DESTINED TO GO THROUGH LIFE FIRST CLASS THE LIFE AND TIMES OF EDMUNDO ROS
by BILL JOHNSON
Edmundo Ros was born on 7th December 1910 in Port of Spain Trinidad at the height of British colonial rule. The Windward Isles had been a Spanish, British, Dutch, and French possession until February 1797. However, during the French Revolution, Trinidad capitulated to British force, and in 1802, following the Treaty of Amiens, it was ceded to Great Britain. In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, France also ceded Tobago to Britain.
Trinidad and Tobago existed on a plantation economy of sugar and tobacco. Although, slavery had been abolished in 1833, indentured labour lingered on for many years. Edmundo’s mother Luisa Urquart was a true Trinidadian and possibly descended from one of the warring tribes, the Caribs, who witnessed the return voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1498. She worked as a teacher. Edmundo’s father was the product of a liaison between a plantation manager, named Dupigany, and an indentured worker.
As was customary in those days, Edmundo’s father took the name William Hope-Ros, the overall owner of the Plantation and of Scottish decent, William, created a multipurpose retail store called "Hope Ros’s, Bonanza" in Port of Spain, which still exists and it was here that Edmundo was born and stayed until he was 17.
The Caribbean extended family tradition, that glues families together, also included Godparents. His Godfather was a moneylender. It is not entirely clear where he got his money but as a result he made friends everywhere and especially in the occupying British Army Garrison in Port of Spain.
Edmundo was educated in the local school. He was the eldest of four children, two sisters, Ruby and Eleanor followed by an illegitimate brother Hugo which caused his parents to separate. The lack of a father and the free and easy lifestyle conspired to turn the young Edmundo into a bit of a renegade. His mother decided that some military discipline might, "tame this little devil". So the Godparents were brought in to see if they could help. Edmundo’s Godfather, fortunately, had loans outstanding in the British Army, and so a bit of bartering was negotiated. The Army authorities agreed to instill discipline into the young lad in lieu of a debt, and at the age of 14 he joined the Army.
He was very interested in music and the Army band beckoned but he had to play an instrument. The drums seemed the best option because Edmundo had a natural aptitude. So for the next three years he learnt and played in a British Military Band, quite against King’s regulations but - Hey Man dis is Trinidad not Sandhurst.
Eventually it was resolved, the debt had been honoured and on Edmundo’s 17th birthday, the Army authorities called him in and said you have two choices, you can remain here to sign on as a proper recruit or leave immediately.
Edmundo’s world was in tatters; the break up of his parents, the apparent cold shoulder given to him by his army guardians made him distressed. He flew the nest and began gigging here and there, but he recognized that perfection was the way forward. He took his music more seriously attending college and winning several scholarships. Although he dabbled with law briefly, his heart was in music and he played in the Trinidad Symphony Orchestra under conductor Edgar Wallace, not the writer, but of the same name. Eventually he moved across to Venezuela, where he stayed for a decade. He joined the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra, which was directed by Vicente Emilio Sojo.
Edmundo’s ultimate aim was to become an MD but as he could not play the piano he thought this might be a musical bridge too far. However, he discovered that Maestro Sojo did not play the piano either and he was a very fine conductor. Edmundo questioned, could he emulate his hero; he was very ambitious. He took the grants that came with the scholarships he had won and got in touch with the British Embassy where he learnt of two famous schools in England. Edmundo is both a passionate royalist and a self confessed snob. He discovered that there was a British School of Music and The Royal Academy of Music. You can guess which one was for him. He said to the official "I would like to become a member of the Royal Academy of Music in London".
Edmundo caught a Dutch Steamship to England from Trinidad with two friends Errol Barrow and Clarence Wiers who were both pianists. They arrived on the 4th June 1937 at Plymouth and caught a train to London.
