DESTINED TO GO THROUGH LIFE FIRST CLASS THE
LIFE AND TIMES OF EDMUNDO ROS
by BILL JOHNSON
Edmundo Ros was born on 7th December 1910 in Port of Spain
Trinidad at the height of British colonial rule. The Windward
Isles had been a Spanish, British, Dutch, and French possession
until February 1797. However, during the French Revolution,
Trinidad capitulated to British force, and in 1802, following
the Treaty of Amiens, it was ceded to Great Britain. In 1814,
following the Napoleonic Wars, France also ceded Tobago to
Trinidad and Tobago existed on a plantation economy of sugar
and tobacco. Although, slavery had been abolished in 1833,
indentured labour lingered on for many years. Edmundos
mother Luisa Urquart was a true Trinidadian and possibly descended
from one of the warring tribes, the Caribs, who witnessed
the return voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1498. She worked
as a teacher. Edmundos father was the product of a liaison
between a plantation manager, named Dupigany, and an indentured
As was customary in those days, Edmundos father took
the name William Hope-Ros, the overall owner of the Plantation
and of Scottish decent, William, created a multipurpose retail
store called "Hope Ross, Bonanza" in Port
of Spain, which still exists and it was here that Edmundo
was born and stayed until he was 17.
The Caribbean extended family tradition, that glues families
together, also included Godparents. His Godfather was a moneylender.
It is not entirely clear where he got his money but as a result
he made friends everywhere and especially in the occupying
British Army Garrison in Port of Spain.
Edmundo was educated in the local school. He was the eldest
of four children, two sisters, Ruby and Eleanor followed by
an illegitimate brother Hugo which caused his parents to separate.
The lack of a father and the free and easy lifestyle conspired
to turn the young Edmundo into a bit of a renegade. His mother
decided that some military discipline might, "tame this
little devil". So the Godparents were brought in to see
if they could help. Edmundos Godfather, fortunately,
had loans outstanding in the British Army, and so a bit of
bartering was negotiated. The Army authorities agreed to instill
discipline into the young lad in lieu of a debt, and at the
age of 14 he joined the Army.
He was very interested in music and the Army band beckoned
but he had to play an instrument. The drums seemed the best
option because Edmundo had a natural aptitude. So for the
next three years he learnt and played in a British Military
Band, quite against Kings regulations but - Hey Man
dis is Trinidad not Sandhurst.
Eventually it was resolved, the debt had been honoured and
on Edmundos 17th birthday, the Army authorities
called him in and said you have two choices, you can remain
here to sign on as a proper recruit or leave immediately.
Edmundos world was in tatters; the break up of his
parents, the apparent cold shoulder given to him by his army
guardians made him distressed. He flew the nest and began
gigging here and there, but he recognized that perfection
was the way forward. He took his music more seriously attending
college and winning several scholarships. Although he dabbled
with law briefly, his heart was in music and he played in
the Trinidad Symphony Orchestra under conductor Edgar Wallace,
not the writer, but of the same name. Eventually he moved
across to Venezuela, where he stayed for a decade. He joined
the Venezuela Symphony Orchestra, which was directed by Vicente
Edmundos ultimate aim was to become an MD but as he
could not play the piano he thought this might be a musical
bridge too far. However, he discovered that Maestro Sojo did
not play the piano either and he was a very fine conductor.
Edmundo questioned, could he emulate his hero; he was very
ambitious. He took the grants that came with the scholarships
he had won and got in touch with the British Embassy where
he learnt of two famous schools in England. Edmundo is both
a passionate royalist and a self confessed snob. He discovered
that there was a British School of Music and The Royal Academy
of Music. You can guess which one was for him. He said to
the official "I would like to become a member of the
Royal Academy of Music in London".
Edmundo caught a Dutch Steamship to England from Trinidad
with two friends Errol Barrow and Clarence Wiers who were
both pianists. They arrived on the 4th June 1937 at Plymouth
and caught a train to London.
