BBC Radio Orchestra
In the early 1960s, the BBC Radio Popular Music department was formed. It inherited both the BBC Revue Orchestra (RO) and the BBC Variety Orchestra (VO) and immediately began to investigate the possible amalgamation of the two ensembles, which virtually duplicated each others' outputs.
On Oct. 14th 1963 a memo noted that the two orchestras (RO and VO) would be combined to record a Christmas Day special, conducted by Michael Collins, on December 3rd. A memo from Mark White dated Nov. 1st warned that "we must be careful not to create a 'new' orchestra" in case of antagonising the then powerful Musicians' Union, and that furthermore any players not required for the combined ensemble could not be simply dropped for the occasion but would require extra parts to be copied for them. These amounted to 3 trumpets, one trombone, two woodwind players and a pianist, all of whom would have to be employed!
A memo of Dec. 20th mentioned the possibility of forming a pool of players for various combinations, and on Dec. 30th Michael Standing (Assistant Director, Sound Broadcasting) asked for "detailed illustrations" of how these combinations might be used.
A memo dated 1st January 1964 (no Bank Holiday, then!) from Ken Baynes (Head of Popular Music, Sound) to ADSB, CPO(S) agreed that the duplication of the VO and the RO was "extremely unsatisfactory", and suggested that the solution was to terminate the musicians' contracts and re-engage the same total number to form a new ensemble. It was also noted that "as a side issue, this may well be the time to re-audition any players of doubtful quality".
On March 31st 1964, BBC Radio's Head of Programme Contracts, G.M. Turnell, wrote to the Musician's Union telling them that "we have decided to reorganise the Variety Orchestra and the Revue Orchestra....effective Oct. 1st 1964". The response, from the M.U.'s Assistant General Secretary J. Anstey dated April 13th, was, predictably, outraged - "I must say that I personally am astonished and disturbed to learn of the Corporation's plan about the BBC Variety and Revue Orchestras.." - and expressed the hope that the BBC would not implement the plan until the Union had discussed the proposals.
This hope was dashed by the reply dated April 15th from Turnell telling the M.U. that "the orchestras are being told today" and that press enquiries were likely. This apparently cavalier attitude was probably prompted by the BBC's belief that the M.U. was not being totally honest with them, as the April 17th memo from Turnell to Ken Baynes makes clear. "It is quite obvious that the Union told the orchestras about the re-organisation without letting me know they were doing it. Considering that we gave them advance information before taking action, I do not think this is very satisfactory"......"We must now, of course, proceed with the arrangements for the re-organisation and leave the Union to make any representations that they wish about points of lesser importance".
In fact the arrangements for re-organisation were well in hand by then, as the memo of 3rd April from Mark White showed. This included a complete listing of the proposed combinations which could be formed out of the 56 musicians who were to make up the new orchestra, and comprised, in addition to the full "A" orchestra, no fewer than 10 separate combinations in four groups, B,C,D and E.
The (New) Radio Orchestra
Although the re-organisation was obviously in hand, on June 9th a memo from Ken Baynes revealed that a name for the new orchestra had not been agreed. Admitting that there wasn't much room for manoeuvre, the department head suggested briskly "Let's call it The Radio Orchestra". On June 24th a memo to all Light Entertainment producers stated that the new orchestra would come into being on October 4th.
On September 9th Mark White (Organiser, Popular Music Services) produced what was possibly the smallest memo ever sent within the BBC, with the subject "New Aeolian Hall Orchestra", stating definitively that "It has now been decided that the title of the New Aeolian Hall Orchestra will be THE RADIO ORCHESTRA.
Unfortunately the effect was spoilt by the insertion in red ink of the word NEW between THE and RADIO!
