Tottenham Court Road on 31st May 1902, a stones throw
from Londons West End theatreland, pianist Billy Mayerl
won a scholarship to nearby Trinity College while still only
a small boy. Before long he publicly performed Griegs
"Piano Concerto" at the Queens Hall and by
his early-teens was playing in dance bands and accompanying
silent films in a variety of cinemas. Before he reached his
majority he became solo pianist with the prestigious Savoy
Havana Band at Londons top hotel on the Strand.
recordings and broadcasts quickly brought Billys name
to the fore and in 1923 he married his childhood sweetheart,
Jill Bernini. Two years later he gave the first British concert
performance of Gershwins "Rhapsody in Blue"
and his "lightning fingers" were filmed by a slow-motion
camera. Then, in 1926, he launched out into the unknown with
a "Correspondence Course in Modern Syncopation"
from rented premises in Oxford Street.
By the late-Thirties
he had a staff of more than 100, with 117 branches word-wide
and a clientele in excess of 30,000 students. It was not to
last, however, and although he tried to revive it after the
war, this proved ineffective and the Billy Mayerl School finally
closed down in 1957. It was a sad end to a brilliant career
and within two more years, the "nimble-fingered gentleman"
himself had expired early from a heart condition, probably
exacerbated by a punishing schedule of concerts and composition.
the Twenties, Billy made many appearances in Metropolitan
and provincial variety theatres and also contributed songs
for a host of London revues. By 1930 he was performing with
the Co-Optimists and was ready for full musical scores, the
first of which was Nippy, followed by The Millionaire Kid,
Sporting Love, Twenty to One, Over She Goes, Crazy Days and
Runaway Love, many with horse-racing as the central theme.
Although none of the musicals was a spectacular success, each
had a healthy run in a large theatre.
now a household name and performed regularly on both Radio
Luxembourg and the BBC. His records sold in their thousands
and all around the country budding pianists were wrestling
with the intricacies of his vast array of piano compositions,
of which the most famous was his unofficial signature tune
"Marigold", one of a whole variety of horticultural
pieces, gardening being one of his many hobbies.
he took part in a Royal Command Performance and led his own
band in the popular radio programme "Music While You
Work", conceived to encourage wartime factory workers
but which outlasted hostilities by 20 years. His first small
musical group dated from the Twenties but by the mid-Thirties
he was running a 26-piece orchestra to accompany his musicals
at the Gaiety and other theatres. His Grosvenor House Orchestra
dated from 1941 and he continued band leading into the Fifties.
It was a
hectic pace while it lasted and had the war not intervened
then it is difficult to surmise where the maestro might have
ended up in public affection. He did his bit for the Services
but post-war entertainment changed and in 1958 he made what
turned out to be his last broadcast when he was chosen by
Roy Plomley to appear on "Desert Island Discs".
He signed off with his characteristic "Goodbye chaps,
and chapesses" but this time he really seemed to mean
it. It was almost as though he knew the end was near and he
died 10 months later at Beaconsfield, on 25th March 1959.
today remember Billy for his eccentric but highly-pleasurable
piano pieces which for the amateur are difficult to play properly.
Even the professional has trouble staying the course but a
reappraisal of his music in recent years has given a new generation
the chance to enjoy the music which made him such a great
SHOWS AND REVUES INVOLVING THE
MUSIC OF BILLY MAYERL
The Punch Bowl 1924
The London Revue 1925
White Birds 1927
So Long Letty 1928
Change Over 1929
Love Lies 1929
The Love Race 1930
Silver Wings 1930
Darling I Love You 1930
The Millionaire Kid 1931
Between Ourselves 1932
Sporting Love 1934
Love Laughs 1935
Twenty to One 1935
Over She Goes 1936
Crazy Days 1937
Runaway Love 1939
Happy Birthday 1940
Six Pairs of Shoes 1944
Reproduced by kind permission of This England magazine.