Music Makers . . . .
When it began in 1953 on the BBC Light Programme, later to become Radio 2, Friday Night is Music Night or FNIMN concentrated on light melodic music and occasionally the Radio Times would tell you what to expect, as they once did with a splendid cartoon illustrating the rarely heard London Transport Suite by Sidney Torch. Nowadays the playlist is kept secret which, sadly, has forced many listeners to abandon the show because they don’t like waiting in the hope that something they like might turn up.
For those who have stayed loyal, however, the opening music is “High Adventure”, one of many theme tunes composed by Charles Williams ( see Evergreen, Spring 2003), including Jennings at School, Dick Barton, Sports Personality of the Year and Television Newsreel. Our Radio and Television Memories CD, Volume 2, ( CRD3), has 38 familiar tunes by Charles Williams, real name Isaac Cozerbreit!
Now the longest running live orchestral music programme on radio, Friday Night is Music Night has had many presenters down the decades including Kenneth Alwyn, Richard Baker, Robin Boyle, Brian Kay, Russell Davies, Ken Bruce, Aled Jones, Jimmy Kingsbury, Alan Titchmarsh, Paul Gambaccini, Clare Teal and many more.
After the introductory music, the host alludes to what is coming, usually a mixture of classical, light, theatre, musicals, operetta and opera. Perhaps not surprisingly in an age of instant everything, much of the music is familiar which is a pity because there is a great deal more good light music out there waiting to be discovered.
Back in 1953 the programme was set up to showcase the newly formed BBC Concert Orchestra, at the time one of many BBC music ensembles but the only one now left devoted to this particular genre, although regional orchestras also played lighter music, leaving the BBC Symphony Orchestra to concentrate solely on more serious works. Sadly, all the regional orchestras were disbanded in 1979 which caused a furore, followed by the BBC Radio Orchestra and the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra, better- known as the NDO ( see Evergreen, Summer 2012). The BBC Northern Orchestra metamorphosed into the BBC Philharmonic while the BBC Big Band is allowed to tour as a semi- independent outfit.
Back in 1953 Sidney Torch was given the brief of lightening up Friday evenings. Fresh from conducting the Queen’s Hall Light
Orchestra, he ran all his ensembles with a firm hand and, although not popular with all musicians, his high standards produced several years of excellent broadcasting before he retired in 1972. These were the days when the Light Programme did exactly what its name described with several programmes of tuneful music every day, Friday Night is Music Night being the crème de la crème at the end of the working week.
Venues have been many and varied. The Camden Theatre and Golders Green Hippodrome featured prominently in the early years, as did the Fairfield Halls at Croydon and the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill- on- Sea. Other venues have included Hackney Empire, Watford Colosseum and London’s Mermaid Theatre. FNIMN has also made guest appearances at many other halls and theatres.
Principal conductors of the highly versatile BBC Concert Orchestra have been, in order, Gilbert Vinter, Charles Mackerras, Vilem Tausky, Marcus Dods, Ashley Lawrence, Barry Wordsworth and Keith Lockhart. However, FNIMN invariably uses guest conductors and apart from Sidney Torch who, despite his public persona was also known for discreet acts of financial generosity to musicians in need, another long- standing stalwart, Kenneth Alwyn, spent 30 years
as both conductor and presenter, a record unlikely to be equalled.
Matching the music to everyone’s tastes is obviously impossible, but older listeners sometimes feel that music from their younger days is now neglected in favour of music with a modern populist appeal. Nevertheless, there is a small coterie of people who avidly follow the programme wherever it goes and one aspect they hear, which has never changed, is the finale where the presenter announces with due aplomb: “I hope that once again we have proved that Friday Night is Music Night,” followed by the play out theme tune.
The Aeolian Hall in London was used by the BBC for recordings after St. George’s Hall was bombed in 1943.
Few radio or television programmes achieve 1,000 performances, but Friday Night is Music Night managed it without any trouble and is still going strong 45 years later!
The front cover of the September 1973 BBC magazine focused on the multitalented and highly adaptable BBC Concert Orchestra.
Richard Baker, presenter ( seated), and Kenneth Alwyn, conductor, take a break from rehearsals at Weymouth during the 1994 Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Race.
Friday Night is Music Night often celebrates notable events and this is the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain which took place in 1990.