27 May

Cyril Watters

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CYRIL WATTERS : An Unassuming Genius of Light Music

Of all the many musicians I have met since 1956 at meetings of the Robert Farnon Society, few have been as modest and charming as Cyril Watters. He was a true gentleman, in every good sense of the word, and it was always a great pleasure to be in his company. Never one to promote his own music, he was always at great pains to compliment others on their work, which was amply confirmed during the many years that he guided the Light Music Society as its Secretary. This was during a difficult period of the 1960s, when the BBC and record companies seemed to be turning their backs on Light Music, but Cyril’s quiet persuasion undoubtedly benefited many of his colleagues in the profession.


Henry Cyril Watters was born on 13 February 1907, the eldest of three children whose parents were Henry James and Florence Edith Watters. His sister Vera was born in 1910, and his younger sister Joan was born in 1922. Cyril’s father’s family were Londoners in trades such as boot making and tailoring. His mother’s family had roots in oyster gathering in the Whitstable area going back to the 1740s.

From his early childhood Cyril had a strong desire to write music. In a magazine interview in 1937 he confessed that at the age of 12 he cajoled his sister and friends to assist him in staging an operetta, but his success as a musician did not happen overnight. He left school aged 16 in 1923 having matriculated, and by day he worked as a ledger clerk, while in his spare time he played piano in various small groups. He became known locally, playing the piano at dances, concerts and social events, and was a member of the New Shaftesbury Dance Band.

In 1929 he won the first prize in a Melody Maker Song Foxtrot competition with a piece called She’s My Slip Of A Girl. This was recorded commercially by Tommy Kinsman (Piccadilly records), Arthur Lally (Decca), Ray Noble and the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (HMV) and Jack Payne and his BBC Dance Orchestra (Columbia). The composer was credited as ‘Henry Watters’, which must have delighted Cyril’s father who had the same name.

This success encouraged Cyril to send songs to various publishers, but he kept getting them rejected. In 1932 he won £50 in a Daily Mail ‘New Rhythm’ contest, and a year later he took the courageous decision to devote himself full time to music. For a short while he studied at the Guildhall School of Music, although he said that most of his knowledge was gleaned from text books.

The next landmark came in 1935, when he signed a contract with music publishers Francis, Day and he joined the Performing Rights Society. At the same time he was still playing the piano for his main source of income, and during the summer of 1937 he was appearing regularly at a roadhouse called "Houseboat" near Radlett, Herts.

By 1939 he decided that his financial situation was sufficiently secure, and he married his wife Olive Doris at Willesden Registry Office on 29 May. After a honeymoon in Devon they spent the summer in the Isle of Wight so that Cyril could fulfil a playing contract.

Cyril’s first daughter Jill was born on 12 August 1940. When she was five weeks old the family moved to Hitchin, Herts to escape the London bombing: the very same day that they moved their house in Willesden was destroyed. Cyril had to remain to work in London, so he lived with his parents for a while.

On 15 July 1941 Cyril joined the Royal Air Force and was trained as a radio mechanic and in radar systems. On 15 February 1942 Cyril’s son John (always known in the family as Jack) was born, and the same year saw his first published composition Irene. The copyright contract showed his address as ‘RAF Neatishead, Norwich’. A second daughter Julie was born on 30 May 1944.

Cyril Watters and Robert Farnon
Cyril Watters and Robert Farnon

After spending most of the war at RAF bases in England, early in 1945 he was sent to Belgium then to Germany. He returned to England in June, and was demobbed in January 1946. Back in civilian life Cyril joined Lawrence Wright’s Music Publishers as an arranger, where he remained until 1950. In 1947 the family had moved from Hitchin back into London at 49 Geary Road, Dollis Hill, Willesden, where Cyril lived for the rest of his life.


The most successful of Cyril’s early compositions wasBargain Basement, which Boosey & Hawkes recorded for their Recorded Music Library in 1949. For a while Cyril was at the music publishers Chappell, often producing piano scores of some of their most popular light orchestral works. Later he would talk about how this gave him an insight into Robert Farnon’s scores, which he found fascinating.

Ice Shows were also to play a significant role in advancing Cyril’s career as one of the new breed of top arrangers. In 1950 he provided the orchestrations and choral arrangements for "Cinderella On Ice" at the Empress Hall, and also composed some incidental music. He was similarly involved in the 1952 production of "Puss In Boots" for which he received the princely sum of £275.00! Producers outside London also engaged his services, with his name appearing on the credits for ice shows in Bournemouth from 1952 to 1955. Top stars of the time, such as Tessie O’Shea and Janet Brown also commissioned songs from Cyril.