England was in the grips of the Oswald Moseley rallies, and
still had many lessons to learn about racial tolerance. Edmundo
recognized this from the start but slowly won friends over
through his charm and sensitivity. At the station the three
of them caught a cab and the driver said, "Where do you want
to go". Edmundo was ashamed to say he did not know. So the
driver said, "I know where", and they arrived at Agrey House
in Doughty Street in the City where most of the West Indian
students congregated. The two pianists were easily settled
but Edmundo was not so fortunate. Luckily he found lodgings
at 14 Doughty Street with a lady called Mrs. Crosby, Edmundo
was convinced she was the mother of the Crooner and clearly
more up market!
The BBC and the announcers naturally impressed him. He also
listened to Radio Luxemburg and the commercials - We are the
Ovaltinies! He was determined to try and speak English properly.
The imminent Premier Mr. Churchill, whom he admired greatly,
upset him by saying "I have no time for that man
- he does not even know his three R's". What are the
three Rs Edmundo questioned? Reading, writing and arithmetic
came the answer. Despite his confusion he thought - "What
a very good name for my Orchestra - if ever I start a little
band I will call it the three R's, Ros's Rumba Romeos. At
least they all start with the same letter."
He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music, and became a student,
but on finding the grants he won would hardly support him
he gigged with Don Marino Bareto who was from Cuba. Both Bareto
and his parents were refugees from Castro. Initially, the
family settled in Paris, and then London, He was a very good-looking
man, a fine pianist and one of the first Latin American bands
to come to the UK. He became a favorite of high society and
used it to his advantage, but had one failing; he had a very
big mouth. In those days, it was not important what you did
as long as no one else found out. Bareto gossiped. On one
occasion he went on 14 days holiday and was not allowed back
into the country. So Edmundo inherited Baretos Orchestra
at the Embassy Club.
The club scene was very popular just before World War 2 and
bands were contracted to serve for a season and then a new
band took over. Subsequently, Edmundo was invited to launch
a new club in Wardour Street, the Latin scene was given the
generic title of Rumba Music, and Edmundos Group gave
an audition to the owners of the Club who were impressed,
particularly in Edmundo who could sing in Spanish. They said,
"Very nice indeed. We want to tell you two things. We
like what we hear and we intend to employ you, but you are
too many, we want only five and you are seven so get rid of
him and get rid of him". "You can't do that",
said Edmundo, "it will ruin the balance". A compromise
was reached and he got the job at the New Cosmo.
The proprietors were not impressed with "Ros's Rumba
Romeos" so it was changed to Edmundo Ros's Rumba Band.
The Club opened and it operated without problems for several
weeks. But one night a new sign had been added to the street
furniture and that read S, illuminated at night, it represented
Air Raid Shelter. And as soon as the sirens sounded, and they
did every night at that time, hundreds of people would pour
into the Club and into the basement. The club owners could
neither charge admission nor sell them anything, so it was
a waste of time and it closed the New Cosmo.
Just as Edmundo was lamenting the bad news a chap popped
up and said, "You must not worry too much old man. I
am a variety agent and I know where there is a vacancy".
It was in the St. Regis Hotel, Cork Street and they went there.
He was a very sharp agent and the whole orchestra, all five
of them, got booked for £30 per week and he took 10% from
that leaving them with £27 which had to be divided between
the five musicians. "Just one of those things - business
is business", said Edmundo. They also had another orchestra
in residence directed by George Shearing. The war continued
and Edmundos group did well, especially with the conga,
which became very popular.
Everything in the hotel was brand new but unfortunately in
the middle of one evening a bomb fell down one of the chimneys
of the St. Regis, but did not explode. Everyone ran out naturally
to the nearest air raid shelter which was in Vigo Street.
This was the back entrance to the Coconut Grove, which was
also a shelter.
The St. Regis Hotel had to be shut down and while the band
sorted themselves out thinking what to do next, a very nice
young lady came up to Edmundo and said, "Where is that
smile I'm told you have". Edmundo replied, "If you
had my problems, my dear, you wouldn't be smiling either.
"What is your problem?" she said. "Well you
see these five chaps here all in these funny costumes, I spent
all my passage money to return to Venezuela on those costumes,
rehearsals, arrangements, on every damn thing, and now I'm
broke". "You mean that you have no money at all".
