The copyright of this interview lies with the \british Entertainment History Project
This is Sidney Cole interviewing Ena Baga on 28th February 1990 for the ACTT History Project, David Robson recording.
SC: Ena I know you started quite early in your profession as an organist, and an accompanist, in a way that you have made famous, in the subsequent 65 years, tell me about your background, you came from a musical family didn’t you? Your father was connected with music.
EB: that’s right Father was very musical, I was born in Islington. I went to the convent at St. John’s, Duncan Terrace, which was quite near to where I lived, and I came on the scene after three sister, Celeste, Beatrice and Florence, and after 9 years Mother has me, and they used to say it was the milk man, because I was the only one who had dark brown hair, and all the other girls were jet black. However, by this time they were fully fledged professional musicians, I used to go along, and of course my father was the musical director of the Angel Cinema, Islington, and the pianist used to strum a nice waltz or something, irrespective of what was going up on the screen, and my Father wouldn’t accept this, so he used to drum it into us, he said you’ve got to help the film, and he even wrote little pieces to fit certain situations, and some of our musicians in Blue Hall heard about all this and they used to peep over the orchestra rail to see what Father was playing, but he was no fool so he used to black out the titles.
SC: Did you used to go and see a lot of the pictures.
EB: Well it was a special treat for me on a Sunday night, to go and see, but Father was offered a job in a very tough district in New North Road, where they objected so much to the pianist that they threw a bottle on his head, and he was in hospital.
SC: Why did they do that?
EB: Well they didn’t like his playing, it probably didn’t fit the film, anyway they asked Father, ‘would you go’?, he said, ‘ well, I don’t want bottles thrown at me’, he said, ‘I’ll go, but I want some wire netting over the orchestra’, which they did, but it wasn’t necessary as when he played, he fitted the film.
SC: Up to that time on the whole, the pianist would ramp up anything he thought, without relation to the film.
EB: They had no idea what they should do.
SC: There were no cue sheets issued for the films?
EB: No nothing like that, you just watched the thing and used your own imagination, it’s what I do now, I don’t see a film all the time, I’ll get an idea if it’s Russian or Swedish or German, then I would cook up some of the music that’s appropriate, and watch the action.
SC: How did you get into the business yourself?
EB: My first sojourn as a cinema pianist was when....originally I went to convent (school), and learned the piano there, which I hated because the poor old Nuns did their best, I used to run under the tables to dodge them, and my Father got a bit disconcerted, he said, ‘I don’t know whether I should put you to typing and shorthand, you don’t seem to be cottoning on to the music’, ‘well’, I said, ‘Papa, it’s not interesting, give me another teacher’. Which he did. Eventually I had teachers that were really interesting because they realised I had some talent.
SC: Were they private teachers? Not at the Convent?
EB: No, private teachers. I got rather ill at this particular Convent, where I went it was in Eden Grove, Holloway, very, very strict order. And the Doctor said, ‘you’d better take her down to the seaside, let her smell the mud in Southend when the tide goes out’.
In Southend they put a very nice Hill, Norman and Beard four-manual organ in the Strand Cinema in Warriors Way, and as I went down and Mum and Dad bought houses down there, the girls, followed us, they got little houses there, and established themselves, and Florence was offered the job at the Strand Cinema. The boss of the Strand was a great friend of Quentin Maclean, and Quentin was very fond of this Hill, Norman and Beard organ, and he used to ask if he could come and play it occasionally, and give us a day off, and of course we were very thrilled to meet him, he was a lovely player.
SC: He was a famous player was he?
EB: Very famous, one of the finest, he should have been THE organist, that we could all look up to. However, he went to Canada eventually and went and played a lot of Church organs there and died. He died in Canada a few years ago. I met his sister who was over here on one occasion. Anyway, Harry de Jong who Florie had married, he was asked to provide an orchestra. Florence was the solo organist and of course the whole family was involved; Celeste was the pianist, her husband (Hans Palle) played the double base, well it was a family affair. Until Florence (I can’t tell you her history very well because she has another career of her own), but she was playing at the Finsbury Park Rink for a time before she went to Southend, and her boss was a man called Evans, and he used to take quite an interest in her, a fatherly interest. Evans became the Director of the New Gallery, where they put one of the first Wurlitzer’s, so he was very fond of Florence. He admired her as a player as well, and he asked her if she would like to go and play at the New Gallery. Well, for a time Reginald Fort was there, and she took over from him. Well this was all going on, so the Strand Cinema job came open for me, but whilst the girls were there, I used to play for the children’s matinee on Saturday mornings for 2twoand sixpence.
SC: Was that for 3 hours?
EB: Yes, it was so noisy that I didn’t play; even a full organ couldn’t be heard, so I let them get on with it, but they used to pay a penny and get a bag of sweets, and an apple or something
SC: When was this, about 1925?
EB: I’m not sure, I went to London eventually
SC: But you did the children’s matinees at Southend.
EB: OH yes, until the fire, it was burnt to the ground one Sunday night. I went and raked in the ashes and took one of the strings of the organ, as a memento. Well of course after that I played everywhere in Southend. I played at the Palace Hotel, which was a really nice hotel in those days. I played the piano, The Garons had a little organ, a cinema there, I played that. I played at the Rivoli, I played on the Pier. The man who had all the work, was a man called Adam Seabold, he was a dreadful violinist, but he was a good business man. He used to scrape away, and I used to play with him at the Westcliffe Hotel every Sunday night, and used to get 10 shillings and a glass of port. I played everywhere, even dressed as a Hussar at the end of the Pier, but my first concert as a solo pianist, it was pouring with rain, and of course the pier was one of the longest in the world, 1 mile and a quarter, you had to go right to the end to the pavilion, some of the water was coming through the ceiling, I was playing Chaminade’s ‘Autumn’, and I was very nervous. I was only about 12 years old, and somebody said to me, ‘what you want now is a glass of port, I’ll get you a glass of port, and you’ll be alright’. Well I was as a drunk as a lord, after this glass of port, I played the piece but I couldn’t find the coda, I kept going back to the beginning, eventually I managed, I can’t remember how, and then instead of bowing to the audience, I was bowing to the curtain, that was my first concert as a solo pianist.
SC: Can you remember any of the films from that period that you played for?
EB: Mostly cowboys, of course all the Laurel and Hardy, we had some Chaplin’s as well, Harry de Jong used to fit, he had a very good orchestra, and the music was very good, people used to go and listen to the orchestra, because he never bothered much about the film, I must say, but he fancied some really good music, he would put it on.
SC: You never had a chance to rehearse, what you were going to play to the films?
EB: No, just as you saw the film. It came as a second nature to me because obviously you tried to talk as the people talked, and you had a theme for your villain, you had a theme for your lover, and you mustn’t play well known pieces because that detracts, people go, ‘oh you know what she’s playing’, so you must play around it.
SC: So, you were really composing as well as playing?
EB: More or less yes. Well eventually Florence had started at the New Gallery, I think they’d sent Reginald Foort onto her, I don’t want to get these facts wrong, she had the offer to go to Regent Street, which was the premier cinema of London and play this Wurlitzer, so she went.
SC: That was a Wurlitzer,
EB: yes, one of the first, the first I think was the Midlands or the North, might have been Birmingham, anyway it was the first in London, of these Wurlitzer’s.
SC: The Wurlitzer was the one that used to rise up out...
EB: This one didn’t, it was static, it was in the corner of the orchestra, now they’ve moved it and put it in the middle of the orchestra. But you missed that good impact of the organ coming up. Anyway, Florence could see the possibility of these organs in cinemas, and she would have liked a bit of....something to help, she thought, ‘well two sisters, both organists, that’s quite unusual’, so she told Mother, ‘I’d love her to come to London’, and of course I was eager to go I’d played everywhere in Southend. I met her in London, Florence, and me went to the New Gallery and we sat at the organ, and we played a bit of a duet, and who should come down the middle aisle but, old Bill Evans who was the boss. He said, ‘what’s this? Is this the Dolly Sisters? So she said, ‘yes, this is my sister’, and he said, ‘how would you like to work with your sister? I said, ‘yes I would like that very much’, and I was booked. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the organists of the circuit, well, ‘she’d only just come to London, what’s she doing in the West End? You have to work your way up from mopping old stairs to the West End; but I was lucky, I was shoved in.
SC: Was Bill Evans attracted by the novelty of two sisters
EB: Probably, I was playing well at the time, so was Florence. She had a bit of a name you know, and her husband Harry de Jong, didn’t have his orchestra, he was playing at the Super Cinema, in Charing Cross Road with the orchestra there in those days. All of these places had them and an organ. For a time. Harry Fryer was the conductor and I was the orchestral organist, I used to play with the orchestra, it was fun. There was an old Italian trombonist, that made love to me all the time while I was playing. It was nice; being a solo artist is a lonely life, you’re always on your own, but when you’re with an orchestra, there’s people around you, you can have a laugh, and I enjoyed it.
SC: This was at the New Gallery.
