Harold Rich

Harold Rich


Harold Rich began playing the piano at the age of three. He served in the Royal Navy, (from 1945 to 1948), where he was the pianist/arranger for the Royal Naval Barracks Dance Band (The Bluejackets) at Devonport. During this period, in 1947, he made his first broadcast, a 15 minute solo spot “At the piano”, from the BBC, Bristol. At this time he was also a “Carroll Levis Discovery”, and won the heat he was in by playing a very fast piano piece …. “Midnight in Mayfair” … however, he tied for first place with a man who played the spoons !!!

In 1945 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where he studied from 1948 to 1952. There he won the ARCM diploma, and was made a Graduate of the Royal Schools of Music (G.R.S.M., London). He also won both the Hopkinson Gold and Hopkinson Silver medals, both of which were presented to him by Her Majesty the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth), the College President. In addition he won the Dannreuther prize for the best performance of a concerto during the year 1951 – 1952. From 1953 to 1959 he was Conductor of the Dudley Choral and Orchestral Society and served on the local committee of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and the committee of the Dudley Arts Society.

He began his musical career with the George Mitchell Minstrels, and then the Continental Ballet, as one of their respective accompanists. After a seven-year spell as a music master in a secondary modern school, he became (in 1960) the pianist of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra (which he later conducted, including the Orchestra’s first appearance on colour television), and then was appointed orchestral pianist for Norrie Paramor with the Midland Radio Orchestra. He also played with, and arranged music for, Norrie’s Big Ben Banjo Band, and was Norrie’s piano partner in the group “PIANORAMA”, which Norrie formed. Harold took over this group in 1980, since when (as well as numerous broadcasts) it has made several commercial recordings. In addition to forming his own broadcasting Quartet in 1961, (which was augmented in the early 70’s to become known as “The Easy Six”) he was a member of the PALM COURT TRIO, which (apart from making many radio brodacasts, and a number of records) had the great pleasure of playing for Her Majesty the Queen Mother at a private dinner party in Scotland.

In addition to conducting his own orchestra for many broadcasts, Harold Rich became, following the disbanding of the Midland Radio Orchestra, Musical Director for the popular television programme “Pebblemill at One”, where he conducted for the likes of Tom Jones, Eartha Kitt, Vic Damone, Nana Mouskouri, Elaine Page and Peter Skellern, and accompanied numerous artists on solo piano, ranging from ‘pop’ stars such as Cilla Black, instrumentalists such as the violinist Max Jaffa – whom he later accompanied in concerts around the country – and the renowned flautist, James Galway, to singers such as Rosemary Clooney, Val Doonican, and operatic stars, including Jose Carreras.

He has, over the years, been the orchestral pianist and soloist for many distinguished Light music conductors, including Stanley Black, Robert Farnon, Geoff Love, Frank Chacksfield, and Ron Goodwin (with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), to name but a few.

Kindly provided by David Dagley, a friend of Harold’s



Princes End Joint School, 1932-1938. Conducted the school percussion band (a photograph was in an edition of The Bugle). Studied with Lillian Nibblett, and won the Orpheus Challenge Cup, Leamington, the Joseph Riley Challenge Cup, at Birmingham in 1944, and the cup for the best performance of the week at the Lewis’s (stores) Children’s Music Festival in 1943. Directed the Premier Dance Band during the war years at the Princes End Joint School.

David Dagley

David Dagley wrote in 2003:

I’m pleased to say Harold is alive and well and still playing piano as well as ever. He lives in Solihull and continues both to play professionally and to enjoy the company and friendship of many musicians with whom he has worked over the years. During his full and eventful career as a professional pianist Harold has been, and still is, one of the best musicians our area has produced and it’s a privilege of mine to consider myself to be one of his friends.

For information, and to publish on your website, I’ve included a CV (reproduced above) of Harold’s (with his blessing). Having read it however, and because of the large number of famous artists with whom he has worked, I must say that there’s a wealth of interesting anecdotes, almost a parallel musical career if you would, which he’s left out; (and which I’m sure he’d be ready to share with you should you wish).

Harold has an email address (which I can provide – webmaster), as I’m sure he’d love to hear from anyone from his Wednesbury High school days.

Links to information about Harold

WBHS Sportman

Somehow, Harold also managed to find time to play football and cricket in the First XI teams in 1943/44:



Harold is on the right of the front row



Harold is 3rd from the right of the front row

More names of team members can be found in the sports section of the site.

Black Country Bugle article, 19 December 2002

When I took up the post of school secretary at Wednesbury Boys’ High School in 1941, Harold Rich was a fifth former and to me, a name in the register. After the first school concert I attended it was clear that this lad, under his navy and gold “slice of cake” cap, was a brilliant pianist.

His eminent music teacher, Miss Lillian Nibblett, had great ambitions for this talented lad and supposed that once school homework was done, he would be seriously applying himself to Bach and serious classical music. She would not have objected to Harold playing the church organ on Sundays, but would have been horrified had she known that HR had his own dance band which was in great demand in the Midlands at a time when both grown-ups and teenagers were ballroom dancing crazy.