"Just enough to eat. What can we do"?
"Well" she said "I have some news for you.
Due to the air raids, business has suffered here in the Coconut
Grove". Sid Phillips and his Orchestra were playing at
the time. "We will have to economize and lose two players".
In those days the union rate was eight guineas per man. When
we sack these two fellows who are leaving on Saturday night
we will save 16 guineas." Edmundo said, "I would
do anything to find somewhere to play with my boys".
She said, "OK if you really mean that you and your group
can start here on Monday evening for 16 guineas a week for
the five of you". They started at the Coconut Grove on
the Monday and as luck would have it the Blitz became less
intense, people started to come out in the evenings and business
picked up at the Coconut Grove. Naturally after a week or
so Edmundo said, "We cannot continue at this rate",
and their salary was increased; a second rise followed - a
big jump to £45 per week.
Edmundo was also a popular session player. When Fats Waller
came to England he became his percussionist and made several
records with the group, which included Ian Shepard, Violin,
Tenor Saxophone, Alfie Kahn Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone, George
Chisholm Trombone, Dave Wilkins Trumpet, Alan Ferguson Guitar,
Len Harrison Bass.
Edmundos first recordings were with Parlophone in 1941
but things did not work out, they already had Victor Silvester,
Carol Gibbons, Jack Payne, and Geraldo in their stable and
as shellac, the raw material for 78rpm records, was used in
the war effort, his contract was not renewed.
Suddenly an American lady organist appeared on the scene,
Ethel Smith. She was contracted to Decca and they also contracted
Edmundo to play with her. From 1944 to 1974 he stayed with
Decca and his back catalogue of hits like Tisket, a Tasket,
Los Hijos de Buda, Mambo Jambo are still widely available
together with the Phase 4 stereo material. His album The Wedding
Samba sold three million copies in 1949 alone. He also recorded
with Caterina Valente, the multilingual artiste who is very
big all over the Continent.
Then a young lady came to England from the other side of
the pond called Carmen Miranda, with her outlandish fruit-festooned
headgear; Carmen the "Brazilian Bombshell" epitomized the
spirit, vitality and essence of Latin culture. Although born
in Portugal, her devoutly Catholic parents moved to Brazil
when she was an infant.
In 1948 she appeared at the London Palladium and Edmundo's
band was employed to back her. She only appeared there for
one year, due to a life of ill health, but she caused quite
a stir and her act was taken over and mimicked by Tommy Trinder.
With coconut shells on his head, high heels and stockings
it brought the house down. This was one of many lucky breaks
One couldnt say that Edmundo was an overt ladies man
but his caressing soft voice did attract some of the most
formidable and powerful in the land, who would pursue him
relentlessly either in the Coconut Grove or on tour.
When he moved to the Bagatelle, one of the finest restaurants
in Britain, an aggrieved party in a high society divorce case
named him as co-respondent. This lady was a distant member
of the Royal Family and she used to come to the Club frequently.
Edmundo made friends with her. Then suddenly he had a letter
from a solicitor telling him that he had pursued a certain
gentleman's wife and that it had to stop. Naturally, Edmundo
took it to his solicitor who told him to do nothing. Another
letter advising him of an impending Court case arrived. Edmundo,
more than bemused because he had done nothing to warrant this
fuss, thought he had better go to the court and listen. It
transpired that the husband, who was an Officer in the Welsh
Guards, had come home to find his wife in bed with a Colonel
In Chief of the Free Dutch Army. The military from all over
free Europe congregated in London, due to the ongoing war.
Naturally, the Officer sued the Colonel for adultery. The
Judge realized that the complaint was not against Edmundo.
However he fined the Colonel In Chief just £300 for adultery
because he was an officer and a gentleman and then fined Edmundo
£1000 for the previous innocent liaison and leading the lady
astray. It smacks of prejudice but luckily Edmundo did not
experience much. The News of the World published every syllable
spoken in court. As a result, there was a big meeting of the
Royal Family and this lady's family in Buckingham Palace and
whilst it was established that during 11 days of the case
Edmundo did not say a word The late Queen mother was heard
to remark "No, of course he did not say a single word,
he is a gentleman, he is one of us". From that moment
on Edmundo said, "I became Senor Edmundo Ros".