EB: Yes, at the New Gallery. After about a year, the Tivoli was taken over by Belmont and Terry Casey was the organist, the solo organist, and I was asked to go to the Tivoli as orchestral organist. I thought, ‘why not?’ I forget who went with Florence, somebody else went there, she was still at the New Gallery, and we had Harry Fryer was the conductor, and he brought all the brass players from the North down. We had a fine orchestra. I had some wonderful nights there, because they always used to get some royalty upstairs in the Circle: Edward and Mrs Simpson, and all that lot, and we used to have midnight matinees. I shall never forget one we had, Seymour Hicks, Gertie Lawrence, Evelyn Laye, Ivy St Helier and Noel Coward. I remember Noel coming down to me, in his dressing gown, with his cigarette holder, sat on the organ.’ What are you going to play me now? ’’Well why don’t you let me play some of your ‘Bitter Sweet’?’, the show was on at the Haymarket, and he said, ‘Do you know it?’ and I said, ’of course I know it’, and he said, ’ok’. Then I had to accompany him, he did an excerpt from ‘Private Lives’ with Gertie Lawrence, - ‘Someday I’ll Find You’ - and I accompanied them. Then Evelyn Laye and Gertie Lawrence, hated each other, but she sang very nicely. Seymour Hicks had to auction this dreadful picture, it was a Picasso, and he suggested whoever won it, he would suggest where they could hang it. All the debutants were programme sellers, it was a lovely night of course. We had the negro singer, Ethel Waters they wrote the song ‘Dinah’, it was written for her. She was very nervous, she hadn’t sung with an organ before, so we’d rehearsed and I helped her, I was very fond of accompanying. She made a very big success, and they gave her a big bouquet, she got hold of this bouquet -she needed a bit of strength - ripped it in two and gave me half. Then for a time we had a few stage shows, we had Alfred Roader and his Blue Hungarian Band, and one of the gypsy bands, for a time they had a few of these shows on, fixed up a bit of a stage at the front, but the crowning glory was I was singled out to go to Balmoral Castle, and play for TheGold Rush.
SC: How did that come about?
EB: I was playing the setting, with all the different themes, that was with Harry Fryer and his orchestra, we used to have pictures on for months. I could play the settings with my eyes shut, and I suppose they thought I was capable enough to do it. So, I went up, just a piano, alone, and a man did the drum effects, we did three shows we stayed at the Invercauld Arms at Ballater, and it was Autumn time, all the heather was out. The first was a kind of rehearsal for the nine people, and the second one was the Royal Command. Well it wasn’t a very huge ballroom at Balmoral, quite intimate, of course all the ladies with their diamonds, and the men in their kilts, old King George was falling off his seat laughing., It went down very well, we met their Majesty’s afterwards, and they congratulated us, then we went back to the hotel, and of course I was very naive in those days. I’d just been in the business, and Father used to come and meet me when I was in Southend late at night, ‘don’t you talk to any strange men’. Well there was a wild party going on at this hotel - champagne flowing - I thought ‘I’d better go to bed’. I wouldn’t now. Now I would know better.
SC: They must have taken up to Balmoral the cinema equipment, the projector etc.
EB: Oh yes, everything was brought up.
SC: Did it make a noise, can you remember, was it installed in a booth or something?
EB: I don’t remember that part of it, because I was too intent on what I was going to do. We had Christopher....oh what is his name? he was the entrepreneur for the Albert Hall, he married the Australian pianist.... Oh! what was her name? H was there, Matsala, the boss of United Artists, he came up with us our manager, who was the manager of the Tivoli at the time, and a lot of well-known people came up with us, because what they told us before we went, enjoy yourself, if anybody says that now I know what to do.
SC: I suppose you were worried that the champagne might have the same effect as the port had.
EB: Yes maybe.
SC: Did you get any sort of memento, a letter or anything from the Royal Household?
EB: I’ve got it somewhere, sorry to interrupt, but while I remember it, my Father wrote a poem ‘In The Time of Poppies’ which he sent and he had an acknowledgment from the Queen. Anyway, the thing was, I thought I must get back to my job, I wanted to keep my head a bit clear, it was wise in a way, we had another show to do the next night, I thought if I do something silly......
SC: What was the second show going to be, who was that for?
EB: We did two, a sort of dress rehearsal for the landowners and that, then the Royal Command, and then the children, that was the third one.
SC: All the same film.
EB: Yes all the same film. Christopher Man, he was the agent, now he came up, I don’t think he was married to Irene Joyce at the time, but he did marry her after, and we got through this other night, and there was another wild party, but I said ‘no’, he said, ‘come on what’s the matter with you,why don’t you stay and enjoy yourself?’ I said, ‘I must get back to my job’, so if he said, ‘if you’re so anxious to get back, I’ll give you my night sleeper, you can take over my sleeper and you can go back to your job’, which I did. Now I would have a damn good time and know how to do it!
SC: So you did go back?
EB: Ah, that’s not the end of it, Lord Mountbatten was living in Park Lane, and he had the King staying there as his guest, therefore he wanted to see the The Gold Rush, so I had to go to his house in Park Lane, they rigged up a screen over the marble stair case, and I played for them. Then I stayed quite a while at the Tivoli - I used to do a lot of piano playing there-I used to go in for London Festivals, because the piano technique helps the organ. I had a piano in my dressing room, ...ah no, soon after all this, the blow fell, talking pictures. We were lucky, the organists, we had to stay, if only to play ‘God Save the King’ at the end. But, we soon got the needle over that, you’d sit there for two hours then. In those days they had a sound manager, this poor bloke had to sit at the back of the stalls, if the sound was too loud he would press a button to take it down a bit, if it wasn’t loud enough, then he would have to bring it up, he would have to see that film through umpteen times, just to do that, sound manager. It’s a pity they haven’t got them today, because it deafens you now when you go to the films.
SC: Going back a moment, you said the disaster that happened was the coming of sound on film, and of course in the big cinemas, not only in London, but in the big cities everywhere, when they were used to having orchestras, all these musicians were out of work.
EB: It was terrible, we were lucky as we happened to play the organ. We had to play the intervals and sometimes an interlude depending on the length of the film. Eventually when they turfed me out after a long time, to go around to all their cinemas, Gaumont British. And then I had the chance to play these big jobs that came up, I went all over London, I went up to the North, the big cinemas there, Sheffield, the Belmont Sheffield. Now Jessie Matthews was going to sing so would I accompany her., Yes, well, at the rehearsal she and, (who was she married to, who was her first husband?), Sonnie Hale! Well they were prancing up and down in the wings like a couple of caged lions, and eventually when we went to her song and that was that. In the evening already to play her introduction, on she comes, and then she started singing, and then she shut up and ran off the stage. I thought ‘oh my god what is this?’, So I’m playing away, I wondered what was going to happen next, I was watching the side of the stage, and ok off we go again. Well she came on then and she got through it alright. But I could never understand what she got nervous about, she was so used to singing, I think it was singing with an organ, or something in a cinema. I had a relation through marriage up there and he took me into the Grand Hotel, and I was introduced to Pimms No 1. I thought, ‘this is a nice drink, a little like lemonade’, and I had several Pimms, and when I went to get up, oops, my legs wouldn’t get up, so it’s a very innocuous sort of drink. I went from cinema to cinema quite a few of the London ones, Bromley was very nice, nice manager there, Lewisham was nice, but New Cross was the organists’ Waterloo.
EB; Well I’d prepared a nice interlude, the organ didn’t come up it was static, I finished, not a sound, not a clap, I thought oh oh, we all agreed it was the organists Waterloo.
SC: They didn’t pay any attention to you?
EB: Well they couldn’t care less.
SC: And that really was very unusual was it?
EB: Of course, wherever you went you got a good hand, most people went to buy an ice cream or went to the toilet while we were playing, but it was the way the organ was presented, it could have been presented properly. In some cases, it was.
SC: When you say presented properly, you mean spotlights?
EB: Yes, spotlights and something to hold the people, it was up to the organist too to keep them...play something interesting, so they would stay and listen.
SC: That’s why they had the Wurlitzer that came out of the floor.
EB: Yes, that’s right. For my sins I was sent to New Cross, I thought I’ll shake them up somehow, so I played a lot of Latin American, and I finished up with ‘Tico Tico’, and I got a clap. I thought ‘right’, but my last job, that I took as a permanent job, was Camden Town, a beautiful cinema with a Compton, like the Roxy New York. The organ was behind a curtain, left of the stage, and you pressed a button and up went the curtain, pressed another one, you slid onto the stage, and then the third button, you could angle it as you wanted it., I used to take it onto the stage and accompany the acts. Now there, I tell everybody this, we had a second feature, newsreel, cartoon, organ interlude, feature and an hour’s Variety, good Variety. Poor old Semprini he died recently, I accompanied him, and some lovely singers, all the big noises - Vic Oliver. The old girls used to grumble, they used to think, 4 hours I got stay that long, and they paid ninepence for that.
SC: Talking of money, can you recall the sort of salary you were getting on that engagement that went on for some years at the Gaumont?
EB: Well you considered yourself lucky if you got twelve pounds a week.
SC: That was quite a good salary.
EB: Oh yes, twelve pounds, fifteen was very good.
