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Broadcasting during the war
A Unique War Job.
Sandy Macpherson

Sandy Macpherson
Sandy Macpherson
Somehow, I always think of my association with the B.B.C. as beginning with the war. True I had been their 'Staff Organist' for nearly a year when war broke out but, for me, that year has become a rather dimly remembered period of probationary history.
For me, my job started on September 3rd 1939, at a quarter to five in the afternoon when I played my first war-time programme on the B.B.C. Theatre Organ. During the first four weeks of the war I broadcast fifty times, and I hasten to add that it was far less an endurance test for me than for my listeners.
Those were the days when the various B.B.C. Departments were frantically trying to reorganise themselves in their new war time homes. My own department, Variety, was digging itself in at Bristol, and I was almost the sole London survivor. The Theatre Organ at that time was regarded as a first-class stand-by and it shared with the gramophone department the honour of supplying most of the emergency programs.
What days those were! I remember one lady writing in from somewhere in Hampstead and saying "I have now got to the point where I would welcome an air raid if I could be sure the first bomb would fall on Sandy Macpherson and his organ - preferably while he was playing his signature tune." I can't say I blamed her much.
Dudley Beaven joined me as a temporary assistant before many weeks had passed. Reggie Foort did his first war-time programme on October 10th and from then on things began to be more normal. Before long we were inviting our usual quota of guest organists and contributing our share of the variety department's programmes which were, by this time, coming more or less normally from Bristol.
Then there was that night in September 1940, when the Luftwaffe dropped a bomb on
St. Georges Hall Youtube
Reginald Porter-Brown
BBC Theatre Organ
St. Georges Hall
pictures of the hall
and completely destroyed the old Theatre Organ, together with much of my music and records. The lady who wrote from Hampstead nearly had her wish come true that night - but not quite.
The next day we started sending our programmes from Evesham, where we had emergency studios and a Hammond electric organ ready for just such a contingency.
I need hardly say that our arrangements were considerably upset. The destruction of St. Georges Hall had to be kept secret for security reasons and many of our guest organists who had been contracted for dates in the current and ensuing weeks had to be told and, of course, some of them could not manage to make the trip to Evesham. This meant hasty re-arrangements of plans and substitution of artists ibn may cases. One organist who helped out immensely was Frederic Curzon. He was living just a few miles away at Stratford-on-Avon and came over on short notice to deputise on several occasions.
We stayed at Evesham for seven months and it was from there that you used to hear your favourites - Cleaver, Rapley, Madin, and many others - whenever they were announced as being at the Theatre Organ during that first blitz winter 1940-41. During our stay at Evesham we did three hundred and sixty broadcasts on the Hammond.

The Moller organ

Early in 1941 Reg Foort kindly offered his
touring organ More on the history of the Reginald Foort touring Moller organ
to the B.B.C. and his offer was gratefully accepted. By this time the Variety department had moved to Bangor, North Wales, and a place for the organ was found at Llandudno. From April, 1941, it became the official B.B.C. Theatre Organ. During this time we continued to invite guest organists every week. Many of them had joined the Forces and they all used their leave, from time to time, to come up to broadcast on the organ from Llandudno.
During this year there have been 1,377 Theatre Organ broadcasts in the Light, London Home and Overseas Services and that, of course, includes transmissions from cinemas and outside points as well as programmes given on the official B.B.C. instrument.
For my own part, I never hope to do a more interesting or satisfying programme than those in which I sent messages and greetings to the boys serving overseas. When I Think of the thousands of lads to whom I spoke and of the thousands of wives, mothers, sisters and children for whom I spoke - well, I only hope to have the pleasure of meeting some of them some day just to say, "Do you remember …?" Perhaps I shall -who knows.

Extract from "Theatre Organ World" by Jack Courtney

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