The PR department of the Bagatelle was more than concerned
because the lady in question went to their club every night,
Edmundo had even taught her a few dance steps. The late Princess
Margaret also came and learnt to dance in the Bagatelle, as
did the then Princess Elizabeth who danced for the first time
in public to Edmundos music. The Restaurant Manager
Snr. Ferraro, in an effort to control the crisis rang Buckingham
Palace and spoke to the Queen "being a father
myself I am a little concerned about the fact that your daughter
is coming to see us on Tuesday evening. Mr. Ros is still singing
and teaching dancing here. Would you find it uncomfortable
for your daughter to be in his company"? The late Queen
Mother replied, "She has to grow and up and she will
meet a number of different types of people and I will not
stop her from doing anything she wants to do". It didn't
do Edmundo any harm and, on balance, probably a lot of good.
Edmundo Ros married his first wife Britt Johansen in 1950.
Their meeting and subsequent romance was rather unorthodox
to say the least. She was attached to the Swedish Embassy
in London and was a frequent visitor to the Club so they both
became close friends. Edmundo used to tour a lot and an opportunity
arose where a series of concerts were booked through Europe.
Unexpectedly, the Austin Motor company who produced The Princess
and Shearline Cars offered Edmundo a top of the range model
as a present, provided he drove it through France to each
venue for publicity purposes, which he did. He explained to
Britt that he would be away for a couple of weeks and she
promptly replied that she would go with him, provided he got
permission from her parents. Thinking this to be very unlikely
Edmundo approached them, and to his utter amazement they agreed.
The tour was a resounding success, only marred by one small
In those days the British Immigration officials used to travel
on the ferries from Calais to Dover. Everyone had to report
to them to have their passport stamped; British in one queue
and foreign nationals in another. Edmundo was called over
by Britt to see the Immigration official handling her case.
"Why should I see him?" asked Edmundo, "well he wants
to speak to you," replied Britt. He was greeted most
cordially by the officer- "Hello Edmundo, this charming young
lady wants to come into London and she tells me she is your
fiancé" Edmundo replied, "She is?" "Well Edmundo"
the officer continued "As she is your fiancé, it pre
supposes there will be an eventual date for your marriage.
Have you any idea when that will be?" Edmundo, who is not
a person to offend any lady in his company, quietly whispered
to the official "Not the slightest". The officer retorted
"Well Edmundo, in order for the lady to enter Britain I need
the date of your Wedding, whether it is three, six months
or a year away. As I am sure you are a man of honour, shall
we say three months"? And so Britt was allowed back into the
UK for three months and everyone was happy.
As soon as they arrived back in London a very well known
society agent approached Edmundo and said "The Royal Family
are having a party at Windsor in a couple of weeks and they
would like you to play there". "Of course" he continued, "your
musicians will be paid the union fee for the performance but
you will not be paid, you will have the honour to be presented
to the Royal Family". Edmundo thought that was very nice and
agreed. "Now" said the agent "You will need an escort you
can bring your wife or mother". "But I don't have either of
those" explained Edmundo "What I do have is a fiancé".
"I am not sure that would be allowed", said the agent "I will
enquire". He returned later and said, "The Royal Family have
no objection to meeting your Good Lady". The party date came
round, the Orchestra played and then one of the equerries
came over and said "Edmundo the monarchs have expressed a
desire to meet you and your Good Lady". "Thank God for
that" said Edmundo and off they both toddled to meet
H.M. George VI and the Queen Elizabeth. When they were in
attendance, the Queen turned and looked at Britt and said
" What a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Ros what a charming lady
you are". Edmundo, dumb struck, said "But she is only my Good
Lady". However, to avoid any embarrassment they both married
at Caxton Hall and had two children Douglas, who learnt electronic
engineering at Decca and now runs a telecom computing business,
and Louisa who was an English teacher but now lives in Peru
In 1951, Edmundo bought the Coconut Grove; he had been appearing
there since 1940 when the band was just a sextet. The Club,
contrary to many other nightclubs was very respectable. In
the late 50s George Raft was exiled from the UK due
to alleged misdealing at his club in Berkeley Square. The
Coconut Grove, on the other hand, was owned by a company called
Private Parties Limited and when a law was introduced which
obliged all premises to fit smoke extractors, Edmundo provided
the funds. Eventually he had given so much financial support
that the owners became embarrassed and offered shares in lieu
of cash which gave him control of the Club.