England was in the grips of the Oswald Moseley rallies, and still had many lessons to learn about racial tolerance. Edmundo recognized this from the start but slowly won friends over through his charm and sensitivity. At the station the three of them caught a cab and the driver said, "Where do you want to go". Edmundo was ashamed to say he did not know. So the driver said, "I know where", and they arrived at Agrey House in Doughty Street in the City where most of the West Indian students congregated. The two pianists were easily settled but Edmundo was not so fortunate. Luckily he found lodgings at 14 Doughty Street with a lady called Mrs. Crosby, Edmundo was convinced she was the mother of the Crooner and clearly more up market!
The BBC and the announcers naturally impressed him. He also listened to Radio Luxemburg and the commercials - We are the Ovaltinies! He was determined to try and speak English properly. The imminent Premier Mr. Churchill, whom he admired greatly, upset him by saying – "I have no time for that man - he does not even know his three R's". What are the three R’s Edmundo questioned? Reading, writing and arithmetic came the answer. Despite his confusion he thought - "What a very good name for my Orchestra - if ever I start a little band I will call it the three R's, Ros's Rumba Romeos. At least they all start with the same letter."
He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music, and became a student, but on finding the grants he won would hardly support him he gigged with Don Marino Bareto who was from Cuba. Both Bareto and his parents were refugees from Castro. Initially, the family settled in Paris, and then London, He was a very good-looking man, a fine pianist and one of the first Latin American bands to come to the UK. He became a favorite of high society and used it to his advantage, but had one failing; he had a very big mouth. In those days, it was not important what you did as long as no one else found out. Bareto gossiped. On one occasion he went on 14 days holiday and was not allowed back into the country. So Edmundo inherited Bareto’s Orchestra at the Embassy Club.
The club scene was very popular just before World War 2 and bands were contracted to serve for a season and then a new band took over. Subsequently, Edmundo was invited to launch a new club in Wardour Street, the Latin scene was given the generic title of Rumba Music, and Edmundo’s Group gave an audition to the owners of the Club who were impressed, particularly in Edmundo who could sing in Spanish. They said, "Very nice indeed. We want to tell you two things. We like what we hear and we intend to employ you, but you are too many, we want only five and you are seven so get rid of him and get rid of him". "You can't do that", said Edmundo, "it will ruin the balance". A compromise was reached and he got the job at the New Cosmo.
The proprietors were not impressed with "Ros's Rumba Romeos" so it was changed to Edmundo Ros's Rumba Band. The Club opened and it operated without problems for several weeks. But one night a new sign had been added to the street furniture and that read S, illuminated at night, it represented Air Raid Shelter. And as soon as the sirens sounded, and they did every night at that time, hundreds of people would pour into the Club and into the basement. The club owners could neither charge admission nor sell them anything, so it was a waste of time and it closed the New Cosmo.
Just as Edmundo was lamenting the bad news a chap popped up and said, "You must not worry too much old man. I am a variety agent and I know where there is a vacancy". It was in the St. Regis Hotel, Cork Street and they went there. He was a very sharp agent and the whole orchestra, all five of them, got booked for £30 per week and he took 10% from that leaving them with £27 which had to be divided between the five musicians. "Just one of those things - business is business", said Edmundo. They also had another orchestra in residence directed by George Shearing. The war continued and Edmundo’s group did well, especially with the conga, which became very popular.
Everything in the hotel was brand new but unfortunately in the middle of one evening a bomb fell down one of the chimneys of the St. Regis, but did not explode. Everyone ran out naturally to the nearest air raid shelter which was in Vigo Street. This was the back entrance to the Coconut Grove, which was also a shelter.
The St. Regis Hotel had to be shut down and while the band sorted themselves out thinking what to do next, a very nice young lady came up to Edmundo and said, "Where is that smile I'm told you have". Edmundo replied, "If you had my problems, my dear, you wouldn't be smiling either. "What is your problem?" she said. "Well you see these five chaps here all in these funny costumes, I spent all my passage money to return to Venezuela on those costumes, rehearsals, arrangements, on every damn thing, and now I'm broke". "You mean that you have no money at all". "Just enough to eat. What can we do"?