SC: Now the Camden Town job was, there were sound pictures by then.
EB: Oh yes it was all talking, Con Docherty was the organist and he went up North and I took over his job. It was a very interesting job, I enjoyed it, and of course the war started while I was there. It was funny, there was a little pub at the back, where all the artists used to go, and I used to go and have a lunch sometimes. For a shilling you got a cut from the joint, a roll and butter and a bit of cheese, a damn good one too, for a shilling. Now during the Blitz, I used to go down into the tube, I was living in Haverstock Hill with my husband, who was in the Air Force. They’d started this new barrage in Hyde Park, when the Blitz started on London. Of course I used to run down to the tube and I slept in the tube, I slept on concrete, and then they put these bunks there, so I tried to get home, I thought ‘I’ve only got to go’,....but the wardens wouldn’t let me out, and when these big guns started, it was terrific. Anyway, the people in the pub, they had their living quarters over the pub, and the police wanted them to go down the shelter, but they never would, until the pub had a direct hit one night., The cellar was full of water, so the police dived in, thought the bodies would be there, but for the first time in their lives, that night, they decided to go down in the tube. All that was left at the top was a piece of ceiling where the safe was, the safe was stuck up there, but they saved their lives by going there.
Anyway, this is an interesting bit too, I was offered a job, the Camden Town was closed, it was damaged, and I was offered a job in Shaftsbury Avenue, a little club there. The girl I knew who was a singer, said, ‘come along, we need a pianist to play for us‘. So we used to go along there until dusk, and when the sirens went, we’d grab a cushion. And there used to be a big drapers’ shop on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, it was called Russell’s, and old Russell, (he was the fire watch), he was very good, he’d look after us, we went right down into his cellar, and we all had our pitch there. And the old taxi drivers, they’d take their fares and dump their car and come down, and there were fights every night because they were pinching someone else’s spot. One night, I was dozing I thought ‘oh dear, there’s a funny smell here, I hope they’re not using gas’, so I felt for my torch, lit it and under my nose was a pair of feet in dirty socks. That’s what I was sniffing, but when they bombed Soho, the whole place shook, and there was for one moment I thought there was going to be panic, but old Russell came down and put the lights on and saved a panic.
SC: What was the club you were playing in Shaftsbury Avenue?
EB: It wasn’t very far from the Rainbow Room, where all the Americans used to go. It was upstairs, I’m not sure if it wasn’t called the Lyric Club. I was asked to do a broadcast at St George’s Hall, well when I got to the BBC, they looked at the performers’ list, they said everything in St Georges has been cancelled - so far as I know, I had my rehearsal there-, I thought, ‘what can I do? I’ll have to go through with it that’s all’ So my sister Celeste was alone in London, and she said, ‘I’d like to meet you tonight, I don’t want to be alone’, so I said, ‘come along to St Georges Hall’, which she did. The caretaker said, ‘well miss, when you get the spotters warning, run, because it’s a glass roof’. So, imagine how I felt, so playing away? I thought, ‘if I can get underneath the organ, there’......anyway the morning came; well we moved quickly but we couldn’t go over to the Langham, because the masonry was down, so went back to the BBC, and they took us to the concert hall. aAnd blow me down there was an organ I could have done my show on! It was a Compton, there was a jazz band doing the intermission. That night the ladies slept one side, and the men slept the other, and that night they bombed St George’s Hall, I was the last one to play that beautiful Compton.
Reginald Foort attended me when I did the first broadcast there, he said, ‘I didn’t know you could play like that’. ‘Well’ I said, ‘thank you’, I’ve got a letter from him here, one he sent me after a broadcast, I can tell you about it afterwards. Well eventually I did a few jobs. I had a little flat in Haverstock Hill, and Wally Landauer, of Rawicz and Landauer was in the same block, I used to go up and play duets with him.
I had to go to Evesham to do my broadcasts after that, there was a big house there called, Wood Norton, they used to call it Hogs Norton. and at the back of it was some log cabins, it was like a Canadian scene, and Sandy MacPherson was there, and I rang him up one day, I said, ‘Sandy do you know of any jobs? I said, ‘I’m living on two fifteen a week, do you know of any jobs going?’ ‘Well’ he said, ‘I know, the boys at Blackpool have been called up, why don’t you write to Jefferson? I said, ‘thank you, I will’. I wrote to Jefferson who was the boss at the Tower, and he said, ‘perhaps you could come up and give us an audition?’ Which I did, I gave an audition on the Opera House organ.
I went back to London, and eventually the call came, ‘would you like to come up? I said, ‘I’ll do anything, I’ll play piano or organ’. I was due to go up just after Christmas, very cold and snowy.
SC: How was the train journey in war time?
EB: It was dreadful, going back to Evesham, the train that should have arrived, didn’t, when I got there it was dark, and the man with the car that was waiting for me gave me up, so I’m wandering about in a darkened street, who can I ask, so I saw a chink of light in a cafe, I looked through, and DONE TO HERE saw a man with a fez, well I thought he must be from the BBC, because they were all the overseas broadcasts. So, I went in and went up to this man, I said, do excuse me, I showed him my contract, I said, “I have find the BBC”, I missed the train and the man has missed me, how can I get there? He said, sorry madam, I do not know, so I thought what the hell was he doing with a fez on during the war, in Evesham, however somebody there, said there is a bus that stops and will take you to the BBC. I got to the Hognoughton gates, up the long drive in the dark, and there was raid going on over Birmingham, so I felt my torch ‘Put that light out’ fell in the bushes, scrambled and got into this little chapel where the organ was with about ten minutes to spare. They fixed me up with a farmer’s wife there, everywhere was choc a block, no hotels, but she was very good to me, she gave me cauliflowers to take home, and eggs, and I did that continually, until I went to Blackpool.
SC: You went to Blackpool on a long-term contract?
EB: Obviously Dixon was going into the Air Force, and the other feller from the Winter Garden, I knew they’d want somebody;
SC: Were you going to play the organ?
EB: I didn’t know what I was going to play until I saw Jefferson. When I got to Blackpool on the train, I got a cab and said would he take me to the hotel, I must stay the night somewhere, he said everywhere full up, there’s one place I can take you, I went in, Polish officers walking around, dizzy blond behind the desk, I said can you give me a bed for the night, they took me up to the first floor, I didn‘t like the look of the sheets or the bed, I said take me to the top floor. I dumped all my luggage, and flew down, I knew Jefferson, I had an appointment with him in his office, of course I couldn’t make it. I knew he went down for his mild and bitter every night, at the Tower Restaurant, so I thought if I get there, I’ll wait until I see him. He came along; I explained the train was all up the wall, I hadn’t known what to do. Well he said, ok, where are you staying? Well I said the taxi driver had an awful job to take me anywhere, but I’ve taken a room in the Bloomfield. He nearly fell in his beer; he said that’s a brothel.
SC: That explained the dizzy blond, and the Polish officers.
EB: I said h my goodness, he said don’t get excited, go tonight, see your doors are locked and I’ll get you in a hotel tomorrow. So, you can imagine when I got back, I crawled upstairs and made sure all the doors were locked. I went down to breakfast, I had a big thumb mark on my plate, a big black one, I flew out in such a hurry, I left a bit of luggage there, and had to go back for it. I saw Jefferson in his office and we had a little chat, he said I would play somewhere. Of course, I gave the audition on the Opera House organ.
SC: Fascinating experience in the hotel that turned out to be a brothel, you went and talked to Jefferson, who was the musical director about what you were going to be doing in Blackpool.
EB: I went to his office the next day and he said we’ll find you something, I thought, well he knows what I can do, the next day, The Evening Gazette, which is their paper, ‘Famous Woman Organist for Tower’. When I made my debut, it was an Easter Sunday, 1941 I think. Tiger Raga Muffins, Gwen Tatley, were on the bill with me, and I played ‘Finlandia’, and ‘An 18th Century Drawing Room’. I got a good hand.
SC: You had to do a lot of things, presumably.
EB: When the boys couldn’t drill outside because it was raining, they all used to come in for 9 pence, and I’d play a dance session for them.
SC: You did children’s matinees.
EB: Children’s ballet, Annette Schultz, very good too, twice a day that was, and then I’d play my interval in the evening, for the band, for them dancing.
SC: So, what was your day like, what time did you start?
EB: I’d start 2.30 in the afternoon, if I hadn’t got a morning session, sometimes, then the afternoon show would go from 2.30 until about 5, then the band would have their evening session and I’d play their interval for half an hour there. Well it was about 9 o’clock before I’d finish. Sunday’s now Sundays you had Sunday concerts in the afternoon and in the evening, I stuck this for nearly a year.
CS: So, you were working seven days week.
EB: Yes, and then I told them, I must have a break. Unfortunately, the break came that I didn’t want, I had to have a major operation. I thought I was getting too big, and the Doctor said no, you’ve got to have a growth removed. I had to send for Florence, so she took over, I went into hospital.
SC: In Blackpool?