His gentle sense of humour sometimes came to the fore in the songs he composed. When his children were young they were taken on seaside holidays, and they loved covering him with sand on the beach. Cyril wroteI Can’t Remember Where I Buried Daddy which went down well in concert parties and cabarets.

From 1953 to 1962 he was the chief arranger for Boosey & Hawkes, and they published several of his own compositions. His works were also accepted by other publishers, and by the end of the 1950s he was one of Britain’s leading composers of mood music – the melodies recorded especially for use by radio, television, films, documentaries and newsreels. His output during the 1960s mushroomed to well over one hundred compositions, one of them – "The Willow Waltz" – winning him a prestigious Ivor Novello Award in 1960 following its use as the theme for a BBC-TV serial "The World Of Tim Frazer".

Cyril’s contract with Boosey & Hawkes was not restrictive. As well as arranging music written by many of their own composers, while they were happy to accept many of his original compositions, they did not prevent him from submitting work to rival publishers. From 1962 onwards he decided to work freelance, thus ushering in a period of his life that would witness a large number of original compositions in many styles.

In 1962 Cyril’s song White Wedding was recorded for HMV by Sheila Southern with the Mike Sammes Singers and Frank Cordell and his Orchestra. It sold steadily for a long time, with total sales figures exceeding many so-called ‘hits’ of the day, which often managed big sales for a week or two (thus placing them in the charts) followed quickly by oblivion. The tune was originally entered in a songwriting contest promoted by the ‘People’ newspaper, where it came 4th.

When he wasn’t working, Cyril enjoyed playing cricket and he was also a meticulous stamp collector, amassing around 15 albums plus a specialist one of Great Britain. He also collected first day covers, and sought out stamps relating to music and dance.

By the mid-1960s Cyril had composed over 300 works, half of which were for background music libraries – today usually called ‘production music’. In 1964 Radio South East chose his Pot Luck as their signature tune, which was heard regularly for four years. Although he professed to dislike conducting, it was inevitable that Cyril would one day be engaged by the BBC. His first broadcast conducting ‘Cyril Watters and his Players’ was on the Home Service on 9 January 1963. But Cyril clearly didn’t press for more, because he didn’t return to BBC studios until 25 January 1965 for the famous "Music While You Work" programme, with a second following on 10 May 1965 and a final one on 4 July 1966. Cyril’s ensemble included famous names including Reginald Leopold, Arthur Anton and Robert Docker. Prior to that, many of Cyril’s arrangements had been featured in the show when he was an arranger for various publishers. He also contributed to the military band repertoire.

Although he was accomplished at writing in a variety of different moods, it is perhaps his bright and breezy pieces that were so successful in the mood music libraries. Not content with just creating a strong main melody – always instantly appealing - his works are characterised by attractive middle themes which lift the composition to a higher level. Not all his contemporaries took such care in ensuring that their works were so completely satisfying.

Cyril went into semi-retirement during the 1970s, although he continued to compose and arrange. Since 1982 his health had been failing and he died on 24 November 1984 aged 77.

It was not easy to get Cyril to talk about his own music, but he did once admit to me that he was proud of his Piccadilly Spree which Boosey & Hawkes issued on a 78 record in 1953. I shall always treasure the personally signed copy he kindly gave to me.

The following Cyril Watters compositions have been released on commercial CDs in recent years:

Bargain Basement Vocalion CDVS 1958
Celtic Melody Vocalion CDLK 4192
Flat Spin Guild GLCD 5142
Melody At Moonrise Guild GLCD 5145; Vocalion CDVS 1958
Midsummer Madness Vocalion CDVS 1958
Paper Chase Vocalion CDLK 4274
Piccadilly Spree Guild GLCD 5103; Vocalion CDVS 1958
Talking Point Vocalion CDLK 4192

A Selective Discography of Production Music composed by Cyril Watters
not in chronological sequence

Boosey & Hawkes
Melody At Moonrise
Full Dress
Spring Idyll
Moods In Miniature
Back Chat
Evening Panorama
Sleepy Hollow
Willow Waltz
A Bedtime Story
Merry Madcap
Cat and Mouse
In High Feather
Lavender Lady
Fashion Notes
Little Miss Mischief
Damask Rose
Proud Heritage
Neck and Crop
Tea-time Gossip
Celtic Melody
Talking Point
Pioneer Spirit
By A Mountain Lake
In Clover
Morning Reverie
Sea Voyage
In The Running
A Little Off Beat
Market Day In Martinique
An English Fantasy
Motorway Patrol
Mountain Railway
A Welsh Fantasy
Caribbean Caper
A Scottish Fantasy
Mediterranean Mood
Happy Ending