In the early sixties the Arthur Murray School of Dancing
decided to set up in London. Earl Manning was one of their
dance teachers. By this time, of course, Edmundo had become
a household name, with regular BBC broadcasts from the Coconut
Grove under the auspices of Cecil Madden and from the Golden
Slipper Club, which in truth was a BBC studio, the Paris Cinema
in Lower Regent Street. It was not surprising that the Arthur
Murray School contacted the Maestro and they formed a partnership
to use the Coconut Grove as an outlet for his Dance Academy
in Leicester Square.
Certain bandleaders who worked for the BBC were not allowed
to present their own programmes because, either their accent
was not good enough or they could not work unscripted. Edmundo
was cleared for both. He had taken great trouble from the
day he arrived to cultivate a BBC accent. However, there was
one occasion when he had a slight slip up on a live programme.
Not only did he plug his latest record but he told the listeners
where to buy it. The producer, tearing his hair out, tried
to stop him to no avail because he was live on air. "We will
be taken off", screamed the producer at the end of the broadcast,
in a voice that implied some vital part of his anatomy had
just been ripped off! "Oh, my God it just slipped out", said
Edmundo. The following day a note came down from the seventh
floor of Broadcasting House where the DG and senior controllers
are situated. The note landed on the producers desk
and read. Would you ask Mr Ros to kindly come and see
me at his convenience. Edmundo was mortified and shaking
like a leaf, shuffled up to the holy of holies the same afternoon.
"How are you Edmundo, you are looking very well old boy"
said the DG. "Thank you Sir" murmured Edmundo. "I expect you
are wondering why I asked to see you", continued the DG. "Well
Sir could it have been that little 'faux pas' the other night,
I am extremely sorry". "Quite right", retorted the DG " You
must remember you represent the BBC when you work alone and
live on the air". The DG took out a cigarette from his pristine
silver case, but did not offer Edmundo one. "I gather you
do not smoke Edmundo", Edmundo thought for a moment and convinced
himself that the DG was really human after all. "Well thank
you for passing by Edmundo, Goodbye", said the DG. "Before
I go and in mitigation, Sir", Edmundo burbled, thinking his
career was still on the line, "You realise that I do not work
from a script and occasionally these slight accidents do happen.
Tell me how would you have handled it, Sir?". The DG not expecting
the question replied, "I would have said, I have just recorded
this tune and it is available in the usual places". Edmundo
exited stage left muttering to himself, "Where the hell
are the usual places"?
Edmundo put a considerable workload upon himself, with regular
broadcasts from his club and from most of the BBC studios
of the day Maida Vale, Aeolian Hall, 201 Piccadilly and the
Paris Cinema, guest appearances on TV; it completely took
over his life.
Britt said to him one day. "One of your partners in the dance
school has asked me to leave you and marry him". "What did
you say?" enquired Edmundo. "I said I'd think about it".
Britt replied. "Well when you have decided tell me first".
Which she did. They had been married for thirteen years.
