1950s and 1960s, Cyril Stapleton was a well-known orchestra
leader in Britain and overseas, thanks to his regular BBC
broadcasts and his many recordings. He was born on 31 December
1914 at Mapperley, Nottingham, in the east midlands of England.
At the age of seven he began learning the violin, and when
only 12 he made his first broadcast from 5NG, the local radio
station in Nottingham. Thereafter he broadcast regularly from
the BBC Studios in Birmingham, then went to Czechoslovakia
to study under Sevcik, the famous teacher of the violin.
many of his contemporaries, Cyril’s early professional career
found him playing in cinema ‘pit orchestras’ (often only 3
or 4 players!) accompanying silent films. At 17 he won a scholarship
to Trinity College of Music in London, and whilst there saw
a newspaper report that Henry Hall was forming a Dance Band
at the BBC. He passed the audition and started playing with
the band, appearing in its first ever broadcast. He also appeared
on some of Hall’s early 78s for Columbia, recorded in 1932.
However Hall eventually decided that Stapleton was too young
for the job, so he returned to Nottingham, where he formed
his own band, playing at various local cinemas.
joined the Jack Payne Orchestra, and toured with it extensively
in South Africa. He also appeared on some of Payne’s 78s for
the Rex label in 1936.
London, Stapleton’s band was engaged at Fisher’s Restaurant,
New Bond Street, and at The Casino in Compton Street. His
first broadcast with his own band took place in March 1939,
and for a short while he played with the Jack Hylton Orchestra,
under Billy Ternent. But soon afterwards his musical career
had to be put on one side when he enlisted in the Royal Air
Force during World War II where he served for five years,
initially as an air gunner.
At the various
places where he was stationed he organised the music for concerts
and shows, and managed to catch the Glenn Miller Army Air
Force Band on a visit to the USA. During his last year in
the RAF he was stationed in Uxbridge where he became a member
of the RAF Symphony Orchestra. This rekindled an earlier interest
in symphonic music, and back in civilian life he decided to
concentrate on this area of music. At one particular time
he was a member of three orchestras: the London Symphony,
the National Symphony and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
to keep playing the same old classical repertoire started
to pall, and in 1947 he was back in Fisher’s with his own
band. He started late night broadcasting, one of his singers
being Dick James, who later achieved fame and fortune as the
music publisher for The Beatles.
strings in 1948, the Stapleton band attracted a wider audience,
helped by appearances on radio shows such as "Hit Parade"
and "Golden Slipper".
was assured in 1952, when the BBC Dance Orchestra was changed
to the BBC Show Band, and Cyril Stapleton was appointed as
its conductor. This was the BBC’s prestige outfit for the
playing of popular music, employing the finest musicians and
arrangers, and the first programme went out on the Light Programme
on 2 October 1952. The band’s signature tune (originally arranged
by Robert Farnon) opened to the words: "Just For You
... " Not only did the band attract the top British singers,
but American entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and Nat ‘King’
Cole were also happy to appear as guests. Remember that this
was a time when radio was still the mass medium for home entertainment,
with a suitably generous budget. The Show Band Show was also
seen in several BBC Television broadcasts, making Stapleton
even more of a household name to the British public. Its importance
to the music industry is demonstrated by the fact that at
least one London publisher offered Stapleton the exclusive
pick of all new songs for several weeks before they were released
to other performers.
also recognised the Band’s appeal, and a second Show Band
film in CinemaScope entitled "Just For You" was
released to the Odeon Cinema circuits late in 1955. Directed
by Michael Carreras, it proved why the Show Band Show was
such a big draw on sound radio at that time. Stapleton was
featured as violin soloist in The Story of a Starry Night,
and he also accompanied Joan Regan on piano.
At the height
of the Show Band’s popularity, in November 1955 Cyril Stapleton
said: "When the BBC Show Band was formed in 1952 we had
no idea it would attain such success as it has during these
past three years. We had a lot of criticism at first, both
good and bad, and we changed the pattern to please as many
people as possible. Many star personalities of today came
to us as newcomers to radio, such as Stan Stennett; Bill McGuffie
was another, who went on to appear as a great solo performer
of the piano, and also run his own big band; a young Tommy
Whittle, who also went on to form his own orchestra; and not
forgetting the Scots comedian/compere, Rikki Fulton. Variety
is the spice of dance music programmes - that has always been
my motto, and I sincerely hope that I have succeeded in bringing
you dance music with a difference". Another ‘unknown’
who had cause to be thankful to Stapleton was Matt Monro,
given his first big chance with the Show Band.
Band was broadcasting three times a week (in various forms)
but all this came to an end on 28 June 1957, much to the dismay
of its many fans. Despite much criticism, the BBC refused
to reverse its decision to ‘kill’ the band. Cyril kept busy
touring with his own orchestra, making records and broadcasting,
and appearing around the country in theatres and dance halls.
This continued until the mid-1960s, when he was appointed
an Artists and Repertoire Manager at Pye Records.
years, while still an executive with the same company, he
was persuaded to return to making his own LPs, and conducted
several excellent albums. Towards the end of his life he started
to tour again, with a large band, trying to re-create his
success with the BBC Show Band. Sadly he died aged only 59
on 25 February 1974, but he has left us with a fine collection
was a talented conductor whose musical prowess extended far
beyond waving a baton. He had served his apprenticeship in
the British music industry long before he achieved his just
rewards which, for a while, made him a household name in Britain.
Cyril Stapleton is not unique among his peers - there were
many arrangers and conductors who came from the same demanding
school - but he offered good taste and showmanship that few
others have equalled. He deserves to be remembered for his