West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Memories and Recollections



Margaret Oates with a baritone presented by her husband

(above) Margaret Oates with a baritone saxophone -
a wedding anniversary present from her husband Ken.

I was one of many young people in Pontefract who were taught piano and singing by Miss Agnes Scott who lived at 37 Wakefield Road. She was excellent, particularly for initial grades because she had great patience. Miss Scott also taught Ethel Gardner, a soprano who took the lead in many productions of the Pontefract Operatic Society.

My best friend, Christine Parker, was taught by Dr. Chapple who lived on The Mount. Christine's father was the Probation Officer and he was a very kind and caring man.

Eventually Christine and I became pupils at Pontefract Girls High School. We came under the influence of Miss Hilda New who taught mathematics but whose real passion in life was music. She will be remembered by lots of older musicians who read the Digest because she was central to all the orchestral concerts in the town.

Miss New needed a clarinettist for the orchestra and in double quick time she loaned me an instrument and arranged lessons for me. So began something that led to my career in music. Miss New arranged for Christine and myself to attend residential courses at Sherbourne in Dorset and Canford in Hampshire during the summer vacations. These were run by musicians from orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic, London Symphony etc. and were very rewarding musically as well as being great fun socially.
As Christine and I progressed with our music we studied with Mr. Eric Holden FRCO, who was the organist at the St. Giles’ Parish Church and music master at the King's School. Apart from taking music examinations we were also required to enter musical competitions. I was helped greatly on these occasions by Dr. Fraser, the town’s Medical Officer for Health, who was an excellent accompanist and who also played oboe in Miss New's orchestra. Another member of the orchestra’s wind section was the flautist, Mr. Tom Luckman who had a highly professional talent for playing the harmonica. He won a National Music Contest and also played on Radio Luxembourg. The orchestra itself was led by Clarence Littlewood who was a first rate violinist.

In 1953 I was awarded a County Music Scholarship to study clarinet and piano at the Royal Academy of Music. It was a happy and exciting time to be a student in London. We were in a privileged position of being able to obtain free tickets to the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne and Wigmore Hall etc., so we saw and heard many of the world's most famous artists. I was in the Academy orchestra, which often played in the Royal Albert Hall and the Festival Hall under famous conductors such as Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir Adrian Boult and Ernest Read. In 1954 Christine was awarded a scholarship in music to Girton College, Cambridge.

In my last year at the Academy, and as part of my course, I taught music at Queenswood School for Girls. It not only helped me financially but also made me realise how pleasant life could be in a top public school.

In June 1957 I completed my studies and decided to find a place to enjoy my first summer of freedom from studies. Big Bands were still very popular and holidays abroad had not yet started. The All Girls Orchestra of Ivy Benson was due to play for the season at the Villa Marina on the Isle of Man and I obtained a place in the saxophone section. Another member of the orchestra from the Academy was trombonist, Sheila Tracy. Sheila became a BBC TV announcer and still comperes all the programmes for the BBC Big Band. The other bands in the Isle of Man at the same time were The Squadronaires with Ronnie Aldrich and the Mackintosh Band.

I was contacted by the BBC about joining Ivy Benson and they asked me to appear playing clarinet and alto saxophone on a programme that was very popular at that time called, "In Town Tonight". Many readers will remember the opening words, which were, "Once again we stop the mighty roar of London's traffic to bring you interesting people who are In Town Tonight". I was introduced as a girl from Pontefract who had just finished her studies and was joining Ivy Benson's orchestra. Firstly I played the clarinet in a Benny Goodman arrangement of Darktown Strutters Ball accompanied by the Max Abrams Trio. There then followed the usual questions on musical topics and musical life in London before finally I played saxophone in a Johnny Hodges arrangement of Sweet Georgia Brown.

Christine Parker had also finished her studies in Cambridge and joined the Linden Singers who were much in demand on the BBC Third programme. Christine also became the accompanist and musical director for John Hanson, the singer who was often seen on TV.