"Well" she said "I have some news for you. Due to the air raids, business has suffered here in the Coconut Grove". Sid Phillips and his Orchestra were playing at the time. "We will have to economize and lose two players". In those days the union rate was eight guineas per man. When we sack these two fellows who are leaving on Saturday night we will save 16 guineas." Edmundo said, "I would do anything to find somewhere to play with my boys". She said, "OK if you really mean that you and your group can start here on Monday evening for 16 guineas a week for the five of you". They started at the Coconut Grove on the Monday and as luck would have it the Blitz became less intense, people started to come out in the evenings and business picked up at the Coconut Grove. Naturally after a week or so Edmundo said, "We cannot continue at this rate", and their salary was increased; a second rise followed - a big jump to £45 per week.
Edmundo was also a popular session player. When Fats Waller came to England he became his percussionist and made several records with the group, which included Ian Shepard, Violin, Tenor Saxophone, Alfie Kahn Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, George Chisholm Trombone, Dave Wilkins Trumpet, Alan Ferguson Guitar, Len Harrison Bass.
Edmundo’s first recordings were with Parlophone in 1941 but things did not work out, they already had Victor Silvester, Carol Gibbons, Jack Payne, and Geraldo in their stable and as shellac, the raw material for 78rpm records, was used in the war effort, his contract was not renewed.
Suddenly an American lady organist appeared on the scene, Ethel Smith. She was contracted to Decca and they also contracted Edmundo to play with her. From 1944 to 1974 he stayed with Decca and his back catalogue of hits like Tisket, a Tasket, Los Hijos de Buda, Mambo Jambo are still widely available together with the Phase 4 stereo material. His album The Wedding Samba sold three million copies in 1949 alone. He also recorded with Caterina Valente, the multilingual artiste who is very big all over the Continent.
Then a young lady came to England from the other side of the pond called Carmen Miranda, with her outlandish fruit-festooned headgear; Carmen the "Brazilian Bombshell" epitomized the spirit, vitality and essence of Latin culture. Although born in Portugal, her devoutly Catholic parents moved to Brazil when she was an infant.
In 1948 she appeared at the London Palladium and Edmundo's band was employed to back her. She only appeared there for one year, due to a life of ill health, but she caused quite a stir and her act was taken over and mimicked by Tommy Trinder. With coconut shells on his head, high heels and stockings it brought the house down. This was one of many lucky breaks for Edmundo.
One couldn’t say that Edmundo was an overt ladies man but his caressing soft voice did attract some of the most formidable and powerful in the land, who would pursue him relentlessly either in the Coconut Grove or on tour.
When he moved to the Bagatelle, one of the finest restaurants in Britain, an aggrieved party in a high society divorce case named him as co-respondent. This lady was a distant member of the Royal Family and she used to come to the Club frequently. Edmundo made friends with her. Then suddenly he had a letter from a solicitor telling him that he had pursued a certain gentleman's wife and that it had to stop. Naturally, Edmundo took it to his solicitor who told him to do nothing. Another letter advising him of an impending Court case arrived. Edmundo, more than bemused because he had done nothing to warrant this fuss, thought he had better go to the court and listen. It transpired that the husband, who was an Officer in the Welsh Guards, had come home to find his wife in bed with a Colonel In Chief of the Free Dutch Army. The military from all over free Europe congregated in London, due to the ongoing war.
Naturally, the Officer sued the Colonel for adultery. The Judge realized that the complaint was not against Edmundo. However he fined the Colonel In Chief just £300 for adultery because he was an officer and a gentleman and then fined Edmundo £1000 for the previous innocent liaison and leading the lady astray. It smacks of prejudice but luckily Edmundo did not experience much. The News of the World published every syllable spoken in court. As a result, there was a big meeting of the Royal Family and this lady's family in Buckingham Palace and whilst it was established that during 11 days of the case Edmundo did not say a word The late Queen mother was heard to remark "No, of course he did not say a single word, he is a gentleman, he is one of us". From that moment on Edmundo said, "I became Senor Edmundo Ros".
