Henry Hall

b. Henry Robert Hall, 2 May 1898, Peckham, London, England, d. 28 October 1989, Eastbourne, Sussex, England. After winning three musical scholarships, Hall studied piano, trumpet and harmony at the Trinity School of Music. In his teens he worked for the Salvation Army, and wrote several marches, one of which, ‘The Sunshine March’, he adapted later as his closing BBC radio signature tune, ‘Here’s To The Next Time’. After service as an officer in the Royal Artillery in World War I, he formed his own trio, called the Variety Three. When the trio disbanded in 1922, Hall was engaged as relief pianist at the LMS Railway’s Midland Hotel, Manchester. A year later he became resident band leader there, and for the next 10 years was musical director of the LMS’ Group of over 30 hotels, while also fronting his own band, on the trumpet. He made his first broadcast from one of the hotels, the Gleneagles, in 1924, and in the same year started to record for Columbia Records. In 1932 he became a national figure when he was chosen by the patriarchal Lord Reith to replace Jack Payne as leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra. His appointment was greeted with reservations in some quarters because of his apparent lack of showmanship and gimmickry so prevalent in many of the 30s dance bands. These fears proved to be unfounded. With his unassuming manner and proven musicianship, Hall led the Dance Orchestra to even greater popularity than before. The only flamboyant feature of the band was their electric-blue uniforms which Reith insisted they wear on broadcasts, even though no-one could see them! In 1933, the first broadcast from Radio City, New York, featured Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra, and the band jointly topped the bill with Gracie Fields when Europe’s largest cinema, the Gaumont State, Kilburn in north London, was opened. Hall was also guest conductor on the maiden voyage of the luxury Cunard liner, the Queen Mary. Henry Hall’s Guest Night, credited by some as the first ‘chat’ show, ran for nearly 1, 000 editions. Hall played the popular songs of the day and featured stars of the entertainment world such as Flanagan and Allen, Elsie And Doris Waters, Noël Coward and Gracie Fields. Henry Hall’s Guest Night, introduced somewhat hesitantly by Hall with his catch phrase: ‘This is Henry Hall speaking, and tonight is my Guest Night’, ran on and off for the best part of 20 years, although Hall left the BBC in 1937 and toured the UK with a 16-piece orchestra. He continued touring for 10 years while still broadcasting regularly. Early in 1948 he disbanded his orchestra to concentrate on his entertainment agency, Henry Hall Enterprises, dealing with dance bands, compositions, plays and films. Later in 1948, he took over the Grand Theatre in the popular summer resort of Blackpool and ran a new band for two seasons to accompany some of the artists he had discovered. These included Donald Peers, Norman Wisdom, David Hughes and Reginald Dixon, but he turned down Vera Lynn because he thought her voice was unsuitable for broadcasting. His recordings were limited somewhat by his broadcasting work and the need to provide ‘something for everybody’. The first records to be released with his BBC Dance Orchestra were Bing Crosby’s theme song ‘Where The Blue Of The Night (Meets The Gold Of The Day)’, and ‘Songs That Are Old Live Forever’. Later releases included ‘What’s The Name Of That Song’, ‘One, Two, Button Your Shoe’, ‘Butterflies In The Rain’, ‘Eccentric’, ‘Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day’, ‘The Man On The Flying Trapeze’, ‘Southern Holiday’, ‘East Wind’, and his opening and closing themes, ‘It’s Just The Time For Dancing’, and ‘Here’s To The Next Time’. His version of ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’, with Hall on vocal, has become a perennial favourite with children. In 1934 Hall had his solitary US chart entry, ‘Play To Me Gypsy’, and in 1936 he engaged the notable jazz musician Benny Carter to appear with, and arrange for the band. However, union problems meant that his contributions were restricted. He continued to conduct orchestras for recording and radio, and made his farewell broadcast as a band leader in 1969, although he made occasional television appearances until 1970, featuring regularly in the BBC television series Face The Music. One of radio’s most popular figures, at the peak of his career he is reputed to have received 35, 000 letters a year while making eight broadcasts a week. He was awarded the CBE in 1970 for his services to music during a career that spanned 50 years.

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