On A Cheerful Note
Shadows On The Water
Leaps And Bounds
Top Of The Bill
In Full Cry
Making Merry

Francis, Day & Hunter
Theme for a Coquette
Willy Nilly
Crepe Suzette
Moonlight Flit
Ladies In Waiting

De Wolfe
The Fairy Ring
Call Boy
In Homage
Coming And Going
Morning Glory
Sporting Colours
Works Party
Sporting Notes
Poste Haste

Flat Spin
Behind The Footlights
Pelican Parade
Romantic Vision
Cat Among The Pigeons
Chorus Master
Autumn Glade

Charles Brull (Harmonic)
Russia Marches On
Red Square

Josef Weinberger
Slav Dance
Holiday In Havana
Catch As Catch Can

Inter-Art (Impress)
Sportsman’s Chance
Folies Parade
In Fine Fettle
Dangerous Conflict
Over The Mountain

Up and Going
Woodland Tryst
Moorland Song
Floor Show
In Good Humour
Sales Talk
Melody In Mink
Wallflower Theme
Quiet Valley
Carnival In Venezia
Serenade To Gina

Conroy (Berry Music)
Treading On Air
Pep Talk

Paper Chase
Pony Trek

David Ades wishes to thank Cyril Watters’ daughter, Jill Coward, for her valued assistance in preparing this tribute. Also Brian Reynolds for additional information.

Broadcast 9.1.63 11.00am Home Service (announced)
A Bedtime Story (Sig) Watters
Perpetuum Mobile Strauss
Vanity Fair Collins
A Mill in the Black Forest Eilenberg
The Willow Waltz Watters
Faire Frou Frou Binge
Eriskay Love Lilt Kennedy-Fraser
Sleigh Ride Anderson
Ladies of Lisbon Tristan
Frasquita Serenade Lehar
Peanut Polka Farnon
A Bedtime Story (Sig) Watters

Players: R.Leopold, A.Anton, E.Bryett, D Bellman, E.Fox,
J.Collier, R.Docker, W.Davies, E.Chapman (horn)

Music While You Work 25.1.65 10.31a.m. Light prog.
Calling All Workers Coates
Sleigh Ride Anderson
Amorette Watters
Boulevardier Curzon
Ladies of Lisbon Tristan
Tabarinage Docker
Vanity Fair Collins
Perpetuum Mobile Strauss
Louisette Vallez
Rio Rhythm Watters
Coralita Warr
Peanut Polka Farnon
Calling All Workers Coates

Players: R.Leopold, A.Anton, H.C.Gee, D.Bellman, E.Fox,
J.Collier, S.Bright, G.Blackmore, M.Lewin

Music Whille You Work 10.5.65 10.31a.m. Light Prog
Calling All Workers Coates
Sophie Galop Lanjean
Frasquita Serenade Lehar
Tango del Sol Watters
Tabarinage Docker
Louisette Vallez
Whisky Galore Hartley
Love Dance Hochna
Faire Frou Frou Binge
Belle of Brazil Rubach
Lady Beautiful Bayco 
Peanut Polka Farnon
Calling All Workers Coates

Players:R.Leopold, A Anton, H.C.Gee,K.Cummings, E.Fox,
L.Cushion, R.Docker, L.Mordish, M.Lewin

Music While You Work 4.7.66 10.31a.m. Light Prog.
Calling All Workers Coates
Sophie Galop Lanjean
Frasquita Serenade Lehar
Tabarinage Docker
Belle of Brazil Rubach
Betty Dear Agoult
Shy Serenade Scott-Wood
Pancho from Peru Watters
Louisette Vallez
Faire Frou Frou Binge
Coralita Warr
Peanut Polka Farnon
Calling All Workers Coates

Players: J.Gaillard, O.Rosen, A.Anton, D.Bellman, B. Rickelman,
C.MacArthur, R.Docker, W.Davies, M.Lewin.


This article first appeared in "Journal Into Melody", September 2010.

Cyril Watters
Cyril Watters
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1 comment

  • Stephen Varcoe posted by Stephen Varcoe Sunday, 04 March 2018 16:06

    Hello. Bill Davies was my father-in-law, and a finer musician I have yet to meet (I see he played on a couple of Cyril's broadcasts). I've been a professional singer all my life, and I'm wanting to find the music for Watters' White Wedding for a programme I'm putting together. Can you help me, do you think?

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.