23rd June 1940 to 29th September 1967 with revivals in 1982, ’83, ’91 and ‘95’. Albert followed by introducing recorded messages from Forrest Patten and Bob’s brother Brian in the USA, Alan Heinecke "Down Under" in Australia, and Pip Wedge in Canada. Brian told us that his favourite composition of all that Bob wrote was the first 8 or 10 bars of To A Young Lady.
David introduced Jan Eriksen from Norway who was with us in person to recall the time in 1991 when Bob conducted the Norwegian Radio Orchestra with George Shearing as the soloist. It was worth the price of admission to hear them playing A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.
The "parish notices" brought us to the first interval and the cutting of Sylvia Rix’s wonderful presentation cake with its liberal infusion of sherry. David also passed on greetings from friends who could not be with us, including John Parry, Frank Comstock, Philip Lane, Peter Taylor in Spain, Horace Bennett, Malcolm Laycock, Brian Coleman and Rodney Greenberg.
It was back to our seats, accompanied by Bob’s recording of Varsity Drag,for David to announce and then introduce our new President, David Farnon. Before playing, with accompanying anecdotes, three of his favourite pieces recorded by Bob - Playtime, The Newsreel March and Country Girl, vocal by Tony Bennett - David told us that over the past year the family had been engaged in compiling a complete catalogue of Bob’s works from all sources with the intention of it going on the Internet. Then there was Bob’s personal library with previously unrecorded works which would be gradually released. There was also a hope that one of Bob’s works might be played at next year’s Proms to mark the 90th anniversary of his birth.
Next we heard an extract from Bob’s Symphony No. 3 [The Edinburgh], performed by The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra conduced by William Eddins, taken from a Canadian radio broadcast supplied by RFS member Graham Newton.
Albert recalled that TV cameras visited Bob at his home on Guernsey at least twice during the 1980s. From 11th December 1981 we saw an interview from BBC 1’s ‘Pebble Mill at One’; then from 10th April 1988 another with Harry Secombe in his long-running ‘Highway’ show on ITV. We learnt that Bob was a man of strong faith who both believed in the power of prayer and that any talent anyone has is God given. The extract concluded with one of Bob’s finest pieces, Proud Canvas. Albert remarked on the hours that David had spent in transcribing the afternoon’s videos from the Society’s archives onto DVDs.
The popular, witty and very personable Brian Kay was next on playing Ray Martin’s Once upon a Wintertime, featuring Bob’s "perfect" arrangement for Vera Lynn with the Robert Farnon Orchestra, and Horn-A-Plenty, with Bob conducting the Danish State Radio Orchestra in his own composition. After thanking Brian, David told us that also in our audience were the very first editor of JIM, John Costin, and the very first equipment controller, Jim Palm.
At this point Albert diverted from the script [at least, from David’s script] to thank David and Moira – "without them we would not have a Society" – and to show our appreciation by presenting them with the gifts you can read about elsewhere. After sustained applause and David’s brief word of thanks, we remembered "a great friend of the Society", Don Furnell, sometime Assistant Secretary, by listening to a recording of his voice from one of our meetings, and his beloved Metropole Orchestra playing Theme from ‘The Flintstones’,with Clark Terry on flugelhorn. Albert’s response was "Yaba Daba Doo!" John McGlynn conducting The London Sinfonietta in We’re in the Money brought us to the Brian drawn raffle and the second interval. The interval music was Bob’s City Streets.
We returned to our seats clutching our CD purchases to hear a piece especially composed by RFS member David Barton in honour of our 50 years: Nostalgic Journey. The final segment of the afternoon’s entertainment opened with Philip Farlow making a moving tribute to the fondly remembered BBC’s Michael Maine, who "from about 1974 for a good long period was magazine editor and cornerstone of the first properly formulated Farnon discography … as well as presenting pieces at the top table." He tragically died in April 1984 as the result of a road accident, aged 33. Happier times were recalled by hearing recordings of his voice on air.