Edmundo was always proud of the cars he drove. Over the years
he bought a Bentley, Mercedes and several Rolls Royce. In
fact he used to put his drums in the back of one, much to
the disgust of his colleagues "You cant do that,"
they said. "Well if it wasnt for the drums I wouldnt
have one," replied Edmundo. On enquiring whether a personal
number plate could be provided with his latest Silver Ghost
Jack Barclay had to admit that ER 1 was a trifle beyond his
Edmundo had a hairdresser whose father was a Mason. In the
course of conversation it was suggested that Edmundo join
his Lodge. "But I am not a Mason" Edmundo replied. "Well if
you wished to join up" said the hairdresser, "how about joining
his" This Edmundo did. Over the years the many members
of Chelsea Lodge, mainly in the theatrical profession, have
appeared in the Royal Variety Performance; including Talbot
OFarrell, Wee Georgie Wood, Bud Flanagan, George Ganjou,
Sandy Powell, Leslie Sarony, Lupino Lane, Nat Jackley, Reg
Dixon, Peter Sellers, Arthur English, Alfred Marks, Bernard
Bresslaw, Joe Loss, Billy Dainty, Bob Monkhouse, Roger De
Courcey, Jim Davidson and of course Edmundo Ros, to name but
a few. He enjoyed the craft and then became a founder member
of another lodge and, when he retired to Javea in Spain, Lodge
43 Sprig of Acacia was formed and Edmundo became one of nine
founder members and finally Grand Master.
The Coconut Grove was renamed in 1964 to the internationally
known and very exclusive Edmundo Ros' Dinner and Supper Club
at 177 Regent Street telephone number Regent 7675. A self
confessed snob, Edmundo ensured an aristocratic clientele
by demanding that any member who wished to join had to appear
in the current copy of Debrets. He arranged for a colour advertisement
to be put at the beginning of the tome to reinforce his position
and in all 40,000 members were signed up from all over the
world. His code of etiquette was equally stringent. Edmundo's
notebook included all the names and phone numbers of the British
Royal Family, nobility, counts, peers, dukes and those with
power and influence.
Ladies with big hats or wearing trousers were not admitted,
including, on one occasion, the wife of Sir Cecil Hardwick.
Another notable exclusion was King Hussein of Jordan, a Latin
music aficionado. His party was denied entrance because one
of his group, film star Peter O'Toole, was not properly dressed
and did not accept the tie offered to him. Regular royal guests
included Princess Margaret, Monaco's Prince Rainier and Prince
Bertil of Sweden. The club had 24 musicians and 53 employees
of whom one had, as his sole job, to polish the silver.
Throughout Edmundos musical career he always ensured
that his musicians were treated with the utmost respect like
one big happy family but, just like the clientele, they had
to stick to the rules. Stage costumes had their own hanger
with a nametag and had to be carefully hung on a rail that
was provided at the end of the session at three in the morning.
Clothes for cleaning were put in a basket for the laundry,
a military discipline he learnt in Trinidad.
However, there was one rebel in the band who just threw his
costume on the floor. Eventually, Edmundo had to confront
him and request an explanation. "Do you think this costume
would look better on the hanger or on the floor?" he
said to the perpetrator. "I see no difference" came
the reply. This caused some amusement amongst the other boys
in the Orchestra, which broke Edmundos heart because
they were laughing at his rules. Edmundo hated being ridiculed
but he did have the presence of mind to keep his council.
Edmundos rules, under his own admission, were sometimes
harsh but he had to run his business with military precision.
Eventually, hostesses were allowed in the Club but the rules
made it clear that there would be no fraternisation with any
of the staff. In fact the rule prevented even husbands and
wives being employed together. It was not long before it was
being abused. The same musician who would not hang his costume
became friendly with a female member of staff. Edmundo had
to confront him once again for this indiscretion and he was
promptly sacked with two weeks salary in lieu of dismissal
in his pocket. Later, Edmundo got a visit from the musicians
wife to find out why he was sacked and to have him reinstated
immediately. Edmundo could not oblige with either request.
But the pleading continued over several visits until Edmundo
relented and broke another of his rules. Which was not to
re-employ a dismissed member of staff.
Two weeks later the same musician was convened as shop steward.
From that point, he virtually ran the Orchestra. Whenever
Edmundo decided on a rehearsal session the shop steward called
the tune! Slowly, Edmundo became agitated, frustrated and
began to loathe the man.
The club was popular for its atmosphere and music; in 1965
gambling was allowed in night clubs in the UK and Edmundo
was offered licence No 1, but his premises proved to be unsuitable.
Subsequently, gambling mania took hold and the resulting loss
of business meant the club had to close the same year.