EB: Yes, the surgeon was the brother of; you heard of the River Plate during the war, his brother was the Captain on the ship that sunk the other one, Mr Everett, that’s right. It was a big growth that they had to remove, but I felt fine, I didn’t feel ill or anything. For a whole week I was very ill, I remember Beatrice coming in and Florence, and tears were dropping on my face. Before I went in for the operation the Doctor said, now we’ll have to get this thing out before it falls in the pedals won’t we. They discovered that something has pushed various organs out of place, and they put it right for me. He put his head round the door the next morning, and he said, aagh! you’re alright I can see, but I had to convalesce for a long time. I was staying in a little tiny crowded hotel, you feel like you don’t want to look at any one or do anything.
SC: So how long did it take you before you got back to work?
EB: I had to wait three months. It was a good job Florence could do the job.
SC: Did you get any payment during that time?
EB: No. I think I can honestly say it was the worst company I’ve ever worked for.
SC: They seemed to have worked you very hard and then not done anything for you, when you were ill. So, did you leave after that or did you go back.
EB: No, I carried on because my husband was in the Air Force still, and eventually......no I made a lot of good friends up there, the Lancashire people, are quite kind hearted, if they know you and they know you’re not pulling a fast one then, then you’re alright. Lawrence Wright was up there at the time, the impresario, he had a stroke while he was there and I used to push him in his bath chair to the end of the North Pier where we put the show on there, and he had a lovely flat in King George Avenue, with a Steinway piano. I used to go up and play for him sometimes. One time I was playing away, and he said, aagh! look who’s coming up, Tauber, oh I thought ‘really, so I struck up’– ‘You Are my Heart’s Delight’. He got to the door and he said, ‘It is in the right key’. He lived there, you see with his wife, Diana Napier, they used to go and have oysters in a little oyster shop under the tower every day. And another time old Hutch was coming up, but the world and his wife were there. Marks and Spencer’s buyers, I had a very good friend among those, they were all evacuated there. All the theatrical agents were there,
SC: This is still in Blackpool?
EB: Oh yes, five years of it, and the place was chock-a-block. Not only that we had the wakes, they would come over, the only place I could feel a bit of fresh air and nobody around me was the golf course. That saved me.
SC: You’re very keen on golf.
EB: Yes, I won three cups whilst I was there.
SC: Did you start playing gold when you were a girl?
EB: Well I was a teenager when I started, I had a boyfriend who was keen on it, and he started me off.
SC: That was down at Southend.
EB: That’s right.
SC: You did get some time off whilst you were in Blackpool, if not very much.
EB: Yes, that’s right. In the off-season days, you could lay golf in the morning. And that’s where I learnt to play bridge, I was very thankful for it too.
SC: Did you play for money?
EB: Only a penny a hundred.
SC: So, you didn’t win very much?
EB: Oh no, but I’ve got some cups to show for my golf, and some pictures.
SC: So, you were in Blackpool right up to the end of the War were you?
EB: Yes, right till the end of the war. When we heard that Dixon was coming back ...Mrs Dixon came to see me once, and she said, “what are you going to do after the war, Miss Baga”? and I said, “I hadn’t thought about it”. I knew what I was going to do anyway.
SC: What did happen?
EB: Well, I wanted to pick up my threads from London; I wanted to see my family again, and start doing things again.
SC: Was your Father still alive?
EB: No, he’d died, he was 78 I think, Mother was still alive, she died at 92.
SC: They were quite pleased with your progress in the profession.
EB: Oh yes, very much so. It was an envied job then really.
SC: What happened then, you got back to London.
EB: Before, I told Jefferson, I could have stayed there, but I didn’t want to play second fiddle to Dixon. Before I left the front page of The Radio Times had a picture of the tower, I made two records there you know, a picture of the tower myself and Dixon, and that was his smooth way of bringing him back. But what a send-off they gave me. I shall never forget it, the car was full of flowers, and they knew I was very fond of vegetables, you couldn’t get a lot of them up there, but I used to like fresh vegetables, so there was a huge basket, all round the handle was Brussell sprouts, there was cauliflowers, leeks, tomatoes, the lot, it was a thing of beauty. They were very appreciative, and after 40 years I went up to the tower, it was like old times, but what a difference, they’d cleaned the place up, because during the war, they had thousands there, the old floor would be going like this, with the people dancing on it, the Americans would get in a corner and jive. WE had an MC Mr Pigeon, he used to walk rather slowly, I used to call him.... (can’t make out what it is she say at this point)... and he’d go to the corner, and stop them, and as soon as he turned his back on them, they’d start again. The old floor was going up and down like this, but when I was in Rhodesia, playing at the Ridgway Hotel, in Lusaka, an army man, they had a meeting of some of the army up there, one came up to me and he said Miss Baga does the name Pigeon mean anything to you? Oh, I said, I used a Mr Pigeon who was the MC at the tower, and he said that was my Father. Strange isn’t it.
SCL But before you getting to Lusaka, of course you got back to London.
EB: Oh, I did a lot before I got there.
SC: Did you get back into cinemas; tell me what happened after you left Blackpool.
EB: I came back to London, I’d given up my flat in Hamstell Hill, and my Mother in Law had got a little bungalow in Shepperton on Thames, and that’s where, when Jim was demobbed, that was the only home we had to go to. And it was there, I had a call from, I’ll think of his name in a moment, he rang me up, “Miss Baga I’ve just been to the States and they’ve got some of these electronic organs in restaurants, I’d like you to play one for me in my Corner House”. “Oh”, I said, “that sounds very interesting”, - Neal Salmon, that’s it – “well get yourself an organ and fix it up and I want you to go to the Lyons Corner House, in Coventry Street”. So, I thought, the only organ available at that time was the Hammond, just getting known, but I’d heard a whisper that Comptons were making an electronic organ, so I thought, well it’s a British firm, why don’t we give them a chance. So I got Mr Moss the musical supervisor of Lyons to come with me, and we made an appointment up at Acton, with Mr ...., oh anyway, we go along and the man called Sperling, don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, he was a bit of an organist, he was working for them. The man we had made the appointment with, we couldn’t see, so I said, “well this is very strange, because this is Mr Moss from Lyons and Co., and we have a very interesting proposition for you”, I said, “I hear that you are making electronic organs”. “Well,” he said, “we have a prototype which we haven’t finished”. “Well,” I said “we’d be prepared to buy or even to hire”, I said, “it would be good advert for you, with your name on”. But we were treated like a couple of confidence tricksters, I said to Mr Moss, “we’re wasting our time, good day”. And after that we had 10 Hammonds being hired by Joe Lyons. So that will show you how backwards we are with our business transactions in this country. I stayed for two years at the Corner House, it was fun, and we had a very good....
SC: What were your hours there?
EB: It was afternoon, it was afternoon session because the night time they had the jazz bands up stars, and gypsy bands and that, it was chiefly afternoons.
SC: But you enjoyed it?
EB: Very much, all my pals, old Bill Davies used to come in and see me, all the other organists from the West End, they used to come in, we’d have a chat, but the managers’ names was a Mr Sheppard, and he was very musical and very nice, and I was playing away one day, watching everybody, and I thought there’s one piece that fits this situation, Sheep May Safely Graze, and I played it. It was very interesting.
SC: That job gave you much more time to yourself than the one at Blackpool?
EB: Oh lord yes.
SC: Did you go the cinema much in your off time?
EB: I don’t think I went into a cinema at Blackpool.
SC: I meant in London when you were doing the Coventry Street job.
EB: No, because once I got immersed with Hammonds, my work was on them, the electronics. I did the odd concert, Sunday concerts at cinemas; they were always going...now where was I, the Corner House.
SC: How did that compare financially with Blackpool?
EB: Well it was better paid, because by that time the war was over and things had improved a bit, it wasn’t marvellous, but it was better than I’d been getting in Blackpool.
SC: You were just about to tell me how you got back into playing at cinemas.
EB: My husband wish of his life time was to own a pub, and he managed to get one, in Twickenham, and of course that meant I had to give up my job at the Corner House, so I told Neil Salmon, I’m very sorry, he was a marvellous boss, very, very kind man, but my husband is going into the licensing trade and naturally I must go with him, he said, well when you come to your senses give me a ring.
SC: The pub was called the Jolly Blacksmith?
EB: Well never have I worked so hard for so little. We had to do lunches when the cook was off, I played in the lounge
EB: and of course, that attracted a lot of people, and I had three or four years of it, it wasn’t happy, because we could never go out together, it’s the sort of business that there’s got to be somebody responsible there to watch, especially the tills. We never went out together and one thing and another, I thought this is no life for me, I’ll insist on getting on for my broadcasts, I would not give those up, I was broadcasting regularly, my husband had to agree to that, thank god I did too, because it kept my name going. Well we broke up, I’d had enough of him, I thought this is no life, I used to have to cash up, four tills at night, cleared all the glasses, it’s hellish work.
SC: was it a nice pub in itself?
EB: No not really, it was very large and very cold in the winter, took a lot of heating, it’s horses for courses, but we were in the wrong place there, although we made a go of it, but I made up my mind, that I’d finish I’d had enough. The offer came to go to South Africa, a new life.
SC: Was this in the 50’s?
