You can take it with you!

Reginald Foort talks about his travels with his Moller Organ

This is an extract from Theatre Organ World by Jack Courtnay published in 1946.


Reginald Foort
I have never been able to discover who was the very first person to tour a pipe organ. I believe David Clegg did, though I'm not sure. There's no doubt that Max Erard was one of the first; and I still recall the terrific impression of hearing (when I must have still been a schoolboy), a music-hall act called Elliot-Savonas who apparently played a pipe organ with three separate consoles.
But it was my old friend, G. T. Pattman, who first toured a really big pipe organ, and I am sure it was his example which inspired me to take out my huge touring theatre organ.
All my life I've been a bit of an adventurer. I believe in diving into a job head-first -- giving it all I've got for a year or two -- and then pulling out into something fresh. I joined the B.B.C. staff as a theatre organist in October, 1936, and, apart from my four weeks' summer "Leave," I had four days off in my first year and six in my second. If I'd stayed a third year, I should have gone completely stale on the job. So I had the big Moller Concert Organ built and set out on tour.
I went to Moller for it because
(1) they are the worlds biggest organ builder;
(2) I had loved their organs which I had played in U.S.A. when I was over there in 1935;
(3) if I'd had a Wurlitzer or a Compton, it would have sounded pretty much the same as all the other Wurlitzers and Comptons in the local cinemas in the towns I visited; and I wanted something "different." I certainly got it! There never has been another organ like it, ever!
The organ has five manuals, 27 ranks fully unified, 259 stop-keys, over 100 pistons and controls. All the tonal percussions are genuine Deagan and all the non tonal genuine Leedy - the best and most expensive in the world. The organ complete weighs over 25 tons. We had it specially designed to travel in five enormous lorries and we had a staff of thirteen to handle it; three organ builders, five lorry drivers (who rapidly all became expert organ builders!) two electricians, stage rigger, general manager, and advance publicity agent.

Owing to the Munich crisis, the organ was delayed in coming across the Atlantic: it arrived in 65 packing cases, and we hired Drury Lane theatre - which happened to be closed - to unpack the organ and set it up. The boys worked day and night and had the organ playing in five days.
I actually made gramophone records and a Pathé Pictorial on it on the fifth day - Friday. The Sunday saw us at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, where we opened on the Monday. I had not had time to set more than a few of the 100 pistons - and I had to open without having had anything like a real&go& on the organ at all !
That didn't worry me as much as you might think, because, having designed the whole organ myself and having done all the working drawings for the console, I new where everything was and felt thoroughly at home on the job anyway.
The organ throughout is of &Rolls-Royce& quality. Altogether it has been played in 118 different theatres - some of them three and four times - and has been pulled down, travelled and re-erected 167 times = always in a rush over the weekend - no cotton-wool methods - slap ! bang ! wallop ! out into the street, up she goes boys, into the lorry.
Apart from a few pipes bent or broken through travelling over hump-back bridges at high speed during the night, the organ is as good as the day it came out of the factory, nearly eight years ago. During that time I don't think we have had a dozen ciphers.
The only trouble we experienced was when we had a week in (say) Birmingham, followed by a week in (say) Portsmouth. The combination oily dirt from one atmosphere and salt and damp from the other, tended to cause an odd note here and there through sticky armatures.
I had a marvellous staff: Johnny Quarmby, my head organ builder, is quite a good organist himself, so he always used to give the organ a try-out after they finished building it.
Stage "get-outs&" vary incredibly but, with a reasonably good "get-out" - like the New Theatre, Cardiff, where you could almost drive the lorries on to the stage - the boys could have the organ down and on the road in about 4½ hours. They used to like to have about 24 hours to get the organ into the new theatre, build it, connect up, test everything and tune through.
But things didn't always work like that. The worst jump I remember was from the Palace Theatre, Hammersmith, the worst &get out& in the country, which involved getting police permission to close a side-street and build a wooden stage right accross it, last lorry not away until until 9a.m. Sunday morning, to the Palace Theatre, Hull 285 miles on account of diversions caused by floods and low bridges.
That Monday they didn't have the wind on until 5:45, the doors opened at 6 p.m., and I had to play the whole evening without a single pipe having been tuned ! And, believe it or not, it didn't sound to bad !
Sheffield Evening Telegraph
Monday 21 August 1939
Image © Johnston Press plc.
Image created courtesy of
THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

All went well until the war came along. At first we thought we were finished and almost lent the organ to the B.B.C. right away. But we found that by switching some of the ranks round a bit and leaving the big string section in store, we could take the organ by train; so we carried on with two lorries, and took the rest of the organ by train for another 18 months - all through the terrible blitz winter.
I'll never forget one awful week at the Empire, Liverpool - our fourth visit. We had an air-raid all through our second house every night, and on the Saturday night, we had three incendiaries burning in the roof of the theatre and bombs dropping all round for ten hours. Then at Middlesbrough we had an empty lorry burned in an accidental garage fire - leaving us with one lorry - and the rumour that the organ had been destroyed and that I had borrowed another to carry on.
I suppose our greatest adventure was in the big snow-up in March 1940, when half the organ (in two lorries), was buried in a 16-ft. snow drift in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, and the other half went by mistake to Bolton Goods Yard instead of Preston. That week we weren't able to open until the Thursday matinée !
Early in 1941 I heard that the B.B.C.'s own theatre organ in London had been destroyed by enemy action, so I offered them mine, and in May, 1941, we took the organ to Llandudno.
Now it has been purchased outright by the B.B.C., thoroughly cleaned, overhauled, regulated throughout, and re-erected in Jubilee Hall, East Road, London, E.C., where I hope it will continue, for many years to come, to give unlimited pleasure to the organists who broadcast on it and to listeners all over the world.

For more information on the Moller organ visit Pasadena Civic Auditorium Moller
British Pathé "Pathetone - presents - REGINALD FOORT WITH HIS NEW WONDER ORGAN"
More information on Reginald Foort
The War Years - Sandy Macpherson personal recollections of the war and the Moller organ
Moller Concert Organ ( Widescreen Live Video)) with Reginald Foort
To listen to the organ at Pasadena
Night on a Bare Mountain
ATOS Moller page
Reginald Foort F.R.C.O.
Tunes Of The Times
Selection #One
Reginald Foort F.R.C.O.
Tunes Of The Times
Selection #Two
Reginald Foort F.R.C.O.
Keep Smiling
Reginald Dixon
Automne
Phil Finch
Kitten On The Keys