A request from Norman Grant and several other members followed this with extracts from the film ‘Spring In Park Lane’ – music by you-know-who. Cab Smith had to be part of our special meeting and appeared briefly to bring us "The Guv’nor’s" arrangement of Victor Schertzinger’s The Fleet’s In – quality if not quantity. The last item was more video clips, this time from ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower RN’, preceded by an introduction from Bob talking about his work on the film – "the best score I’ve written."
David said how lovely it was to have a member from America, James Cahall in the audience again; and then closed the meeting with the usual thanks all round and, as Melody Fair and Manhattan Playboy came over the loudspeakers, 68 of us made our way downstairs to the Jubilee Suite for the evening’s celebrations.
There we shared in good food and friendship, seasoned by the humour never far from the surface at our gatherings, with music by Ann Adams and her Ladies’ Palm Court Quartet and speeches from David Ades, John Wilson, John Fox, Sigmund Groven, Brian Kay and Tony Clayden. Albert was our admirable Master of Ceremonies. It was a memorable evening to crown a memorable afternoon. And as our President had said earlier in the day and our Secretary had echoed at the end of the meeting: "Here’s to the next 50 years."
A Coda from our Secretary…
For once in my life I was really stumped for words. When Albert suddenly departed from our rough script, and asked Moira and myself to join him in front of the Presenters’ Table, I was completely unprepared for what was to follow. And my dear Moira was moved to tears!
After saying some very kind words about our involvement with the Society for the past 50 years, Albert presented Moira with a charming brooch which she will wear with pride at our future meetings.
My own presentation was a copy of Robert Farnon’s Decca 78 of Jumping Bean and Portrait of a Flirt inside a special case bearing the inscription:
"The Robert Farnon Society 50th Anniversary 1956-2006
Presented to David Ades in recognition and appreciation of his many years of loyal and devoted service to the Society and of his tireless support and promotion of Light Music"
This means more to be than any other award I have ever received, and it occupies a place of honour directly in front of the desk at which I do all my work. I will see it every time I look up and I can only express my sincere thanks to everyone involved in making this wonderful thing happen. It is something I will never forget.
Occasions such as this require a concerted effort from so many people, and the success of the Anniversary Meeting is due to willing contributions from so many. Members of both the main Committee, and the London Meetings Sub-Committee, assisted in numerous ways, and there were also other generous helpers who joined in on the day. I hope I remembered to thank you all during the meeting or at the Dinner, but if my memory failed me I hope you will forgive someone who was still so overwhelmed by the kindness shown to him.
The events were captured on video and even as this magazine is being prepared a souvenir DVD is being assembled by Geoffrey Richardson (much to his regret, Geoffrey was abroad at the time, so he missed the meeting). Ralph Thompson was in change of the cameras during the day, and he was ably assisted by Brian Joscelyne and Stephen Wright. To them all I extend my sincere thanks. There is still a lot of work to do but we are hoping that the finished DVD will be ready for members to buy before Christmas – watch out for details in the next magazine.
Once again I must say what a real delight it was to welcome Mrs. Patricia Farnon and her son David (our honoured new President) during the afternoon and evening. Their presence provided the real ‘icing on the cake’.
And talking of the cake (yes, I know it’s a very corny link!) we are so grateful to Sylvia Rix for providing such a delicious ‘special treat’ for all the members. Not only was it stunning in its clever design, but it also tasted even better than it looked!
Ann Adams and her Ladies provided us with some delightful music before, and during, the Dinner, and it was good to see several non-dining members occupying chairs near the musicians and enjoying the music.
Finally (for now!) I wish to thank Malcolm Powell for taking the excellent photographs which appear on the previous pages in this feature, and on the pages immediately following this report. If you would like copies you can contact Malcolm direct – details of his address etc. on the inside front cover. (The photo on page by Simon Mentha was kindly supplied by Ann Adams).
As Peter Burt said at the top of his report: it was a truly Memorable Afternoon!
Shortly after our Meeting, the following message was received from one of our honoured guests, BRIAN KAY
"Congratulations to you all for a splendid 50th Anniversary Celebration. I was so glad to be there, and to be made so welcome by everyone, and enjoyed the occasion enormously. It was fascinating to see those old videos and the excerpts from the two main films were terrific, as I’d never seen either of them!
With you guys around the name and the music of Robert Farnon will surely last forever – quite right, too!"