Edmundo and Susan, his second wife to be, met on a train
from Malvern to Paddington. Edmundo had been visiting his
son and it was the holiday season. Edmundo, who had booked
first class, was surprised to find First-Class had been sacrificed
to accommodate more Second-Class carriages. The train was
packed so the stationmaster provided him with accommodation
in the guards van. On the next stop Edmundo singled out a
very attractive young girl, with a very pert derrière
trying to find a seat. He thought to himself if she returns
maybe she might like to share my accommodation and have a
bite of supper on the train. She sat with him, and they conversed
for the remainder of the trip to Paddington. Edmundo discovered
she worked in the City in Financial services. Regrettably,
a dining car had also been sacrificed like first class, so
Edmundo said, "We will go to an hotel".
They arrived at the Rib Room at the Carlton Tower Hotel and
despite not having a reservation were ushered in by the Maitre
d and given a very nice table. After the meal Edmundo
said "Now I must take you home my dear. Tell me where
do you live". This was a loaded question because had
she said Battersea that would have been the end of this liaison,
luckily she replied. "I live in Pimlico". That was
a different "kettle of kippers" and clearly on Edmundos
hit list. Hubbard the ever-faithful chauffeur was palmed a
couple of quid to find a cab to which he commented. "Not
again, not another one". Edmundo drove Susan to her apartment.
Anticipating an extended stay he discovered a bottle of Champagne
nicely iced in the cocktail cabinet of the Roller as they
arrived at her address. "Well good night Edmundo"
Susan said. "It has been a pleasure meeting you and thank
you for dinner". Edmundo, slightly put out of his countenance,
still clutching the bottle, drove off with his tail between
his legs rueing the thought of giving Hubbard 2 quid to get
He called her office the following morning and the operator
recognised his voice instantly. "Please hold on Mr. Ros
I believe Miss Smith is expecting your call". Edmundo
was surprised to say the least, he said, "Tell me Susan
what do you do". She replied, "I am in charge of
credit at the bank" Curious, Edmundo added; "What
is my credit rating". Susan replied, "You dont
have one". Edmundo having been careful with his money
always bought with cash.
Finally when they both saw that love was in the air, an uncle
of hers who had been a bursar at a university in Africa, and
had not enjoyed it one bit, decided to sabotage her marriage
plans. He contrived to get her posted to Germany to cool off
and she ended up in Bergen Belsen. Edmundo could only phone
his beloved and this went on for a year. Edmundo's telephone
bill skyrocketed; International charges through an operator
had to be booked and were far more expensive than those enjoyed
today. When she returned she announced, "Her employers were
very satisfied and would like her to go on a three year posting
to Cyprus". Edmundo said, " Cyprus for three years! Jesus
Christ I will never be able to afford it. What did you say
to them"? Susan replied, "I said I would think about it".
"Well you can tell them no - we will get married next week"
snorted Edmundo. They married on Whit Monday 1971 in the Hampstead
Registry Office and he had to pay extra for the privilege.
Eventually they went to meet the uncle who had evidenced
some discrimination and found he was also a Mason. Leaving
Susan at her Aunts house, they both went to his Lodge only
to find that Edmundo was several levels above his uncle-in-law.
Following the demise of the club, but still enjoying a full
broadcasting schedule, Edmundo, complete with Orchestra decided
to travel and they went to Japan seven times. Susan joined
him on the last two trips. They recorded for the Japanese
market and built on their popularity. On the trips to Japan,
everyone was amply paid, so successive trips had to be done
at the same rate but Edmundo, constantly prodded by his shop
steward, did succeed in getting better conditions. By the
seventh trip to Japan the contract also included a clause
no travelling on the Orchestras rest day.
But fate turned against them on a trip to one of the Islands,
Hokkaido. On the day of the flight a snowstorm hit the island
and flights were cancelled. The next day was a rest day. Usually
the Orchestra would not have complained but the Maestro stuck
to the rules and despite a late night phone call from the
agent, Mr Ito, saying his life might be put in jeopardy if
the concert did not take place, Edmundo said his contract
made this very clear and he and Susan went to bed.
The following morning, at seven o clock, came a knock on
the door by the shop steward, who explained that Mr Ito had
met the whole Orchestra in the bar and had persuaded them
and him to fly on their rest day and offered a little extra
in the wage packet for their trouble.