EB: Yes. The O’Connor brothers, they had several cinemas in South London, and when they saw risk coming in they decided to sell out. I think ABC bought 1 or 2 of them, The Regal, Kennington, was one of them. I played there several times for them, did odd weeks. They went to South Africa, they loved the country and the climate, it a beautiful country, sunshine all the time. They bought the Margate Hotel, three little dobs as they call them, on the coast there, between Port Elizabeth and Durban, one is called Margate and the other was is called Ramsgate, and the respected Mayors interchange, the Mayor from Margate used to visit Margate and vice versa, beautiful, beautiful sand, palm trees, Indian servants, it was like heaven.
SC: So, you went there on a contract for them?
EB: OH yes. It was there that I bought this Hammond organ, because I said to Albert, because they were friends of the family, we’d known them for years, and my late brother-in-law, had known them very well, he was a cinema man, and incidentally, there was all this business when Lou sold out to ABC, he had a cinema in Bridlington, where we used to go and play, and we had our sort of Baga Tricks radio programme.
SC: That was the act you had with your sisters.
EB: That’s right, the Baga Tricks, of Celeste, Beatrice, Florence and I, but the war broke us up, we were going to go touring. Any way I wrote to Albert and said I want a change of life, I’d like to come out and see you, do you want any organists out there, and he said, yes, we’re opening a new Palm Beach Hotel; you can come and open that. Which I did, but there’s such a lot to tell about my journeys out there, on the boat and all that.
SC: I was going to ask how you got out there.
EB: By sea, on the parcel boats, I had two escorts, I was ill because all this trauma of the divorce and that, nearly gave me a nervous breakdown, so I was ready for some change believe me. On the ship I had a bit of a set back and the doctor ordered me to bed, he said now you’re not to get up until I tell you, and I thought oh no, what am I missing. But I had two nice escorts, one man came from Kimberly, and another was a farmer from the East. We had a fancy-dress ball on board and he went as Mustafa Guinness, and I went as one of his wives, I was well enough for that. When we got to Table Mountain, it’s lovely place, Cape Town, there was a cloud over the top of the mountain, but anyway I said to the doctor, I must go, well he said you’ve got to come back to bed at 8 o’clock, after the dance, so these boys took me out and it was lovely, lovely city. I bucked up, and there was a Maharajah on board, with his nanny, he’d been recently married and she was very lovely, and they were a bit apprehensive as we getting near Cape Town, because of apartheid, but there was an English Lord and Lady, I forget their name now, they were passengers as well, they took them under their wing, and I think when they got to the hotel, they managed to get them accepted. Years afterwards when I was in Salisbury, Rhodesia, in the Javerson Hotel, which was multiracial, who should I meet but the Rajah, he said, are you’re following me, I said no, you’re following me.
SC: So, what happened about the job?
EB: This very nice hotel, the Palm Beach, this is a funny bit I must tell you. They made a great fuss of me the O’ Connors after all I had a reputation, and they gave a reception for me at the Eden Rock Hotel, where I met everybody, and I played for them a bit, and they took me to the Country Club and we had drinks out on the lawns, it was like heaven. They took me down to Margate, where I was going to play in the Palm Beach. He said we’re going to meet the Mayor, they were real cockneys, but very clever people, they made a lot of money, and he said you’re going to meet the Mayor of Margate now, but he said if you talk to your native servants you’d greet him and say ‘Sakabona’, that’s the Zulu word for hello, but he said when you meet the Mayor don’t say ‘Sakabona’, he’ll flay you, you must say, ‘Kudandit’ hello and how are you. There was a big reception and we all meet, up comes the Mayor.
SC: Was the Mayor white or black?
EB: Oh, he was white, so of course I said Sakabona, Albert said, “you ‘b’ fool, that’s the word I told you not to say”. Any way, it was a laugh; trust me to put my foot in it. Anyway, as I said, I had my native servant, everything was done for me, beautiful beaches, swimming every day.
SC: What was the work like?
EB: Easy, playing for dancing, whenever they wanted a recital I was there, and the people, all nations were there, Scottish, Irish, and Italian.
SC: You told me before we started recording about the big damn.
EB: Oh, that will come later, that was Rhodesia.
They stop recording to have a cup of tea
SC: When we were last talking you’d just made this awful faux pas which turned out alright, because everybody thought it was funny, with the Mayor, what happened after that, you were still in South Africa then?
EB: OH yes, I played at the Palm Beach Hotel, I opened it really, from the opening day, then I would go down to the Margate Hotel sometimes and would give a show there, which was only a little way up the road, and I got cracking with my golf, my handicap was 20, but in Blackpool I won a lot, I won three cups in one year. After this sojourn on the South coast, I felt I wanted to spread my wings, and I told the O’ Connors, I said I must see more of the country now. I had an offer to go to Johannesburg, and play in Cerro’s club there. But I had a cable from Rhodesia, friends of the O’ Connors, a doctor and his wife who had a huge tobacco farm, in Mandelas, which is 90 miles from Salisbury. I met them and they were lovely people, and they said we’re crying out for someone to entertain us, do come along and entertain us here, so I thought well, why not. So, it meant having the organ cased in two big wooden cases.
SC: The Hammond organ.
EB: Yes, the Hammond organ, console in one and the speaker and bench in the other, and my sister came over, Florence, and she thought she’d come up to Rhodesia with me. So we got it on the train, and we when we arrived at Salisbury we had to go through customs, and of course when they saw this two huge cases they thought what on earth. Then these tall sunburnt Rhodesian customs officer, ‘What is this madam’ well I said we are musicians, and it had on the cases ‘The Baga Sisters’, and we play and entertain on the organ and piano. I said music sooths the savage breast, and he said we’re not all savage here madam. That was my first faux pas, however.... I should go back a bit...I had an engagement offered me in Salisbury, at the Empress Restaurant. They knew I was coming to Rhodesia, but in the mean time I’d took this other engagement to settle myself in, and I had to use the organ, I played there for a few months, then the boss of the hotel, the Javas Hotel, offered me the job at The Javerson, which was a multi-racial hotel. And it was there that I saw Suritsekana and his entourage being wined and dined, because they wanted the rights of the mining lands renewed, of course it’s such a wealthy country, of you’ve got copper mines, gold mines, everything you could think of. Whilst I was there, who should I run into to but the Maharajah that I went over on the boat with, and he said, “Hello Ena are you following me”, and I said, “no you’re following me”. Well after a sojourn for a little while at the Javerson, I was playing for a lot of the Italian people who were responsible for building the Kariba Damn, they were staying there and one night they asked me if I would join them at their table, I had the organ in the dining room, which I did and they said Miss Baga, we would very much like you to come and entertain our workers, as the damn is nearly ready, we’ll send a lorry for the organ, and a private car for you and whatever friends you would like to go with you. I thought well this should be an interesting experience. We did this, when we got to Kariba it was like a huge ant hill, on the top of the hill was the little village of Kariba and the little chapel that was dedicated to the builders, it had no windows it was all grills, because of the heat, there was a hive of industry, cars dashing up and down this huge ant hill, as I call it, however we stayed in the quarters and the organ was out in the sports club, we had to take to door off because it wouldn’t go through, we got it on the stage there, then we had to have our meals in the huge dining room, they had logs fires, the heat was so intense we had to eat salt tablets to keep going, and bowls of spaghetti boiling on these huge wooden fires. So, I called it the Spaghetti and Cement Safari, I’ve never seen so much of either. They took us up, it was night time by this, there’s no twilight in South Africa or Rhodesia, and suddenly it’s dark. They took us to this observation post where you looked down and there was one sluice gate open, and on top of the damn all these black figures running around, it was like scene from Dante’s inferno. But what they didn’t tell me and I found out after that they had had a mass funeral because several men had fallen into wet concrete, and they wanted something to cheer the people up. The Italians I played all their songs for them, and they sang, there was one rather bad moment when I went to play the last item, and there was nothing, I thought oh no I’ve got no spare valves, no engineer, what the devil can I do, I was booked to play the next day another concert in the open-air cinema next door. Any way I called one of the electricians, it was a faulty plug, the organ was alright. The next day it was a bit cooler in the open-air cinema, and of course after that I did a lot of touring, I used to go on one night stand, but on dirt roads, just thee two pieces of tar.
SC: Were you driving yourself?
EB: Oh no, there were lots of prospectors there and people had jeeps and land rovers would help me to go from A to B, and I played at the big sports clubs, they had swimming pools, billiard tables, that was the only entertainment they had, there was no television as yet, oh and of course the radio.
SC: How long were you in Rhodesia for all together?
EB: Another year, it was a wonderful hotel, and eventually the boss of the hotel said I’d like you to go up to Lusaka, Zambia now, he said the Ridgeway Hotel is very nice there and I’d like you to play there. So, I thought ok, so I went up north. Beautiful hotel, it was built for the parliamentary bods, and there was the houses of parliament right next to it, and I used to go into the debates, but what I could never understand, that in Salisbury there was apartheid, but in Northern Rhodesia there wasn’t, because the dark people were in one side of the government house and the white people the other and they were discussing things, and then in cocktail parties they would be there with their pickaninnies, I thought where’s the apartheid, and nobodies been able to explain it to me.