But all school days come to an end and when Harold completed his studies in the Sixth Form it was a case of from the classroom into the Navy.

Headmaster C S Kipping shook Harold’s hand and wished him success in his future career. “You have been an outstanding pupil, Rich, both academically and on the sports field (1st XI soccer and cricket) and especially in the field of music in which you intend to make your career. I wish I had a greater knowledge of classical music. The only tune I know is Yes, we have no bananas.

When Harold returned to Civvy Street, he took up his place at The Royal College of Music in London, where he won the Hopkinson Gold and Silver medals and the Dann Reuther Prize for the best performance of a concerto.

After a spell as music teacher in schools, he was appointed in 1960 to the post of keyboard player with the BBC Midland Light Orchestra and remained with the BBC until his retirement. He served many times as conductor, and was also a composer, and for some years was musical director of TV’s popular “Pebble Mill at One”. It would need a book to list the famous names who have personally requested Harold to accompany them.

In 1987 when the great gales were demolishing trees in southern Britain, Harold was in Jersey for the World Harmonica Championship and accompanied the renowned Larry Adler.

When the BBC announced the death of Larry Adler on 1 August 2001, it gave a brief account of his amazing career and said that Larry had been expelled from his US Music Conservatoire when he was caught playing, in jazz tempo, “Yes, we have no bananas”. (Their loss was the world’s gain!)

To finish the “Rich Banana Tale”, on the occasion, some years back, when the National Concert Orchestra appeared at Birmingham Town Hall under the baton of conductor/composer Bernard Herrmann, Harold was seated at the grand piano for the concerto “Rhapsody on a Bunch of Bananas” – composed by Hermann and orchestrated in the style of a range of classical composers from Chopin to Rachmaninov.

Written by Margaret Russell, CSK’s secretary

Riverboat Serenade

An anecdote from the memoirs of Harold Rich, remembering his long career as pianist with the BBC Midland Light Orchestra

Riverboat Serenade was the title of a piece of music by Jack Coles, the conductor of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra from 1960 to 1973, which depicted the passage of the riverboats which went up and down the Mississippi river. The tune was on the strings whilst the paddles were depicted by figures on the clarinets.

In the early sixties, we in the orchestra used to broadcast live on Friday afternoons on the overseas service, and were paid 15 shillings extra on our weekly pay for it. We rehearsed in the morning, then after lunch we broadcast from 2:30 to 3:00pm.

On one occasion (when Riverboat Serenade was on the programme) Jack was rash enough to ask our percussionist Norman Deriver if he could arrange some “water sound effects”. He should have known better! Norman said, “of course”, and Jack asked us all if we would mind assembling a few minutes early (before we went on the air) to try them out. We agreed, of course, but what a sight met us when we did. Norman’s percussion assistant Fred Adcock was standing at a coffee table on which was a bucket with a soup ladle in it; in his left hand he held a pint beer glass with two straws in it! Microphones were placed above each!

Jack gave the “count in” whereby Fred took a deep breath, and started ladling in the bucket and blowing into the pint glass with the straws, We hadn’t gone very many bars when gales of laughter swept the orchestra … Jack was laughing the loudest. Time was getting on, and Jack said, “OK, joke over” (trying to compose himself) and we prepared to begin again. Jack only got as far as the “count-in” … 1, 2, 3, 4 … when Fred took in another breath, and Jack collapsed across the rostrum (helpless with laughter) flinging his baton across the studio. I saw people laughing in the orchestra that day that I’d never seen laugh before, and many years later, when I met Jack again (not long before he died) he told me that in all his years in music (and he was lead trumpet with George Melachrino) he had never heard laughter like that. Needless to say, the water effects department was dismantled, and we played without it!!

Harold Rich

Margaret Russell offers more stories of Harold

Harold Rich is one of those people who nevers tells people how brilliant he is.

When he joined the Navy his first port of call was Malvern, where he was trained in rifle drill and introduced to clerical duties of which there were plenty – records, troops to be paid, etc – and an entertainer thrown in since all troops need some entertainment while in barracks.

Then he was posted to HMS Demetrius on the River Whange (along with two other musical lads from WBHS!) which was a very busy naval clerical base – with plenty of other naval duties thrown in.

On one occasion the Wetherby Band was asked to play on board a US Naval vessel anchored off Plymouth Sound. They were driven down by coach and welcomed aboard a US Liberty boat, which took them to the warship. Harold can’t remember the name of the vessel.

Another request was made for the Wetherby Band to play for the Queen and guests at Wemyss Castle in Scotland. The war was almost over when Harold was called to do his stint in the armed services and military bands were, and still are, in great demand. So HR was keeping in good practice for his musical career to follow.

Among his followers to his piano sessions at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, were Jack Marson, Colin Cartwright and Margaret Russell. All keen ballroom dancers. It was “black out” and we cycled there and back every week for a couple of years – all still at WBHS at that time.

