Van Dam and his Orchestra

Alfred Van Dam was born in London on 1st March 1902. After studying at the Guildhall School of Music, he joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company at the age of 17 and, at 19, began a 12-year association with Gaumont-British, conducting orchestras on their circuit.

After a spell at the Trocadero, Elephant & Castle, Van Dam was appointed Musical Director of the famous State Orchestra at the Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn. Broadcasting began in 1931 and Alfred Van Dam and the State Orchestra were regularly heard on the air over the ensuing decade.

Van Dam tried to establish a 25-piece light orchestra in the Royal Air Force to provide entertainment for RAF personnel as and where required. The RAF thought that this was a wonderful idea and the the orchestra were conscripted 'en bloc'. Unfortunately Van Dam's eyesight was not very good and he failed his medical examination. As a result, the whole idea fell through, but the musicians who had already joined the RAF had to remain there for the duration, having lost the special posting for which they had volunteered!

Van Dam formed a new orchestra in 1943 from musicians ineligible for the services and had a long association with the Golders Green Hippodrome. He resumed broadcasting; having appeared eight times on 'Music While You Work' with the State Orchestra he went on to play a further 132 editions over the next 15 years. He was also heard many times in the breakfast- time programme 'Morning Music'. In common with several other theatre orchestras, the Van Dam Orchestra ceased broadcasting in 1958, at a time when the use of conventional orchestras in the theatre was diminishing. The BBC was also rationing the appearances of such combinations, which were larger and more expensive than many of the other ensembles in use. Believe it or not, there is even a BBC memorandum advocating minimal use of theatre orchestras in the hope that they would disband. Many duly obliged!

Alfred Van Dam died in 1973.

Music While You Work at 3.45 p.m. on 14th June 1957
Played by Vam Dam and his Orchestra

Calling All Workers (Sig)
Entry of the Gladiators
Carousel Waltz
Two Guitars
The March Hare
Theme from the Threepenny Opera
Shooting Star
Selection: Maid of the Mountains
Calling All Workers (
arr. Martin

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Text by Brian Reynolds : e-mail