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Friday, 10 January 2014

Web Page 2018

18th January 2014

Top Picture:  Joe ‘Mr Piano’ Henderson and Petula Clark

Second Picture: Russ Conway

Third Picture: Mrs Mills

Bottom Picture: Winifrid Atwell

Those Pianists

The 1950’s and 60’s seemed to be a breeding ground for Piano talent, here are a few four exponents of the art.

Joe ‘Mr Piano’ Henderson was born in Glasgow in 1920 and was taught to play by his mother and became a professional at fifteen, playing in dance bands. After World War II, he began working for the Peter Maurice publishing company, it was there in 1947, that he met Petula Clark . In 1949 he introduced her to Alan A. Freeman, who, together with her father Leslie, formed the Polygon record label, for which she recorded her earliest hits. In 1955, she suggested that Joe be allowed to record his own music, and he enjoyed two hits on Polygon, "Sing It With Joe" and "Sing It Again With Joe", both medleys of popular songs.

It was around this time that the two became involved romantically. Their relationship lasted a couple of years, professionally culminating in a BBC Radio series in which they performed together. There was speculation that the couple planned to marry however, with her growing fame and her career in France beginning he reportedly not wanting to end up as "Mr. Petula Clark", they decided to call the whole thing off. They remained on friendly terms and in 1962, he wrote a ballad about their break-up, called "There's Nothing More To Say", for her LP In Other Words.

His biggest hit was "Trudie", which made No14 in the UK Singles Chart and No1 in the sheet music chart, where it was the biggest hit of 1958. The song also won an Ivor Novello Award. He continued to work through the 1960s and 1970s at one time presenting a weekday afternoon show on Radio 2 until 4 May 1980, when he died of a heart attack, aged 60.
In 1994, a fourteen-minute medley of Petula Clark singing whilst accompanied by him and recorded in 1958, was found in the Pye Records vaults and released on her CD, The Nixa Years: Volume 2.

Russ Conway had 20 piano instrumentals in the UK Singles chart  between 1957 and 1963, including two number one hits.
He was born Trevor Herbert Stanford in Bristol in 1925 and won a scholarship to Bristol Cathedral Choir School. He was largely self-taught on the piano as he whiled away hours as a youngster during a three-year term in borstal. His father then let him join the Merchant Navy.
Conscripted into the Royal Navy in 1942 and he served in the Merchant Navy from 1942 to 1948, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal as signalman in a minesweeping flotilla "for distinguished service, efficiency and zeal" in the clearance of mines in the Aegean and operations during the relief of Greece. During his Navy service, he lost the tip of the 3rd finger of his right hand while using a bread slicer. He was discharged from the Royal Navy on health grounds because of a stomach ulcer.

He was talent-spotted while playing in a London club, signed to Columbia and spent the mid-1950s providing backing for artists including Gracie Fields and Joan Regan. He recorded his first solo single "Party Pops" in 1957, a "medley of standard songs” which included "Roll the Carpet Up" and "The Westminster Waltz".

Between 1957 and 1963, he had 20 U.K. chart hits, achieving a total of 83 weeks on the UK Singles Chart in 1959 alone. This included two number one instrumentals, "Side Saddle" and "Roulette", both he wrote himself, the latter deposing Elvis Presley's "A Fool Such As I". He was popular on TV shows and appeared at the London Palladium on a number of occasions plus becoming a regular on the Billy Cotton Band Show for several seasons.

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1959, when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews during a recording session at the BBC’s Studio 1.

His career was blighted by ill health, including a nervous breakdown and a stroke, which prevented him from performing between 1968 and 1971. He also at times drank heavily and smoked up to 80 cigarettes a day. He was prescribed anti-depressants and had periods of severe self-doubt. Having been diagnosed with stomach cancer in the late 1980s he founded the Russ Conway Cancer Fund and staged charity gala shows in major theatres that raised thousands of pounds for cancer charities. He appeared as himself in French and Saunders' 1994 Christmas special, playing "I Like It" in their spoof of ‘The Piano’. He never married and died in November 2000.

Gladys Mills, née Gladys Jordan was better known as Mrs. Mills, whose repertoire included many sing-along and party tunes made popular in the music hall.

She was born in Beckton  in 1918, her uncle Henry was a harp player and her mother was a main influence in developing her musical ability. She took piano lessons from the age of 3½ to the age of seven. While working as the superintendent of the typing pool in the office of the Paymaster General in London, she was spotted by a talent scout at a Woodford Golf Club dance near her home in Loughton. In December 1961, she made her first television appearance on The Billy Cotton Show. By the end of January 1962, she was a household name.

She shot to fame during the same period as The Beatles, with whom she shared space at Abbey Road Studios. After signing to Parlophone, she released her first record,  the "Mrs Mills Medley" single  which entered the Top Twenty of the UK Singles Chart, and her career as an entertainer began, a career that would last well into the 1970s. She toured the UK, making many appearances on TV and radio throughout this period.

She appeared on two episodes of The Morecambe and Wise Show in 1971 and 1974, where she performed a medley of favourites with the studio orchestra however beforehand in 1973, she had appeared in The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.

In December 1974, she was subject of This Is Your Life. Little was seen of her on television in her final years and she died of a heart attack on 24 February 1978 in London.

Although her music had been largely forgotten in June 2012 a London-based tribute band The Mrs Mills Experience make their debut at The Vintage Festival at Boughton House in Northamptonshire.