Margaret Russell

More of Harold’s memories – possibly from a speech made at an OWA Dinner

… I told my mother I wished to give up lessons. True to form, she agreed. But then came a sudden twist in my career. By this time, of course, I was at Wednesbury Boys’ High School, and I must say, enjoying it as much, if not more, than my previous one. After all, there was cricket and tennis as well as football and general sports. Great! (Not forgetting my little dance band which played, strangely enough, in the hall of my first school, (The Princes End Joint), on Saturday evenings, in aid of what was known as the ‘Comforts Fund’.) This was to raise money to send luxury items to our fighting forces. It was perhaps precisely because of those forces, which had musicians in their ranks, that we teenagers had bands playing at home. Mine was by no means alone; in fact at that school hall we used to alternate with another teenage band (Steve Hughes’ band) from another part of Tipton. I remember well that each band had its own following, though some regulars came every week. I also remember that we got 5 shillings each, but mine went straightaway on manuscript paper, so that I could write parts for the band. Actually, the fact that I did the music arranging was partly (though not perhaps entirely!) the reason that I failed gloriously in School Certificate Geography. I used to sit at the back of the class with my huge atlas propped up to hide the fact that instead of drawing maps, I was in fact writing music. I had to beg the geography master (Mr Hatcher) NOT to write to the examiners to find out if they had totted up their marks incorrectly. I knew jolly well they hadn’t!

Around this time I was, apart from my Saturday night dance band date, doing three evening engagements. On two nights I used to play for ballroom dance classes at a local Technical College, from 6.45 to 8.45. The reason for these times was that the last bus left Dudlley at seven minutes past nine for my journey home. On two occasions I missed it and I remember well walking the 2 or 3 miles home in a blizzard! On a third night I used to play at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, for the half hour interval while the band had its break. On those occasions, I would walk from Wolverhampton to Ettingshall and stay the night with Aunt Clara & Uncle Tom, then go on to school from there next morning. I can still “see” the sausage rolls and the glass of lemonade that Aunt Clara used to leave for me!

Every term there was of course the school end-of-term concert, and I was always ‘first on the bill’ (I have since learnt that this is, in Music Hall terms, the “warm-up” act and the real ‘stars’ come at the end.) I used to play a selection of the very latest dance tunes … what might now be called “Top of the Pops” … to the complete disgust of the “music teacher”, and if I put that in inverted commas, it’s not to cast my aspersions on that worthy gentleman. It is simply that there was no music to speak of in the school as there is nowadays. The first and second year boys (it was a boys-only school) simply went into the hall twice a week and just sang songs, and the music teacher referred to was, in fact the senior French master, known as “Dapper Sam” (Mangan). The reason for there being no music as such was that the Headmaster’s taste in music didn’t go beyond (this he told me when I walked across the Quadrangle with him one day) Yes, we have no bananas!

The Head actually was a very brilliant man. He could take classes (and did) in many subjects, Chemistry being his speciality, but he could juggle (I was one of his pupils in this field, and once did some juggling on a school concert!), he was a brilliant table-tennis player, and as for Chess! He used to write the problem pages for the magazine CHESS, which went all over the world, and people would send their answers in with simply C.S.Kipping, Wednesbury, England. They always got to him. Chess was a subject in school, and as well as House football and cricket matches, there were House chess matches. I suppose it is because I had to play it that I have never played it since leaving school. Visiting chess Masters would visit the school, and play six masters and six pupils at once. Occasionally the Head (or the Boss, as we called him) would come into a classroom and play six boys at once, and if you beat him (a very rare thing) he would throw two pennies across the board for you, and if you drew with him (a fairly rare thing), you would get a penny. I once, and once only, got a penny! The school, as I mentioned earlier, was Wednesbury Boys` High School.

Now to that twist in my career! A friend of mine, Lewis, who lived opposite, went to Wolverhampton Grammar School, which DID have music there. In fact the music master, one Rev. Frank Rust, was having dinner with Lewis’s family, and Lewis was sent to come over to our house to ask if I would play for this music master. This I did, whereupon he promptly sent for my mother and asked who I was with, pianowise. She told him that I had given it up so to speak, to his complete outrage! He told her there and then to send me to a teacher in Wednesbury, a short walk from my school, and so it was that I became a pupil of Miss Lillian Nibblett.

Happily, at Wetherby, or HMS Demetrius as it was known, I had quite a good time. I played the organ (harmonium) on the Quarterdeck for Divisions (morning prayers) each morning …. and received threepence a day for this (I was the only one, apart from officers, allowed to wear gloves on the parade-ground, mine were woollen!) because of the bitter cold …. we were on the Yorkshire moors!

In addition, I played the organ for church services, and as a result would be invited to the Chaplain’s cabin, where he would play records of serious music for me. It was here that I was introduced to Elgar’s Dream of Geronntius. Then of course there was both the camp dance band, where I was one of the two pianists it boasted at that time, the other being the aforementioned Rowlly. It was a small band, but it could boast three members from the same form from Wednesbury Boys’ High School … myself, a lad called Beddows (sax) and Saddington (gtr). From a ‘school without music’ …. not bad!!!

Harold Rich

What a great shame the rest of this speech is missing. If anyone knows where it might be, (including Harold!), please let me know!