The MP3 above was produced on the 30th July 2016 from the aluminium EKCO disc entitled “Reginald Foort” dated 4th July 1938. This is a recording my grandfather made of a BBC radio broadcast from organ maestro Reginald Foort. Once voted Britain's most popular radio star ahead of Gracie Fields , Reginald was the BBCs first full time theatre organist. Between 1936 and 1938 he gave a regular show which was broadcast from St George's Hall, Langham Palace. Each performance was characterised by his beguiling signature opening tune "Keep Smiling". In this recording Reginald acknowledges his listener's requests before playing the popular "Skater's Waltz" by Emil Waldteufel. The recording has been edited to remove noise and do Reginald Foort's velvet tones justice. A "before and after" MP3 is provided below.
Although much noise has gone a regular "graunch" remains at the start of the recording. This is an artefact of a "wobble" in the disc which is worse at the outer edges and diminishes towards the centre. Fortunately by the time Reginald is heard the "graunch" has disappeared.
The 1930s were the organ's golden age as it enjoyed a stream of enhancements. Electro-pneumatic action liberated it from mechanical constraints and expanded its range. It's popularity rose even though "talkies" had replaced the silent films it accompanied in the cinemas. So Reginald now decided to employ all these advantages and go on a tour of Britain with a wondrous organ of his own design.
A description of this melodious leviathan can be found on the website of The American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS). This provides tantalising if somewhat obscure glimpses ... "His final design had 5 manuals (keyboards) and 27 ranks (sets of pipes) ... Weighing in at 30 tons, the organ had 27 ranks distributed on nine steel frames, each self-contained with its own windchests, regulators and tremulants ... They had to travel with six different blower motors - to account for the different electric system throughout Great Britain ... a staff of fifteen that included four truck drivers (who rapidly became organ experts), three organ builders, two electricians, and two stage riggers"
Over the war years Reginald and his convoy toured Britain tirelessly, raising morale in the country's bombed towns and cities. In Liverpool the show continued through an air raid, despite fire breaking out in the theatre and the disparagement of a music critic who felt the "staged" pyrotechnics and sound effects overwhelmed the classical harmonies. Even the rationing of diesel and the RAF commandeering his trucks didn't stop Reginald. Instead he downsized his repertoire and continued his tour by train. Only after the BBCs own organ in London was destroyed by bombs did he decide to end his tour so that he could give the country his own.
Remarkably, more than 30 years after their separation, Reginald and his organ would be re-united across the Atlantic: in 1975 in a restaurant near San Diego where it had been installed following refurbishment at the Moller factory of its origin; then in 1979 (the year before he died) when it was donated to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. On each occasion his American admirers invited him to the dedication concert. Touchingly that final performance moved the man who kept Britain smiling during the war years to tears.
Over a decade afterwards it seemed that the new multiplexes of the 90s would replace all the modernist cinemas of the 30s, converting them into bingo halls or pubs or demolishing them for flats or offices. But hearteningly many of these amazing buildings have now been listed and protected. Furthermore some of these Odeons, Hippodromes and Palaces even maintain fully restored electric organs and are open to public view and sometimes theatre performance. A list of these can be found at the link below. And so it seems that, in spite of the odds, the echo of Reginald Foort will continue for some time yet ...
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England