The PR department of the Bagatelle was more than concerned because the lady in question went to their club every night, Edmundo had even taught her a few dance steps. The late Princess Margaret also came and learnt to dance in the Bagatelle, as did the then Princess Elizabeth who danced for the first time in public to Edmundo’s music. The Restaurant Manager Snr. Ferraro, in an effort to control the crisis rang Buckingham Palace and spoke to the Queen – "being a father myself I am a little concerned about the fact that your daughter is coming to see us on Tuesday evening. Mr. Ros is still singing and teaching dancing here. Would you find it uncomfortable for your daughter to be in his company"? The late Queen Mother replied, "She has to grow and up and she will meet a number of different types of people and I will not stop her from doing anything she wants to do". It didn't do Edmundo any harm and, on balance, probably a lot of good.
Edmundo Ros married his first wife Britt Johansen in 1950. Their meeting and subsequent romance was rather unorthodox to say the least. She was attached to the Swedish Embassy in London and was a frequent visitor to the Club so they both became close friends. Edmundo used to tour a lot and an opportunity arose where a series of concerts were booked through Europe.
Unexpectedly, the Austin Motor company who produced The Princess and Shearline Cars offered Edmundo a top of the range model as a present, provided he drove it through France to each venue for publicity purposes, which he did. He explained to Britt that he would be away for a couple of weeks and she promptly replied that she would go with him, provided he got permission from her parents. Thinking this to be very unlikely Edmundo approached them, and to his utter amazement they agreed. The tour was a resounding success, only marred by one small incident.
In those days the British Immigration officials used to travel on the ferries from Calais to Dover. Everyone had to report to them to have their passport stamped; British in one queue and foreign nationals in another. Edmundo was called over by Britt to see the Immigration official handling her case. "Why should I see him?" asked Edmundo, "well he wants to speak to you," replied Britt. He was greeted most cordially by the officer- "Hello Edmundo, this charming young lady wants to come into London and she tells me she is your fiancé" Edmundo replied, "She is?" "Well Edmundo" the officer continued "As she is your fiancé, it pre supposes there will be an eventual date for your marriage. Have you any idea when that will be?" Edmundo, who is not a person to offend any lady in his company, quietly whispered to the official "Not the slightest". The officer retorted "Well Edmundo, in order for the lady to enter Britain I need the date of your Wedding, whether it is three, six months or a year away. As I am sure you are a man of honour, shall we say three months"? And so Britt was allowed back into the UK for three months and everyone was happy.
As soon as they arrived back in London a very well known society agent approached Edmundo and said "The Royal Family are having a party at Windsor in a couple of weeks and they would like you to play there". "Of course" he continued, "your musicians will be paid the union fee for the performance but you will not be paid, you will have the honour to be presented to the Royal Family". Edmundo thought that was very nice and agreed. "Now" said the agent "You will need an escort you can bring your wife or mother". "But I don't have either of those" explained Edmundo "What I do have is a fiancé". "I am not sure that would be allowed", said the agent "I will enquire". He returned later and said, "The Royal Family have no objection to meeting your Good Lady". The party date came round, the Orchestra played and then one of the equerries came over and said "Edmundo the monarchs have expressed a desire to meet you and your Good Lady". "Thank God for that" said Edmundo and off they both toddled to meet H.M. George VI and the Queen Elizabeth. When they were in attendance, the Queen turned and looked at Britt and said " What a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Ros what a charming lady you are". Edmundo, dumb struck, said "But she is only my Good Lady". However, to avoid any embarrassment they both married at Caxton Hall and had two children Douglas, who learnt electronic engineering at Decca and now runs a telecom computing business, and Louisa who was an English teacher but now lives in Peru South America.