SC: Rhodesia was still part of South Africa then wasn’t it? It wasn’t independent. I t was a beautiful hotel, it was manned by Zulu’s but they had one white man who was the manager. The organ was on a stage and they had a grand piano in the cocktail lounge, by a huge lake with all sorts of different fish in it. I used to play the piano, I had a little violin sort of thing, electronic thing, and I did several broadcasts in Northern Rhodesia, and I also accompanied a native boy, Alec McCartner, he would sing with a guitar and write some nice little songs, and he wanted a nice background so I made this record with him, organ accompany, it was very nice, very catchy little tunes he used to write. Then all sorts of incidents happened, I played golf there with the boss’s wife, the greens weren’t greens they were just cold tar and you had to have a piece of wood in your bag before you approached the green you’d smooth it out, but the trees and the fauna and flora were gorgeous in Rhodesia, beautiful.
SC: What sort of hours did this entail you working at these hotels, was it every night?
EB: Oh yes, a job like that in an hotel was an all-time job really, I used to get off to do broadcasts and things like that, but it was play for meals really.
SC: You played at team time?
EB: There wasn’t really tea time there, you’d play for lunch and then you’d have a break, and then you’d play for cocktails at 6o’clock, and the play during dinner. After a few months, I got a little under the weather, and I went to the doctor, well he said, you’d better go back to a static job, all this travelling is getting you down, it’s too much. I thought oh dear, but I realised it was no good making yourself ill, it was hard going, especially some of the travelling I did, miles and miles on dirt roads, I remember there was one incident I was in the lorry, taking the organ somewhere, this was before I’d tied up with Musaka, the lorry broke down, it was right by the Capillary River. I thought well I’ll just get out and stretch my legs a bit, I got out of the van, had a look round, trees there, with funny things growing all over them, I saw some yellow in the distance, I said, boy what’s that? Masoos that’s lion, so with the speed of two antelopes I rushed back into the van. We had to sit there and wait until another van came along and you stopped it and asked for help. That was right in the jungle that was. I nearly trod on a black mamba playing golf one day, the little caddies, if you lost your ball in the rough, you didn’t go looking for your ball. It was all very interesting, sunshine all the time. Well I went back to Durban, I was offered a job there in one of the hotels, along the front there, and I thought to myself well, I used to do some broadcasts. David Davies was the man in charge of all the radio at Larenza Marks, and I did a lot of broadcasts for him. I went back to this hotel in Durban, quite content to stay perhaps forever, but then I get a phone call from my sister, from Florence, she said I’ve just been on the Queen Mary for six trips, and I’m a bit tired, how would you like to see New York. Geraldo was the boss, he was the agent for the Queen Mary, they wouldn’t have ladies, but they’d had such disappointment with some of the men they’d engaged, they thought they’d try the ladies. Once again, I said “farewell”, and I started on the Queen Mary.
SC: What year was that?
EB: The early 60s, about ’62. Well it was hard work, they had an organ on the stage, clamped because sometimes you’d be playing it like this and sometimes you’d be playing it like that, it didn’t worry me, I’d been to South Africa and I’d done several jobs and felt alright, but mid Atlantic, my first recital, I was going to be sick, I thought I can’t be sick on the organ, what can I do? First class cocktail lounge, full of people, just at that moment the orchestra came back, I made a dash for the back of the stage where there was a champagne bucket, the stewards used to put one on the seat every time after that, but my god the mid-Atlantic, the cocktail bar on the Mary was just under the bridge, well you know the height of the Mary, well the waves would......
SC: You’ve already mentioned that you were on the Queen Mary, but before that, you actually did an interesting journey from South Africa to come back to England.
EB: Yes, that’s right, on the East Coast had some wonderful places, Lorenz Marks in Portuguese East Africa, there I visited the lovely radio house and watched David Davies compere one of his programmes. At Bira the next port, the captain took a party of us to a Portuguese restaurant, where we had chicken peri peri, I’d taken my accordion along and after breaking the ice with some Portuguese students the whole of the restaurant clientele were joining in and we did appreciate the men as dance partners, they made up for the toughness of the chicken. Which we suspected was pigeon. At Dare Salem, we met a former impresario from Salisbury, who happened to be on route to Mombasa, we went to a night spot called the Aquarius, pianist being exceptionally good there. Zanzibar was the next place, I was taken around and the smell of cloves was the first thing which hit you as you approached this Arabian Nights town, it was a brilliant moon light night and the four of us went around the narrow streets in a rickshaw looking up at the Moorish balconies, which almost touched each other across the street. Next stop was Mombasa, with fine bathing beaches and lavish hotels built by the Aga Khan. It took us six weeks in all, and we went to Cairo. We went through the dessert and we were with a man who was on board the ship he was something to do with ?Nylon? he and his secretary were aboard, and when we got to the middle of Cairo with the hotel the man in charge of this tour had arranged, he said to me, I don’t know about you Ena, but it’s terribly noisy, I would prefer to go somewhere else, I said sure. So, a few of us broke away and we went to the Mina House Hotel, which is right near the pyramids, and it was just after Christmas, we’d already seen some of these night clubs with the belly dancers, so we thought this is what we’re going to do tonight. But when we got to the Mina House, we checked in and we went into the cocktail bar for drink, and of course, grand piano in the corner, got me at it, and people started coming in and soon the bar was full, so the Manager and Chief of Police came up the piano, Madam your music is filling my bar, how long are you staying? Well I said I’m leaving for England tomorrow, Oh what a shame, if you ever come again we will not let you go. Well honestly, we had such a night, there was no belly dancing we were out flat the lot of us. Next day we went into the wonderful museum, of course it can take you months to see it all, but all that gold that came into the museum, we had lunch and we went...
SC: Did you go into a pyramid?
EB: What we did in the morning we went and had a camel ride. Oh gosh, well my legs were a bit too short for the stirrups, and I was afraid of falling, but the boss of the tour said now don’t give your dragger man anything, he’s already been paid, don’t you give him any tips. So we start off on this dammed uncomfortable thing, and all of a sudden, nylon man is in front of me on his camel, but I think he must have been a good horse rider, and all of a sudden he must have asked the drag man, can you take me back please, because the drag man gave the camel a whip on his back side, and he started going like this, and I thought oh no if he does that to me I’ll fall off. But it was most uncomfortable. However, that one thing I had to do and I did it.
SC: Then you went up to Port Said.
EB: We went to a lovely...the delta of the Nile, it was very interesting, we said to the Captain, now if we see the ship coming along the Suez Canal, and you spot us, give us a hoot or something, which he did, and he threw the light on us. Well e got to Port Said, and we embarked again on the ship, and I bought myself, we went into the sops there, I bought myself a radio which never worked. (all laugh). It got back to England in time for the Queen Mary, we went right to the top of Africa, and then as we saw the white cliffs of Dover I was weeping a bit. The custom boys came out and this is near the white cliffs of Dover, and they brought a message for me from my friends, welcome home and all that, I was crying like a baby. But it was really cold.
That was that, now the next thing that came on.......I did a season with Max Jaffa at Scarborough before I went to the Queen Mary. When I came back to London, I got myself a job at Boosey and Hawkes, because my Hammond organ had just been promoted, there were only two organs, electronics, the Lawry and the Hammond, and I told the boss who was running it, I said I’ve got a wonderful selling item for you, what this organ has been through in the jungle, nothing stops it from playing. So, I became their demonstrator for a time, and the composer, Freddy Curzon, was there at the time too, working there. Well I stayed there for a while, until I had to demonstrate a new sort of Hammond thing called the Extra Voice, it was only this size, it was a headache to play the damned thing, anyway, Max Jaffa came in one day and heard me playing, and he said, I like the sound of that, how would you like to come and play with me at Scarborough. I said well you’ll have to ask Jeffery Hawkes because he’s my boss, if he’ll release me, which of course he did, he said as long as you come back afterwards, when the seasons finished. We went up, it was very nice, we did some broadcasts and some televisions up there, and I managed to get a game of golf, it was a very successful season.
SC: Can I just ask, I thought you’d come back originally to go straight onto the Queen Mary, but you had some time to wait before you could take over?
EB: There was a little interim before, but I think when I came back from my six weeks, and my journey to Scarborough, that came after the Mary.
SC: Ah I see, reverting back to the Mary a moment, you did manage to see something of New York, while you were there.
EB: OH yes, my sojourn in New York, they had 24 hours, but the funny part before I could leave the ship, my first voyage. First of all, I had to go to Lime House, where the Chinese go before they embark, and I had a most rigid medical examination I’ve ever had. They passed me alright, so that was that. But getting off the Mary, we had to go to one of the state rooms down stairs, and put your hands in blood grease, three lots of finger prints, then you held a piece of wood with a number on, I’ve got the picture there, with my pass on.
SC: You look like a criminal.
EB: and before you put your foot on sacred American soil, that’s what you had to do.
SC: So how many trips to America did you make altogether on the Mary?
EB: Half a dozen. After that of course I got cracking with the Hammond organ. But I haven’t mentioned Copenhagen yet have I?
