Norman Whiteley and his Sextet

Although Norman Whiteley and his sextet only broadcast for about two years, (at least in Britain), Norman was a long established broadcaster as a solo pianist and accompanist.

Norman was born in Alberta, Canada on 14th July 1913 and his first broadcast with the BBC was in 1937, when he was appearing at the Grand Hotel, Manchester. There is evidence to suggest that he formed a sextet, consisting of piano, violin, 2nd violin (doubling tenor sax), Alto sax(doubling baritone), bass, vibes etc. However, this does not appear to have achieved regular broadcasting.

Norman Whiteley was an accomplished classical pianist as well as being an adept rhythm pianist. Indeed, at one stage he wrote to the BBC expressing concern that his activities in the world of popular music might work against him as far as his classical broadcasts were concerned; the BBC quickly assured him that his fears were groundless.

In addition to his activities at the keyboard, Norman Whiteley ran an agency which supplied variety entertainers for radio. Broadcasting in the North region, he often accompanied singers as well as playing solo features with broadcasting orchestras. During the war, he became Northern representative for the music publishers, Campbell, Connelly. He appeared in 'Workers' Playtime' and later on, in 'Morning Music'. He also appeared in such programmes as 'Keyboard Cavalcade', 'At the Piano', 'Time for Music', 'Music at Teatime' and 'Continuous Performance'. In the 1940's and early fifties, he played with the BBC Midland Light Orchestra, Toni and the North Pier orchestra from Blackpool, Van Dam and his Orchestra, David Java and his orchestra, Troise and his Mandoliers, and with Bernard Monshin's Rio Tango Band in the series 'Music in your Home'

Norman Whiteley moved to London in 1946 and formed a trio (piano and celeste, bass and guitar). He asked the BBC if he could appear in 'Piano Playtime' and, perhaps unwisely, sent in a demo recording of his playing. Unfortunately, the BBC said that it was full of wrong notes and insisted that he re-audition! Not surprisingly, Whiteley was incensed that, as a long-standing broadcaster, he should again be required to prove himself, and he was none too pleased at the suggestion that his demo disc contained wrong notes, and insisted that he had merely reinterpreted the pieces in his own way. Let's face it, what musician would be stupid enough to send in a demo containing wrong notes!!

Soon after this, the Norman Whiteley Trio was contracted to do a couple of 'Music While You Work' programmes. After they had been broadcast, the programme's Organiser, Kenneth Baynes expressed the view that a quintet would be better for the show and it was agreed that an accordion and a violin would be added on the next broadcast. Unfortunately, the broadcast turned out to be a disaster, the quintet being compared to a village band! Apparently, the broadcast was so disorganised that there was discussion as to whether or not one piece should be included, right up to the start of of transmission and in the event, two pieces had to be left out. The BBC expressed the view that whilst the individual musicians were not to blame, the programme was badly built and that Whiteley was not up to organising a group such as this, stating that such a task required organisational skills, and a cool head - qualities which they felt that the bandleader lacked. Whiteley conceded that the broadcast was unsatisfactory and asked for the quintet to be given another chance. The BBC declined!

Like many musicians of his era, Norman Whiteley was a prolific composer, with titles such as 'Flippant Fingers' (the title of one of his radio series), 'Water Spirit', 'Blue Prelude', 'Dance of the Drunken Flea', 'Kitten in the Main Street', 'Sideshow', 'March of the Little Soldiers' (dedicated to the then Lt. C.H.Jaeger, for many years Director of Music of the Irish Guards Band) Other titles included 'Bell Ringers Ball', 'Pearly', 'Golliwogs' Square Dance', 'Air for a Summer Evening', 'Granny's Spinning Wheel', 'Kathleen May', 'Flat Foot', 'A Song for Penelope' and his best known composition, his signature tune 'Dusky Aristocrat'.

In 1952, Norman Whiteley was taken seriously ill, with a coronary thrombosis. Even after he recovered he was ordered by his doctor not to work for a year. He eventually returned to broadcasting in 1955, appearing with the Southern Serenade Orchestra and giving piano recitals in the series 'At the Piano'.

In 1957, Norman Whiteley and his Sextet took to the airwaves - piano, three violins, guitar, bass and percussion. Whatever reservations the BBC may have had about the earlier quintet, these were forgotten about, as Whiteley produced a most attractive light music combination, in which he usually featured a couple of numbers from his 'three in ragtime', jangle piano, bass and banjo. The group obviously pleased the BBC who gave them lots of dates. By 1958, they were playing in 'Morning Music' and in 1959 joined the 'regular' contributors to 'Music While You Work', for much of the year playing alternate weeks with 'Morning Music'.

On November 14th 1959 Norman Whiteley and his Sextet played their last sesson for the BBC as Norman had been asked by an American music publisher to open an office in Sydney, Australia. This company, Belinda Music, subsequently became very successful. in 1966 Norman presented to Kenneth Baynes an LP record, privately produced, of his first and last broadcasts with the sextet. The LP label had on it 'With best wishes to Kenneth Baynes, who probably did more than anyone to establish Music While You Work in the British Isles.' It is personally signed by Norman Whiteley. I know this because I now own this record!

 

Noting that the BBC would be short of an ensemble, fellow M.D. Bernard Monshin suggested to the BBC that pianist Maurice Arnold should take over the sextet and this was agreed. It then became Maurice Arnold and his sextet for some years, although Arnold gradually stamped his own hallmark on it by introducing his own repertoire.

In Australia, Norman Whiteley reformed his sextet (probably unaware that his original group was now under new management) and broadcast for several years for the Australian Broadcasting Company. Then, in 1966, Whiteley decided to return to Britain, as his daughter was at university here and his family were back in England. He wrote to the BBC asking if he could resume broadcasting with his sextet. Unfortunately, this was at a time when ensembles of this nature (including Maurice Arnold) were 'getting the chop'. Norman Whiteley's letter remained unanswered, and he never broadcast again.

Norman Whiteley died aged 62 on 17th April 1976.

Click here!
Listen to 'Music While You Work' played by Norman Whiteley and his Sextet
as broadcast on 16th. September 1959 from 10:30am to 11:00am.


MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK at 10:30 a.m. on 16th September 1959
played by Norman Whiteley and his Sextet

Calling All Workers (sig)
Wait for me
Swedish Polka
Cat on a Cool Tin Roof
Hayride
Swiss Dancing Doll
I know why
Country Rig
Trampolina
Lock Up Your Daughters
Jamaica Walk
Ragtime Medley
. Tiptoe through the tulips
. Rock-a-bye your baby
. Black-eyed Susans Grow
. Oh you beautiful Doll
Dusky Aristocrat
The Trolley Song

Calling All Workers (
sig)
Eric Coates
G. D'ansi
Hugo Alfven
Mel Granville
Ron Goodwin
Albert Ketelbey
Harry Warren
E. Clifford/C. Payne
Geoff Love
Laurie Johnson
Cecil Norman
arr. Whiteley
J. Burke
Jean Schwartz
R. Whiting
Nat Ayer
Norman Whiteley
H. Martin/R. Blane
Eric Coates

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Text by Brian Reynolds : e-mail brian@mastersofmelody.co.uk