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05 May

Remembering Robert Farnon - the conductor

By  David Mardon
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by David Mardon

Robert Farnon in the concert hall was, sadly, something I never managed to see in the flesh as far as his own conducting was concerned. I have always regretted that on the only two occasions he conducted our own local BBC orchestra [then the Northern Symphony] was in 1977 at the Cheltenham Festival when I was away on holiday, although I now know several of the players who performed on those occasions and who were very impressed with his style.

Sadly, too, I cannot comment on the Wednesday evenings with Tony Bennett from Talk of the Town, which Thames TV put out earlier in the same decade, as these were denied to Granada and ATV Midland viewers on their initial transmission, although the afternoon repeats some years later were fully networked but I couldn't see these either, having to work in those days!

I first became aware of Robert Farnon's existence when the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra [QHLO] featured on record in the old Home Service music programme on Saturday mornings from 7.15am to 7.50am. There was also round about this time another Saturday morning slot on the Home Service with Bob presenting his favourite records [signature tune Melody Fair] and his reasons for choosing them. I believe my first acquaintance with Sammy Fain's Alice In Wonderland and Gershwin's American In Paris [severely truncated] was through this programme. I can also remember a Light Programme series on Sunday lunchtime with Bob's own orchestra, during which how to do the left- handed shuffle was explained.

Although I can remember numerous radio programmes featuring the QHLO under Sidney Torch and Charles Williams, I can only recall one that Bob conducted. It was on a Saturday afternoon in the early 1950s and consisted of Covent Garden [Eric Coates], September Song [Kurt Weill], Melody Fair and Bob's own arrangement of Daisy Bell, Going for A Ride [Sidney Torch], concluding with a selection from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.

During my Royal Air Force stint I managed to hear, on 21st January 1953, on the BBC North Regional Home Service from Manchester, the BBC Northern Variety Orchestra [before it became the Northern Dance Orchestra or NDO] conducted by Bob in a programme of his own works. The programme consisted of Proud Canvas, Jumping Bean, Three Impressions, Playtime, When I Grow Too Old To Dream [Romberg arranged Farnon], Peanut Polka, Portrait Of A Flirt, and Alcan Highway. Roger Moffat introduced and wrote the script, entitled "A Canadian in Mayfair", and interviewed Bob before the last two items.

By the time the Mardon family had got round to buying a TV set it was early 1956, by which time Bob's Sunday night series with his own orchestra was well under way. But I did manage to hear the first complete performance of Poodle Parade prior to purchasing the 'Melody Fair' LP later that year — my first new Farnon recording bought. I did get 'Canadian Impressions' before this but it was a second-hand copy.

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