MUSICAL MEMORIES OF PONTEFRACT
by MARGARET E. OATES
(above) Margaret Oates with a baritone saxophone -
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.
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
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)