In 1951, Edmundo bought the Coconut Grove; he had been appearing there since 1940 when the band was just a sextet. The Club, contrary to many other nightclubs was very respectable. In the late 50’s George Raft was exiled from the UK due to alleged misdealing at his club in Berkeley Square. The Coconut Grove, on the other hand, was owned by a company called Private Parties Limited and when a law was introduced which obliged all premises to fit smoke extractors, Edmundo provided the funds. Eventually he had given so much financial support that the owners became embarrassed and offered shares in lieu of cash which gave him control of the Club.
In the early sixties the Arthur Murray School of Dancing decided to set up in London. Earl Manning was one of their dance teachers. By this time, of course, Edmundo had become a household name, with regular BBC broadcasts from the Coconut Grove under the auspices of Cecil Madden and from the Golden Slipper Club, which in truth was a BBC studio, the Paris Cinema in Lower Regent Street. It was not surprising that the Arthur Murray School contacted the Maestro and they formed a partnership to use the Coconut Grove as an outlet for his Dance Academy in Leicester Square.
Certain bandleaders who worked for the BBC were not allowed to present their own programmes because, either their accent was not good enough or they could not work unscripted. Edmundo was cleared for both. He had taken great trouble from the day he arrived to cultivate a BBC accent. However, there was one occasion when he had a slight slip up on a live programme. Not only did he plug his latest record but he told the listeners where to buy it. The producer, tearing his hair out, tried to stop him to no avail because he was live on air. "We will be taken off", screamed the producer at the end of the broadcast, in a voice that implied some vital part of his anatomy had just been ripped off! "Oh, my God it just slipped out", said Edmundo. The following day a note came down from the seventh floor of Broadcasting House where the DG and senior controllers are situated. The note landed on the producer’s desk and read. ‘Would you ask Mr Ros to kindly come and see me at his convenience’. Edmundo was mortified and shaking like a leaf, shuffled up to the holy of holies the same afternoon.
"How are you Edmundo, you are looking very well old boy" said the DG. "Thank you Sir" murmured Edmundo. "I expect you are wondering why I asked to see you", continued the DG. "Well Sir could it have been that little 'faux pas' the other night, I am extremely sorry". "Quite right", retorted the DG " You must remember you represent the BBC when you work alone and live on the air". The DG took out a cigarette from his pristine silver case, but did not offer Edmundo one. "I gather you do not smoke Edmundo", Edmundo thought for a moment and convinced himself that the DG was really human after all. "Well thank you for passing by Edmundo, Goodbye", said the DG. "Before I go and in mitigation, Sir", Edmundo burbled, thinking his career was still on the line, "You realise that I do not work from a script and occasionally these slight accidents do happen. Tell me how would you have handled it, Sir?". The DG not expecting the question replied, "I would have said, I have just recorded this tune and it is available in the usual places". Edmundo exited stage left muttering to himself, "Where the hell are the usual places"?
Edmundo put a considerable workload upon himself, with regular broadcasts from his club and from most of the BBC studios of the day Maida Vale, Aeolian Hall, 201 Piccadilly and the Paris Cinema, guest appearances on TV; it completely took over his life.
Britt said to him one day. "One of your partners in the dance school has asked me to leave you and marry him". "What did you say?" enquired Edmundo. "I said I'd think about it". Britt replied. "Well when you have decided tell me first". Which she did. They had been married for thirteen years.
Edmundo was always proud of the cars he drove. Over the years he bought a Bentley, Mercedes and several Rolls Royce. In fact he used to put his drums in the back of one, much to the disgust of his colleagues "You can’t do that," they said. "Well if it wasn’t for the drums I wouldn’t have one," replied Edmundo. On enquiring whether a personal number plate could be provided with his latest Silver Ghost Jack Barclay had to admit that ER 1 was a trifle beyond his capabilities.