A very popular comedy series on the radio was The Goon Show with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. The musical director for the programme was Walter (Wally) Scott. Christine became engaged to him and eventually they married. Early in his career he had been the lead alto saxophonist in the Geraldo Orchestra and he had studied orchestration and counterpoint with Matayas Seiber. When the Goon Show ended he became the director of music for 'Hancock's Half-Hour'.

A well-known film for which Wally composed and conducted the music is 'Watership Down'. He and Christine were close friends of Bryan Forbes and his wife Nanette Newman. Bryan Forbes produced lots of films and Wally wrote and conducted all the music for sixteen of Bryan's films.

At the end of my summer in the Isle of Man it was time to return to a more permanent position. I had enjoyed teaching in a public school and so I became music teacher at the Royal Merchant Navy School, set amid lovely grounds with a large lake in Berkshire. A year later, during my summer vacation, I took a short holiday with my parents in Pontefract. My father was Arthur Hill, the pharmacist and manager of Timothy Whites and Taylor’s Chemist in Cornmarket. Next door was Ryder's Furnishers, the manager of which was John Oates who ran the band at Wordsworth's Ballroom. He asked me if I would like to play in his band for the Saturday evening along with his brother Henry. It was there that I met my future husband Ken, who was John's youngest brother. It wasn't long before I returned to Pontefract permanently.

The West Riding County Council appointed me peripatetic teacher of woodwind, which involved teaching woodwind to selected talented pupils in various parts of the West Riding.

In 1960, Ken and I married and had our first house built opposite All Saints’ Church, which is now the vicarage. The organist at the church was Jim Belford who eventually retired and was followed by Dr. Atkins. Sometimes, because of medical duties, he was unable to play and so I became the deputy organist for Saturday weddings.

Ken commuted daily from Monkhill Station to Leeds University and studied hard at night.

I had always enjoyed singing and when Peter Whitehead, the organist at St. Giles’ Church, established the Priory Singers, I joined the group. Sometimes we sang a programme of Victorian songs and this gave us an opportunity to wear dresses of the era.

Priory Singers Pontefract

The Priory Singers at a Victorian Evening, Northgate C of E School, Pontefract, on 31st January 1967.
Back Row: unknown, unknown, unknown, Molly Garbutt, Enid Whitehead.
Front Row: Pam Mercer, Margaret Oates, Marjorie Hodlin.

By 1969 we had three sons and Ken was appointed to a senior academic post in the newly opened Lancaster University. We moved there to the south side of the city, convenient for the University and research at the Infirmary.

Music still featured in my life and until very recently I played in the Jan Brezinka Big Band. The photograph on page one shows me with the baritone saxophone that I played, which was a wedding anniversary present from Ken.

Christine and her partner moved to Hollywood where he composed and conducted the music for several TV series such as ‘Dynasty’, ‘Dallas’, ‘Cagney and Lacey’, and ‘The Colbys’. He orchestrated the music of John Williams for 'The Empire Strikes Back', 'E.T.', 'Superman' and 'Schindler’s List', along with many other well known films. He has twice been nominated for an Academy Award.

During the summer they visit Pontefract to see relatives and stay at Kings Croft. Afterwards they come to stay with us in Lancaster. Several years ago they showed us a video of a party held at their home and among the guests were George Shearing, Mel Torme, Henry Mancini and Andre Previn.

Ken has now retired from the University but he has the post of Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Electron Microscopy, so he sees friends and colleagues in the Senior Common Room.

We live on the southern edge of the Lake District enjoying the beautiful scenery there and I have returned to my first love of classical music by playing in the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra in Kendal which has 76 musicians. However, our hearts are with the White Rose County and we will never forget our hometown of Pontefract, where we visit regularly to see our dear friends Roy and Doris Atack.

Margaret Oates (nee Hill)

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