SC: When did that happen? After you’d finished on the Mary?
EB: Yes, Comogens Kilder who was the organist there used to take holidays and things, and Bobby Pagan used to go there quite frequently. I was invited to go for 6 weeks.
SC: Was it an hotel?
EB: No, a lovely cinema. I took a friend with me, one of my golfing friends, she liked travelling, she’d been all over the world, so we went from Harwich on the Crown Prince Frederick, lovely ship, and we looked through into the dining hall, and there was all the smorgasbord laid out there, and just after the war you never had anything, we were like the Bisto Kids looking through the window. We arrived at Esbugh; we then had to get to Copenhagen. When we arrived the secretary of the Manager of the cinema, was there to meet us, she didn’t speak much English, but she took me to the cinema itself, beautiful cinema, it’s been pulled down now, next to the Tivoli Gardens. There was a huge bar, then there was room where you put your dogs, another room where you put your babies and children, and they were looked after. I was presented in the middle of the afternoon, I was dying for a cup of tea, a big glass of gin and it, a drink that I never indulge here. They were a bit apprehensive seeing a lady player, they wondered whether I’d been in tweeds with flat shoes. When they realised I was a bit of a sport, I had to go and have meals with them at 10 o’clock in the morning, red white and blue on the table, schnapps and lager, it was a wonder I got up on the organ. Now the organ there was the same as the Warner Theatre, it came up in a circle, I did three broadcasts while I was there, spoke in Danish. Having a person with you was fun, you could go into night clubs, and you can go into bars, you can’t alone. So we had a very good time, and we stayed at the hotel, on the square, right near the cinema, The Palace Hotel. We used to send the page boy out for a couple of frankfurters and a couple of beers, and I went to the two bob brewery, I was invited to go there and see, they had a big grand piano there, of course I played and they all danced, and they had a thing there, there were bottles of beer clamped in it, and it was a big frame that was doing this all the time, so I asked, ‘What is that for’, they said ‘well we have to know how the beer travels on a ship’. It was lovely beer and they said the King was a great sport, loved his music, he would have loved to have been here with us. I know more about Danish history, well I did in those days, than I did English history because I used to go to all the palaces and places of interest. The last party before I left went on all night, we all had to be dressed as cowboys, and my hostess smoked a pipe, it was really wild, but they liked to enjoy themselves the Danes, very hospitable.
SC: So, what did you then, go back to Hammond Organ?
EB: No, no wait a moment, the ship I had to go back on was called the Parkston, it was an old baulk, I don’t know where the devil they got it from. The North Sea was rough, so I said to Chris, my pal; I’m not moving from here, I’m going to sit on this deck all night. Which I did. They washed me off with a hose the next morning, and she looked a bit green herself, but I vowed never again will I cross the North Sea by boat, I will fly. Well after that I did various odd jobs, the Hammond, and I was demonstrator for Hammond Organs, that took me to everywhere in the British Isles. Up to Scotland, I used to go to Aberdeen a lot, Edinburgh, Glasgow, the coastal towns the fishing ports, Bucky, Fraserburgh, and lots of travelling, but I didn’t mind, I was younger then.
SC: By rail were you going around?
EB: Sometimes by car, sometimes I went up in the van with the organs, but it was very interesting, I met lots of interesting people. We used to go to Wales, and then I was asked to go to Spain, still demonstrating, a different town every night. The Hammond Organs had just been in Spain, they had a prototype there, and they were making them there, and they were much dearer than they would have been here. I started off in Palma Majorca, then I flew to the North coast, Vigo, the dealer there had 10 sons, fine looking man he was, and he took me to a wonderful fish restaurant, I’ve never seen such fish like it before. The Spaniards were very appreciative, they were teaching the Hammond downstairs, in the shop. That was very successful, then I flew to Barcelona, but on the way, I had to stop on the way at a wonderful hotel that had been a Monastery, there was no plane from Vega to Barcelona that night, so I had to go by car, it was pouring with rain, it was in the Spring, and we got to this hotel, midnight. But it was a hive of excitement, lots of people there, full staff, and I checked in, and there was a menu that length, if I wanted steak and chips at four in the morning, I could have had it, wonderful place. Next morning, we flew to Barcelona. The boss there was man called Emilio Punty, he’s still there, and he was responsible for Hammonds Organs in Spain, and he wanted to take me to Andalucía meal after the concert, but I was so tired, I wanted to go to bed. But you know what the Spaniards are like. There was a Birthday party in the restaurant, and so the lights went out, they brought in flaming torches; we were waiting for our meal while all this was going on. It was very nice. Well after that, I had to fly to Bilbao, that’s a dodgy flight over the mountains, and the planes are very often late. So, this girl secretary from Barcelona she came with me, she said I think we eat here in the restaurant. I looked at the menu I thought I’d like some fish, and I saw the word ‘rape’ American style, so I started grinning, so this girl said why are you laughing, I said in England that is a very funny word, particularly the American style. We had a very nice meal and eventually the plane came. In Bilbao, there was a very interesting man there, a dealer, and he used to come over, when we had this big antique place, it’s now a dress shop, next to the Royal Garden, he used to come and but his antiques there, and he took me to a beautiful fish restaurant. After that the last one was Madrid. Several gentlemen came to meet me and one of them was blind, he was the man who had the shop with all the organs in, but you would never think he was blind; he would get on the escalators and talk away, and ran his business. Now I gave that concert in a most gorgeous college, where they had pictures of the Professors full size paintings, gorgeous place, so large, and I played one of the larger models of Hammond, but I didn’t have an additional speaker, I thought I don’t think this will get over without an extra speaker, but he assured me, no it will be ok. And of course, what went down in Spain like a bomb was Latin American. Sambas and Tico tico, and they loved it. We were invited to go into another room after wards for champagne and canapés, and I’ve still got the silver ashtray they gave me as a memento. Before I flew back next day, I went around Madrid with the secretary and it was just before the King came back to the throne, and I said how do you feel about your King coming back, Oh she said, we don’t mind, she didn’t seem very interested, not very enthusiastic, but then I flew back. I took up my duties, there were always plenty of places, and then we had to the Ideal Homes at Olympia. We had on one occasion a glass house with a revolving stage in the middle, with two organs on it, so as you were playing you would go around, and people could see you. Foolishly they asked a disc jockey one morning, I was on the evening shifts, all the kids knew this so and so, whoever he was, was coming, and they smashed the place. The women in charge had all blood running down. I don’t know why they did that, engaging someone like that doesn’t sell organs, so I missed that, but they were very interesting these sojourns.
On one occasion when the Compton people made one of their electronics, Florence would be on one stand demonstrating that, and I would be on the Hammond stand.
When I came back from South Africa the second time, I came back ostensibly to see my sisters and mother and all that, the little time I had before I went on the Mary, I did a Summer season, at Broadstairs, because the season had started and everybody was fixed up and I thought I should have come back earlier, but I had a call from the agent. Now the organist at Broadstairs he and his wife were playing the season, she was a singer and he was the organist, but he died suddenly, and of course they had to have somebody to carry on, so they sent for me, and I took over at Broadstairs. It was rather a sad sojourn for me, because whilst I was there my eldest sister died. The first day I went over to Bevancy Bay, to see the hydrofoil, and they were looking all over for me, and of course when I got back I got the news. But it was very interesting, but the weather wasn’t always so good. I used to play in a mackintosh and gloves, and of course Edward Heath had his craft in the harbour, and he gave prizes for us.
SC: You were on the Pier were you?
EB: No, it was a little band stand on the front. Yvonne the singer she was very sad all the time, it was a bit dreadful to lose your husband like that while you’re doing a job, she used to dress the children up, we’d have the King and the Queen, Jack Warner, the brother of Ethel Walters, he came and gave prizes on one occasion. Another place was the Isle of Man, I was asked to go over there. When I sent the organ over, they lost it in the cargo hall. So, I was there with no organ, something came in a cardboard box, one of those key boards, but they did damage the organ, they lost it then when they found it, it was damaged. That was very interesting, the people there, they are rather insular, and you’ve got to conform to their superstitions, when you go over a bridge there you have to greet the ‘little people’ and say good evening or good morning, I played at a little place called Port Erin in Bradaglenn, it was very picturesque, very nice. They used to come in and dance and I played for the Manx dancers, they’d never had an organ before, they’d only had a piano, but the power of the organ, they loved it, and every week we used to have them in costume, sometimes they sang without accompaniment, just the voice, then everyone had to join in and dance, and I’ve got the book they gave me as a souvenir with all the old customs, very interesting. In Castle Town there was a museum of black art, I’d heard about this and there were all sorts of funny things going on, on the island about black magic, some friends of mine said come down and have a look at it, yes it was rather weird, there were the cabalistic signs, and for the first time I discovered there was a society of English witches. I was looking around and all of a sudden, a vision in a black leotard came up, can I show you round Miss Baga, I’m Lady Olwen, I said unfortunately I was there with friends and I’m just going, but I’m very interested is the effect of the island black magic? Oh no she said its white magic. It’s a very interesting island, some lovely spots, and I enjoyed it, I used to play bridge with some of the council people.