Edmundo had a hairdresser whose father was a Mason. In the course of conversation it was suggested that Edmundo join his Lodge. "But I am not a Mason" Edmundo replied. "Well if you wished to join up" said the hairdresser, "how about joining his" This Edmundo did. Over the years the many members of Chelsea Lodge, mainly in the theatrical profession, have appeared in the Royal Variety Performance; including Talbot O’Farrell, Wee Georgie Wood, Bud Flanagan, George Ganjou, Sandy Powell, Leslie Sarony, Lupino Lane, Nat Jackley, Reg Dixon, Peter Sellers, Arthur English, Alfred Marks, Bernard Bresslaw, Joe Loss, Billy Dainty, Bob Monkhouse, Roger De Courcey, Jim Davidson and of course Edmundo Ros, to name but a few. He enjoyed the craft and then became a founder member of another lodge and, when he retired to Javea in Spain, Lodge 43 Sprig of Acacia was formed and Edmundo became one of nine founder members and finally Grand Master.
The Coconut Grove was renamed in 1964 to the internationally known and very exclusive Edmundo Ros' Dinner and Supper Club at 177 Regent Street telephone number Regent 7675. A self confessed snob, Edmundo ensured an aristocratic clientele by demanding that any member who wished to join had to appear in the current copy of Debrets. He arranged for a colour advertisement to be put at the beginning of the tome to reinforce his position and in all 40,000 members were signed up from all over the world. His code of etiquette was equally stringent. Edmundo's notebook included all the names and phone numbers of the British Royal Family, nobility, counts, peers, dukes and those with power and influence.
Ladies with big hats or wearing trousers were not admitted, including, on one occasion, the wife of Sir Cecil Hardwick. Another notable exclusion was King Hussein of Jordan, a Latin music aficionado. His party was denied entrance because one of his group, film star Peter O'Toole, was not properly dressed and did not accept the tie offered to him. Regular royal guests included Princess Margaret, Monaco's Prince Rainier and Prince Bertil of Sweden. The club had 24 musicians and 53 employees of whom one had, as his sole job, to polish the silver.
Throughout Edmundo’s musical career he always ensured that his musicians were treated with the utmost respect like one big happy family but, just like the clientele, they had to stick to the rules. Stage costumes had their own hanger with a nametag and had to be carefully hung on a rail that was provided at the end of the session at three in the morning. Clothes for cleaning were put in a basket for the laundry, a military discipline he learnt in Trinidad.
However, there was one rebel in the band who just threw his costume on the floor. Eventually, Edmundo had to confront him and request an explanation. "Do you think this costume would look better on the hanger or on the floor?" he said to the perpetrator. "I see no difference" came the reply. This caused some amusement amongst the other boys in the Orchestra, which broke Edmundo’s heart because they were laughing at his rules. Edmundo hated being ridiculed but he did have the presence of mind to keep his council.
Edmundo’s rules, under his own admission, were sometimes harsh but he had to run his business with military precision. Eventually, hostesses were allowed in the Club but the rules made it clear that there would be no fraternisation with any of the staff. In fact the rule prevented even husbands and wives being employed together. It was not long before it was being abused. The same musician who would not hang his costume became friendly with a female member of staff. Edmundo had to confront him once again for this indiscretion and he was promptly sacked with two weeks salary in lieu of dismissal in his pocket. Later, Edmundo got a visit from the musician’s wife to find out why he was sacked and to have him reinstated immediately. Edmundo could not oblige with either request. But the pleading continued over several visits until Edmundo relented and broke another of his rules. Which was not to re-employ a dismissed member of staff.
Two weeks later the same musician was convened as shop steward. From that point, he virtually ran the Orchestra. Whenever Edmundo decided on a rehearsal session the shop steward called the tune! Slowly, Edmundo became agitated, frustrated and began to loathe the man.
The club was popular for its atmosphere and music; in 1965 gambling was allowed in night clubs in the UK and Edmundo was offered licence No 1, but his premises proved to be unsuitable. Subsequently, gambling mania took hold and the resulting loss of business meant the club had to close the same year.