Una Winifred Atwell was probably the best know popular pianist. She was born in Trinidad in 1910 in either January or April. She had  a series of boogie-woogie and ragtime hits, selling over 20 million records and was the first black person to have a number one hit in the UK Singles Chart and is still the only female instrumentalist to do so.

She was born in Tunapuna in Trinidad and Tobago. Her family owned a pharmacy and she trained as a pharmacist and was expected to join the business. Winifred, however, had played the piano from a young age, and achieved considerable popularity locally. She used to play for US servicemen at the air force base and  it was whilst playing at the Servicemen's Club at Piarco that someone bet her she could not play something in the boogie-woogiestyle that was popular in the United States. She went away and wrote "Piarco Boogie" which was later renamed "Five Finger Boogie".


She left Trinidad in 1940’s and travelled to the United States to study with Alexander Borovsky and in 1946, moved to London, where she had a place at the Royal Academy of Music. She became the first female pianist to be awarded the Academy's highest grading for musicianship. To support her studies, she played rags at London clubs and theatres. She attracted attention with an unscheduled appearance at the Casino Theatre, where she substituted for an ill star. She caught the eye of Bernard Delfont, who put her on a long-term contract. She released three discs, which were well received. The third, "Jezebel," went to the top of the best seller lists. It was her fourth disc made her hugely popular in the UK it was an arrangement called "Cross Hands Boogie" and was released to show her virtuoso rhythmic technique, but it was the B-side, a 1900s tune called "Black and White Rag," that was to become a standard. "Black And White Rag" started a craze for her honky-tonk style of playing. Her rag music was originally performed on a concert grand but she felt it did not sound right and got her husband to buy an old  piano for 30 shillings which would then be used for the released version of the song.

Her husband, former stage comedian, Lew Levisohn, was vital in shaping her career. They had met in 1946 and married soon after and were inseparable up to his death in December 1977; they had no children. He had made the choice, for stage purposes, of her playing first a concert grand, then a beaten-up old upright piano. This became famous as Winifred Atwell's "other piano". It would later feature all over the world, from Las Vegas to the Sydney Opera House, travelling over half a million miles by air throughout her concert career. Richard Stilgoe is now the owner of the famous "other piano".

Her hands were insured for a £40,000 (the policy stipulating that she was never to wash dishes). She signed a contract with Decca and her sales were soon 30,000 discs a week. She was by far the biggest selling pianist of her time. Her 1954 hit, "Let's Have Another Party", was the first piano instrumental to reach number one in the UK Singles Chart. She is the only holder of two gold and two silver discs for piano music in Britain, and was the first black artist in the UK to sell a million records. Her "Black and White Rag" became famous in the 1970s as the theme of the BBC snooker programme Pot Black. It was during this period that she discovered Matt Monro and persuaded Decca to sign him.

She played three Royal Variety Performances, appeared in every capital in Europe and played for over twenty million people. At a private party for the Queen she was called back for an encore by the monarch herself, who requested "Roll Out the Barrel". She became a firm television favourite and had her own series. The first of these was Bernard Delfont Presents The Winifred Atwell Show. It ran for ten episodes on ITV in 1956, and then the BBC picked up the series the following year. On a third tour of Australia, she recorded her own Australian television series, screened in 1960-1961. Her career earned her a fortune, and would have extended further into the U.S. but for issues of race. Her breakthrough appearance was to have been on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, but on arrival in America she was confronted with problems of selling the show in the south with a British-sounding black woman. The appearance was never recorded.

She toured Australia many times and her popularity in Australia led to her settling in Sydney in the 1970s. She became an Australian citizen two years before her death. She had purchased waterside properties in Bilgola and Seaforth in Sydney. Enjoying the affection of the public, she was nevertheless keenly aware of prejudice and injustice and was outspoken about racism in Australia. She always donated her services in a charity concert on Sundays, the proceeds going to orphanages and needy children.

In 1978, she appeared on Australian TV's This Is Your Life she played her "other" piano at the end of the show with a few bars from "Black and White Rag" after the piano being in retirement for many years.

Though a dynamic stage personality, she was a shy, retiring and soft-spoken woman. Eloquent and intellectual, she was well read and a devotee of crosswords. She was also a devout Catholic, who unpretentiously played the organ for her parish church.

She suffered a stroke in 1980 and retired in 1981. Her only public performances from this point were as an organist in her church. In 1983, following an electrical fire that destroyed her Narrabeen home, she suffered a heart attack and died while staying with friends in Seaforth. She is buried beside husband Lew Levisohn in South Gundurimba Private Cemetery in northern New South Wales, just outside Lismore.

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Bobby Rydll and Ann Margaret last week

On this Day 18th January 1960-1965

On 18/01/1960 the number one single was Why - Anthony Newley and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was not listed and the box office smash was North by Northwest. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Burnley were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 18/01/1961 the number one single was Poetry in Motion - Johnny Tillotson and the number one album was GI Blues - Elvis Presley. The top rated TV show was Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ATV) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 18/01/1962 the number one single was The Young Ones - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was The Young Ones - Cliff Richard. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 18/01/1963 the number one single was The Next Time/Bachelor Boy - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was Out of the Shadows - Shadows. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 18/01/1964 the number one single was Glad All Over - Dave Clark Five and the number one album was With the Beatles - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Steptoe & Son (BBC) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

On 18/01/1965 the number one single was Yeh Yeh - Georgie Fame and the number one album was Beatles For Sale - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.

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