Edmundo was furious; he had had enough, he was now not in
control of his beloved Orchestra. Deals were being made behind
his back and the tail was wagging the dog! He said to Susan
"This is the End of Edmundo Ros".
The Maestro rang his secretary for many years, Mrs B. saying,
"I would like you to do two things". "Please
call the BBC and arrange for a concert in a studio with an
audience which they could use for posterity. Also please call
the Westmorland Hotel and book a dinner for all the musicians
and their wives."
On August 8th, 1975 Edmundo did the concert for the BBC.
There was of course, considerable speculation amongst the
players as they arrived at the Westmorland Hotel after the
recording, why was Edmundo acting so strangely? Each was given
time to say a few words but when it was time for the shop
steward to say something he said "Perhaps the old boy
is packing it up because he has made enough money!"
But, the musicians were not amused this time. It was the
end of an era of popular light Latin American music and the
Orchestras livelihood. Subsequently, many of the musicians
got jobs with leading bands like Victor Sylvester others retired.
Eric Spencer pianist and arranger and Buzz Truman leading
Trumpet subsequently died. Edmundo gave all the instruments
and costumes to the Salvation Army and all but 20 scores were
shredded. Any outstanding concerts were cancelled and both
Edmundo and Susan then went on cargo boat cruises around the
world seven times in the next four years.
When Edmundo was 80 he was offered a fellowship to the Royal
Academy of music it came about following an interview with
John Dunn of the BBC. A listener checked it up and found that
only Edmundo and Johnny Dankworth had shared such an honour
outside the classical fraternity.
They were staying at a friends house and the taxi driver
who picked them up said, "Going to the races Edmundo?"
"No" replied Edmundo, "to the Royal Academy
Michael Nyman met Edmundo at the Royal Academy and said,
"I grew up with your music and would like to do a doco
about you". About two years following the release of
"The Piano" he arrived in Javea Spain with a 13-person
film crew and stayed at the Parador. They all arrived ravenous
and, Edmundo bemused by the number of people required to make
a simple documentary, suggested his favourite restaurant The
Asari. Hasty telephone calls were made and a table booked.
Edmundo took them all over Javea shooting material for the
movie, which turned out a total waste of time because the
material shot was useless. A second company was employed called
Rosetta who were based in Hammer House, where they had found
a feature called the Edmundo Ros Half Hour. It was shot in
1955. These "quota quickies" were quite popular as fillers
in cinemas of the day, alongside Pete Smith's Specialities,
Pathe Pictorials and the vivid colour spectaculars that ended
"As the Sun slowly sets in the West we say goodbye", to wherever
it was. The doco was screened in 1994 on Channel 4 under the
Title "He sold his Cadillac to Diana Dors" which Edmundo detested
but, being the gentleman that he is, did not contest it.
In his illustrious career he has received countless awards
and honorary fellowships including the freedom of the City
of London, Javea and Trinidad
Edmundo came out of retirement briefly for a concert with
the BBC Big Band and Strings in 1994.Both he and Stanley Black
conducted and Edmundo also sang at The Queen Elizabeth Hall
in London. The concert broadcast over BBC Radio 2 was a resounding
success and a Japanese recording company invited them into
a recording studio in London to make yet another CD.
At the age of 90 he was awarded an O.B.E by Her Majesty,
Queen Elizabeth II, in the 2000 New Year's Honours List. Prince
Charles performed the ritual. "Where are you playing
these days Edmundo, I could do with a good dance". The
Maestro had to admit he had hung up his baton and dancing
shoes years ago.
Edmundo Ros, still retaining his unique charm, will be 95
on Dec10th 2005 and lives with Susan, his wife, in Javea Spain.
They enjoy stunning views overlooking the Port. His legacy
is introducing traditional Latin American music, countless
Broadway and popular melodies, adapted to the Latin genre,
to the world, which now spans more than 60 years. Doubtless
an achievement that will never be equalled.
Copyright Bill Johnson 2006: this article first appeared
in the December 2005 and March 2006 issues of Journal