Edmundo and Susan, his second wife to be, met on a train from Malvern to Paddington. Edmundo had been visiting his son and it was the holiday season. Edmundo, who had booked first class, was surprised to find First-Class had been sacrificed to accommodate more Second-Class carriages. The train was packed so the stationmaster provided him with accommodation in the guards van. On the next stop Edmundo singled out a very attractive young girl, with a very pert derrière trying to find a seat. He thought to himself if she returns maybe she might like to share my accommodation and have a bite of supper on the train. She sat with him, and they conversed for the remainder of the trip to Paddington. Edmundo discovered she worked in the City in Financial services. Regrettably, a dining car had also been sacrificed like first class, so Edmundo said, "We will go to an hotel".
They arrived at the Rib Room at the Carlton Tower Hotel and despite not having a reservation were ushered in by the Maitre d’ and given a very nice table. After the meal Edmundo said "Now I must take you home my dear. Tell me where do you live". This was a loaded question because had she said Battersea that would have been the end of this liaison, luckily she replied. "I live in Pimlico". That was a different "kettle of kippers" and clearly on Edmundo’s hit list. Hubbard the ever-faithful chauffeur was palmed a couple of quid to find a cab to which he commented. "Not again, not another one". Edmundo drove Susan to her apartment. Anticipating an extended stay he discovered a bottle of Champagne nicely iced in the cocktail cabinet of the Roller as they arrived at her address. "Well good night Edmundo" Susan said. "It has been a pleasure meeting you and thank you for dinner". Edmundo, slightly put out of his countenance, still clutching the bottle, drove off with his tail between his legs rueing the thought of giving Hubbard 2 quid to get home.
He called her office the following morning and the operator recognised his voice instantly. "Please hold on Mr. Ros I believe Miss Smith is expecting your call". Edmundo was surprised to say the least, he said, "Tell me Susan what do you do". She replied, "I am in charge of credit at the bank" Curious, Edmundo added; "What is my credit rating". Susan replied, "You don’t have one". Edmundo having been careful with his money always bought with cash.
Finally when they both saw that love was in the air, an uncle of hers who had been a bursar at a university in Africa, and had not enjoyed it one bit, decided to sabotage her marriage plans. He contrived to get her posted to Germany to cool off and she ended up in Bergen Belsen. Edmundo could only phone his beloved and this went on for a year. Edmundo's telephone bill skyrocketed; International charges through an operator had to be booked and were far more expensive than those enjoyed today. When she returned she announced, "Her employers were very satisfied and would like her to go on a three year posting to Cyprus". Edmundo said, " Cyprus for three years! Jesus Christ I will never be able to afford it. What did you say to them"? Susan replied, "I said I would think about it". "Well you can tell them no - we will get married next week" snorted Edmundo. They married on Whit Monday 1971 in the Hampstead Registry Office and he had to pay extra for the privilege.
Eventually they went to meet the uncle who had evidenced some discrimination and found he was also a Mason. Leaving Susan at her Aunts house, they both went to his Lodge only to find that Edmundo was several levels above his uncle-in-law.
Following the demise of the club, but still enjoying a full broadcasting schedule, Edmundo, complete with Orchestra decided to travel and they went to Japan seven times. Susan joined him on the last two trips. They recorded for the Japanese market and built on their popularity. On the trips to Japan, everyone was amply paid, so successive trips had to be done at the same rate but Edmundo, constantly prodded by his shop steward, did succeed in getting better conditions. By the seventh trip to Japan the contract also included a clause ‘no travelling on the Orchestra’s rest day’. But fate turned against them on a trip to one of the Islands, Hokkaido. On the day of the flight a snowstorm hit the island and flights were cancelled. The next day was a rest day. Usually the Orchestra would not have complained but the Maestro stuck to the rules and despite a late night phone call from the agent, Mr Ito, saying his life might be put in jeopardy if the concert did not take place, Edmundo said his contract made this very clear and he and Susan went to bed.