Then there was Knightsturn Pavilion Weston Super Mare, I did a season with Mrs Mills and Ted Rogers. It was quite fun, nice little golf course there I used to go to, nice country around. I used to go over to Ireland a lot, Northern Ireland, and Ballymena, and Belfast, I had some interesting trips there. I went up the Mountains of Morn, the last time I was there and they had a huge reservoir there, but I had to have permission to go, it was well guarded. I remember going when I was much younger over from Fishguard to....oh I can’t remember, a little golfing place, the ship I went over on had been machine gunned during the war, Captain Faraday, he was charming, he said you must not go on any other ship but mine if you come to Ireland again, but I didn’t go there again, I remember now, Rosslare. I’ve done all sorts of odd jobs, I flew up to Inverness to play a film there, James Robertson Justice the actor, he was on the plane.
SC: When did you start doing things for the National Film Theatre?
EB: Well years ago, Florence was the Musical Director for some years. When poor old Arthur Duly died, he had Parkinson disease he couldn’t play much, they didn’t sack him, they kept him on, but he rang Florence and asked her to help him out, and she used to go, and then of course when we had a lot of silence she counted me in. I play still now sometimes in the Summer when the New Gallery wanted to show a film and give a recital, I do it for odd people, but it’s a job getting the films I want, I can’t get any Buster Keaton the only one I can get is College, I’ve used that, I can’t keep using it.
SC: There’s something very strange goes on with copyright with some of those old films.
EB: I know, Raymond Rohauer, the boss, he came to one of my films once and liked my fitting, well he has the copyright of all the Keatons, but he was coming to London, and he was going to arrange that I did the fittings for him, I was to meet him at the Mayfair Hotel, but I had a phone call from one of his hench-men here to say that he had died in New York of a heart attack, and that was a blow to me because I would have loved to do them.
SC: And is no body carrying on with that?
EB: Well they’ve got people learning to play to films now, but Robin who used to play with us he still goes there, but when the silents are on I always do a couple.
When we get back to the pipe organ, there was always the recitals in cinemas, there was the Walthamstow, the Granada at Walthamstow, they’ve got a very nice Christie there, a double console one. I made a recording on the Leicester Square. I just realised, what I forgot to tell you that after I’d been back a while, they decided to open an organ shop, in Chiswick, it was called The Sound of Music, and as they knew I was a bit tired of all that travelling, Hammonds, they asked me if I’d like to be a demonstrator and teacher there, because they knew it was just up the road. Well I thought, this is a good idea, I’m near home, and I started there, we opened the shop, we had a grand opening, Robert Carrier did his snacks and things, we had a band called Smiths, he had several shops he had one in Maidenhead, one in Guildford, one here in Chiswick and another one which I forget where that was. We had a grand opening, all the Hammond organs there, but, for while nothing happened, it takes a while for people to get to know. A boss came in one day, we were all sitting there, he said, this is coming to a grinding halt; you’re supposed to be the experts. But we realised to have just Hammonds wasn’t on, we had to have other makes. It became very successful, I used to give, two lessons every week in the evening. A lot of pupils came, some of them made good, some of them are still in the business now. I was there 6 years, until I thought I seem to being a lot of work, what for? Why don’t I take life a little easier, my health was suffering a bit, the Doctor said take life a little easier. So, I told them, sorry the Doctor says I’ve got to ease up a bit. They didn’t want to lose me of course, they gave me a lovely send off, but I thought to myself, I’m going to get myself a part time job. I heard that Chapels in Bond Street were looking for someone, but Bill Lee was the manager there, and he had the right idea, he wanted to put all the organs in the ground floor so people would see them, but a record bloke from Soho, he got in with his records, he bought most of the shares there, so he set all his records in there and all the pianos and organs had to go downstairs. So I went there for three days a week, and I gave lessons at night. I had to lock up the shop, set the burglar alarms and goodness knows what. I met a lot of interesting people there, the Duchess of Kent used to be one of our good customers, she used to come in with her son, and but music and stuff, very nice. But most of our commerce was to the Middle East, pianos, organs and I found myself having to fill in excise forms, I’m a musician, I don’t want to be doing all this, so I get fed up and I left.
SC: So, you do odd jobs now, but you were going to say about your 60 years.
EB: Well I play in a little theatre up in Ickenham, they put on a lot of shows and they’ve got a Yamaha organ that I play for shows and things. That’s very interesting. The odd concert comes along, or the odd film.
SC; Well you still do the National Film Theatre, you keep as busy as you wish to be?
EB: I’d like to travel more, but I’d like to go and see.....I’ve discovered I’m great Aunt to two ladies in Philadelphia, one is the librarian at the Philadelphia library and the other one is a nice violinist, but she doesn’t make enough money with it at the moment so she works for a vet. Julia just rang me up all the way from Philadelphia because she wants to come and see me, and I’d like to go and see them.
SC: Would be nice to go.
EB: I’m a bit nervous of travelling alone, sounds stupid after all I’ve done.
SC: Now what about your 60th year.
EB: I had a write up in the cinema organ society book last year, because I’ve done more really than 60 years in the business, which is quite an achievement, I hope.
SC: 1925 your first job was it?
EB: It was Southend, I was playing when I was 14 there, I was playing in Church, my Father was a choir master at the sacred Heart Church, and I was the organist.
SC: When you were 14?
EB: No actually when I was 12, and when I was 14 I started in the business, they sent round for me, one of the cinemas the organist had fallen ill and would I take the job, so the concert pianist which Father wanted me to be, well it was pushed aside for the moment, but the technique I acquired and the work I did has paid off, because you never know when you’re going to have to play a real classic.
SC: So it’s really over 70 years that you’ve...
EB: Shh, no not that, not quite (laughs).
SC: I know but counting if you started playing the organ in Church I mean. Well that’s great you have that all to look back on.
EB: Then you get, during the sixties and that; we used to have frequent broadcasts on the organ.
SC: It was very popular then, I don’t know what’s happened now, they don’t have so much broadcasting.
EB: They were on a Friday night, mainly electronic, not like the real pipe organs. Nigel Ogden gives me a date occasionally. But they concentrate on the young now, the young have to carry on......
SC: You were just saying that you’d celebrated your 60th anniversary and got some nice articles, looking back, we usually ask this in the interview, even if it sounds a bit silly, because the reply is obvious, but looking back, there’s nothing else you would have rather have done than what you’ve done professionally in music.
EB: No, I have much to thank music for, because it’s taken me to some wonderful places, you meet all kinds of people; it has its humorous moments as well.
SC: So if you’ started all over again, you’d still do the same?
EB: Oh yes I think so, well it was the natural thing for us when we were all together, we were four girls, three girls, Beatrice, Celeste and Florence, they were already practically in the business before I came on the scene.
SC: Yes because there was a big gap between you and your next sister.
EB: Yes, I used to be taken along when Florence was doing a bit of courting, and I used to chaperone, and I used to way up the fellas by what they gave me, if it was a bar of chocolate I didn’t think much of him, but a box of Fullers well that was alright.
SC; Tell me, you’ve mentioned as we went along, you can in fact play quite a variety of musical instruments, apart from the organ and piano.
EB: Well I learnt the violin.....now when I played at one of my first jobs, which I’ve already mentioned I think, was the Theatre in West Cliff, The Palace Theatre, after I left the Palace Hotel, I went to the theatre, I had plenty of work as old Seybold the violinist wanted a pianist, and I would play piano in the theatre with the orchestra, but when the musical show cam e along, and a conductor, it was usually a piano conductor, so I was laid off and paid, they didn’t like that you see, the leader of the orchestra, Phillip Larveer, said why don’t you learn the violin, I’ll give you some lessons. So I scraped away, I got to the third position, but when the Carl Rosa opera came along, and I had to play the score, I was in fear and trembling, I had a bit of solo, so I used to stick my head out and say to the conductor, you’re going to get it now. It was a very difficult instrument, unlike a keyboard, with a keyboard you press the note and it’s made for you, but with a string instrument you’ve got to make that note.
SC: What else did you play?
EB: An accordion, I enjoyed that, I used to take to various places in South Africa where I couldn’t take the organ, and I learnt that one tribe will never dance with another, they always stick to their own tribes to dance. Father used to play the ocarina, that’s an unusual thing.
SC: Remind me what one is?
EB: It’s a little....you blow it like a flute but it’s made of a kind of china, they’re not used very much, he played a harp, now the girls when they were quite young, they had Celeste and Florence, little harps, which Father taught, but of course they gave it up afterwards.
SC: Did you play the harp?
EB: No, I played the celesta, sometimes you play that with an orchestra.
EB: Oh we had one at home. I don’t think I can add much more, I shall probably think of some amusing thing when your gone.
SC: Well any way for now, thank you very much; it’s been very entertaining, and interesting.
EB: My sister Beatrice unfortunately...... she had a flat with her husband in Victoria, and we went to see her one day, Florence and I and she was lying on the floor dead, that was an awful shock.
SC: Are you the sole survivor of the sisters?
EB: Florence and I, that’s all that’s left, there’s these grand nieces in America.