The A Orchestra
This had 56 posts for full-time players, comprising
3 basses (one vacancy, and it was noted that T.M. Hutchinson would retire 7.2.68)
5 Saxes (comprising Jimmy Chester, Bill Jackman, Andy McDevitt and Derek Hyams, with one vacancy)
4 Trumpets (Jimmy Harrison, Stan Newsome, R. Hughes and Dennis Roe)
4 Trombones (Bobby Lamb, Derek Tinker, J. Wilson and Tommy Cook)
2 Percussion (Jackie Dougan on drums, Les Johnson percussion)
Piano (Denis Gomm)
Harp (Maureen Mulchinock)
Guitar (Denis Newey)
John Jezard and Juilan Gaillard, previously the respective leaders of the VO and the RO, were appointed as joint leaders, the intention being that they would take it in turns to lead sessions whilst the other one played in the section. This arrangement, perhaps not surprisingly, did not work out, as neither player felt comfortable playing under the other's leadership, and John Jezard quietly left the scene.
The only studio large enough for the A1 orchestra was the Camden, and in May 1967 a series of recording sessions with a range of conductors – one each week - was scheduled. Titled “This is the Radio Orchestra”, the series was produced by John Billingham and introduced by Michael Aspel. The Studio Manager was John Andrews, and the conductors, who brought their own arrangements, included Ron Goodwin, Frank Chacksfield, “Monty” Mantovani, Johnny Harris, Geoff Love and, with his Frank Sinatra arrangements, Nelson Riddle.
Some of the salaries at the time of the formation of the orchestra (shown as weekly payments in pounds, shillings and pence) are of interest; John Jezard was on £45.0.0, Julian Gaillard £42.0.0, rank and file strings £26.0.0. The lead saxophone Jimmy Chester was paid £35.0.0, his colleagues £32.7.6, whilst the trombone section had three rates, with Bobby Lamb being paid £33.0.0, Derek Tinker £29.7.6 and the other two £31.7.6 - rather strange as Derek Tinker usually played all the quiet - and most difficult - solos.
It was obviously a source of great satisfaction to the adminstration that the total annual salary bill, at £86,729.10.0, showed a saving of £468.0.0 compared to the previous combined salaries of the Revue and Variety Orchestras!
B1 and B2 Orchestras
The B1 Orchestra, with a complement of 30, was effectively a dance band with strings in the Billy May/Nelson Riddle style, with 5 saxes, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, guitar, bass, drums, 10 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos. All the players in the sax section played one or more other instruments including flutes, piccolo, clarinets and different varieties of saxophones, and the pianist was surrounded by a celeste, an upright "jangle" piano and often an electric organ. This totals 31, as the guitar was an official "augmentation".
The B2 Orchestra, with a complement of 26, used the components of the A Orchestra not required for the B1, which resulted in a line-up of 10 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 2 basses, 2 flutes, oboe, percussion, harp and guitar.
C1 and C2 Orchestras
The C1's 16 players formed the same dance band as that which was the basis of the B1, augmented by a guitar, and was known as the BBC Radio Big Band. This left 40 players for the C2, which gave a very good "Frank Chacksfield" style orchestra of 20 violins, 6 violas, 6 cellos, 2 basses, 2 flutes, oboe, percussion, harp and guitar, with the augmentation of a piano.
D1, D2 and D3 Orchestras
The D1 orchestra was identical to the C1, and the D2 was the same combination as the B2 but less one bass and plus a piano. This left the D3 comprising the string section of the B1 orchestra (10 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos) plus a bass - not a particularly useful combination. In practice four of the violins were moved into the D2 to match the arrangements used by Semprini, and the "leftover" strings were utilised by pianist/arranger Ken Moule, with the addition of a drummer.
E1, E2 and E3 Orchestras
These three combinations were proposed during the planning of the re-organisation but were never implemented.
The E1 (7 players) was to comprise 4 trumpets, an electric organ, bass and drums. The E2 (29 players) was the largest combination, with 10 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos, 2 flutes, oboe, 4 trombones, percussion, harp, guitar and piano, and the E3 (20 players) would have 10 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, bass and 5 saxes. A footnote suggested that the trombone and sax sections could be interchanged between the combinations. It does not seem surprising that no E orchestra sessions ever took place.