The following morning, at seven o clock, came a knock on the door by the shop steward, who explained that Mr Ito had met the whole Orchestra in the bar and had persuaded them and him to fly on their rest day and offered a little extra in the wage packet for their trouble.
Edmundo was furious; he had had enough, he was now not in control of his beloved Orchestra. Deals were being made behind his back and the tail was wagging the dog! He said to Susan "This is the End of Edmundo Ros".
The Maestro rang his secretary for many years, Mrs B. saying, "I would like you to do two things". "Please call the BBC and arrange for a concert in a studio with an audience which they could use for posterity. Also please call the Westmorland Hotel and book a dinner for all the musicians and their wives."
On August 8th, 1975 Edmundo did the concert for the BBC. There was of course, considerable speculation amongst the players as they arrived at the Westmorland Hotel after the recording, why was Edmundo acting so strangely? Each was given time to say a few words but when it was time for the shop steward to say something he said "Perhaps the old boy is packing it up because he has made enough money!"
But, the musicians were not amused this time. It was the end of an era of popular light Latin American music and the Orchestra’s livelihood. Subsequently, many of the musicians got jobs with leading bands like Victor Sylvester others retired. Eric Spencer pianist and arranger and Buzz Truman leading Trumpet subsequently died. Edmundo gave all the instruments and costumes to the Salvation Army and all but 20 scores were shredded. Any outstanding concerts were cancelled and both Edmundo and Susan then went on cargo boat cruises around the world seven times in the next four years.
When Edmundo was 80 he was offered a fellowship to the Royal Academy of music it came about following an interview with John Dunn of the BBC. A listener checked it up and found that only Edmundo and Johnny Dankworth had shared such an honour outside the classical fraternity.
They were staying at a friend’s house and the taxi driver who picked them up said, "Going to the races Edmundo?" "No" replied Edmundo, "to the Royal Academy of Music."
Michael Nyman met Edmundo at the Royal Academy and said, "I grew up with your music and would like to do a doco about you". About two years following the release of "The Piano" he arrived in Javea Spain with a 13-person film crew and stayed at the Parador. They all arrived ravenous and, Edmundo bemused by the number of people required to make a simple documentary, suggested his favourite restaurant The Asari. Hasty telephone calls were made and a table booked. Edmundo took them all over Javea shooting material for the movie, which turned out a total waste of time because the material shot was useless. A second company was employed called Rosetta who were based in Hammer House, where they had found a feature called the Edmundo Ros Half Hour. It was shot in 1955. These "quota quickies" were quite popular as fillers in cinemas of the day, alongside Pete Smith's Specialities, Pathe Pictorials and the vivid colour spectaculars that ended "As the Sun slowly sets in the West we say goodbye", to wherever it was. The doco was screened in 1994 on Channel 4 under the Title "He sold his Cadillac to Diana Dors" which Edmundo detested but, being the gentleman that he is, did not contest it.
In his illustrious career he has received countless awards and honorary fellowships including the freedom of the City of London, Javea and Trinidad
Edmundo came out of retirement briefly for a concert with the BBC Big Band and Strings in 1994.Both he and Stanley Black conducted and Edmundo also sang at The Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. The concert broadcast over BBC Radio 2 was a resounding success and a Japanese recording company invited them into a recording studio in London to make yet another CD.
At the age of 90 he was awarded an O.B.E by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, in the 2000 New Year's Honours List. Prince Charles performed the ritual. "Where are you playing these days Edmundo, I could do with a good dance". The Maestro had to admit he had hung up his baton and dancing shoes years ago.
Edmundo Ros, still retaining his unique charm, will be 95 on Dec10th 2005 and lives with Susan, his wife, in Javea Spain. They enjoy stunning views overlooking the Port. His legacy is introducing traditional Latin American music, countless Broadway and popular melodies, adapted to the Latin genre, to the world, which now spans more than 60 years. Doubtless an achievement that will never be equalled.
Copyright Bill Johnson 2006: this article first appeared in the December 2005 and March 2006 issues of ‘Journal Into Melody’