In January 1972, Tony Bennett and Robert Farnon began
recording a series of television programmes from Londons
Talk Of The Town in Leicester Square. A few
Robert Farnon Society members were able to attend the rehearsals
and the actual recordings, and their reports were published
in the May 1972 issue (No. 36) of Journal Into Melody.
The following feature (with some minor editing) is based
on those impressions of some memorable Sundays almost forty
TONY BENNETT AND ROBERT FARNON AT THE TALK OF
DAVID ADES REPORTS ON THE TV RECORDING SESSIONS
Everyone seems happy with the finished result of the Tony
Bennett / Robert Farnon Television Shows recorded at Londons
"Talk Of The Town" during the first three months
of this year.
Tony Bennett is certainly very happy!
For the first time he is doing exactly what he wants to
do on television, and virtually the whole free world will
be seeing the result. Even before all the programmes were
recorded he was making plans for doing a further 13 shows
in London later this year. And, of course, Robert Farnon
will be with him. Tony told us that having someone like
Bob in charge of the orchestra is a wonderful help and comfort
to him. "You know that everything will be all right.
Theres no doubt that Robert Farnon will be famous
within a year and rightly so".
Robert Farnon must be happy with the superb 38-piece orchestra
assembled under his baton for each of the 13 shows. Just
consider these star names:
Kenny Baker and Stan Roderick (trumpets); Don Lusher and
Bobby Lamb (trombones); Kenny Clare (drums); Eric Allen
(percussion) and Marie Goossens (harp). The orchestra leader
is Lionel Bentley.
Judging by the enthusiastic response from the audience
each time, there is no doubt that they are happy with the
entertainment provided on that particular Sunday evening
when they have been lucky enough to he present. And finally,
we in the RFAS should be happy and delighted
that Robert Farnon is at last going to get world-wide publicity
for his talents.
Each show includes a film sequence showing Tony Bennett
in various parts of the country. These are accompanied by
a different Farnon composition and full credit is given
on the screen. The following have been included:
Melody Fair, En Route, Strolling Home, Blue Theme, Journey
Into Melody, Gateway To The West, Portrait Of A Flirt, A
Summer Love, A Star Is Born, To A Young Lady, Little Miss
Molly, Down Home, Proud Canvas and State Occasion.
To fit in with the length of each film (and to allow a
brief appearance of the orchestra at the end of each number)
a few alterations had to be made to some of these pieces.
Melody Fair is played in the original version (never
recorded) which has a longer ending; at Chappells
request this was shortened - unfortunately! Both En Route
and Journey Into Melody have main themes extended
and repeated - but the biggest change of all
is for A Summer Love. This is played when Tony Bennett
wanders among the Spring flowers near Bobs home in
Guernsey; for the TV show it has been retitled A Promise
Of Spring! The problem now is what to call the real
A Promise of Spring if they wish to use it in the
next TV series. Perhaps A Summer Love?!
[Editor: sadly the hoped-for second series did not happen.
This had a familiar echo: while Farnon was recording with
Sinatra in June 1962 they talked about a second LP, but
it turned out to be just talk.]
The same setting is used for each show. The orchestra are
at the back of the stage, with Tony and his guest stars
performing in front of them. Members who have visited The
Talk Of The Town (or who have seen other TV shows from there)
will know that the stage extends into the theatre so that
the audience is seated on three sides of it. It is certainly
one of the most popular places in London for outside
TV shows. The predominant colour is gold, and most programmes
use a large dark backcloth covered in stars.
[Editor: The Talk Of The Town began life
as The London Hippodrome which was originally designed as
a circus when it opened on 15 January 1900. In 1909 it was
redeveloped as a theatre which could also screen films,
and its location in Leicester Square, at the heart of Londons
theatreland, meant that it would stage many top shows over
the next fifty years. In 1958 it became a theatre restaurant
as "The Talk Of The Town" which thrived for 25
years. In 1983 it was transformed into a nightclub, which
brought its share of problems, eventually leading to its
closure. There are plans to reopen it as a Casino in 2010.]
All the shows - except two (when Sacha Distell failed to
turn up!) - have guest stars in the second half, and the
famous names include: Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Matt
Monro, Annie Ross, Tommy Leonetti and Cleo Laine.
During the run of this series, Bob has been working to
a very busy schedule. This has given him barely 48 hours
at home each week. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are taken
up with arranging and doing vocal rehearsals with Tony and
the guest stars. 10:00 am on Sunday morning sees the start
of the band rehearsals which break at noon. At 2:00 pm begins
a complete run-through of each show (two were video-taped
each week, except the first) and finally at around 6:00
or 6:30 there is a final break until the audience arrives
and the first programme starts at around 7:45.
At the start of the show there is a short film sequence
showing a newspaper van driving past and a bundle of papers
thrown out. Newspaper headlines proclaim that Tony Bennett
is in London at The Talk Of The Town, and the lights of
the theatre then announce the show. At the same time the
orchestra is playing an up-tempo version of Robert Farnons
A Star Is Born. This reaches a climax ... there is
a drum roll, and Bobs voice (on tape) announces "Ladies
end Gentlemen, from London meet Mr. Tony Bennett!"
To great applause, Tony steps down from a revolving door
and rushes down the steps on to the main stage to start
Now lets have some reports from several members who
have been along to the recordings.
Cab Smith went on 23 January - the first
show to he taped:
On entering the showplace of the stars we were shown to
our table for six, which was near the stage. Awaiting us
were two bottles of champagne, as for the grade,
I couldnt tell you, but by the time the show ended
we found it most enjoyable - and free at that! It was kindly
supplied by Thames Television who were recording the first
of their thirteen half-hourly shows in colour of their TV
spectacular of Tony Bennett, with Robert Farnon and his
Orchestra, John Bunch ah the piano, and Tonys special
guest star Tommy Leonetti.
While we waited for the show to start, we gazed around
to see the Whos Who in Show Business, and quite a
few familiar faces could be seen near-by. On stage appeared
the session men, among them Kenny Baker and Don Lusher.
Then the Guv appeared which made the group complete.
About 7:40 the show got under way with Bobs up-tempo
arrangement of A Star Is Born, then on came Tony
Bennett in his amicable style, singing What The World
Needs Now, followed by a couple at other numbers.
After this he announced his first special guest star
Tommy Leonetti, who sang most pleasantly. Tony joined him
in a duet with a second helping of What The World
Needs Now, which ended the first half.
During the interval a few more familiar faces appeared,
among them Tony Bennetts wife Sandie, and Sheila Southern
who were sitting at a table a few feet from us.
Part two commenced with Bobs composition and fine
arrangement of Strolling Home, which was a treat
to hear and watch. Thanks, Bob.
Tonys San Francisco had to be sung in the
first show. This he sang in his superb way, followed by
I Want To Be Happy with John Bunch giving out some
grand chords on the 88s.
By this time the show was at an end and Tony came forward,
smiling in his usual way and still full of bounce and zest
to thank everybody present for being such a grand audience
and to say "Goodnight folks".
I must say he puts a lot of feeling and go
into his numbers, just like he did at the Royal Albert Hall
in the early part of last year with Bob. The time went so
quickly, but what we saw and heard made a memorable evening,
so our thanks to Thames TV for the invitation.
Three RFS members reported for JIM on the 6th
February shows. First here are Margaret Foremans jottings:
We found our visit to The Talk Of The Town one at the most
exciting nights we can remember. The evening was divided
into two halves - each half representing one half-hour show
when it is televised in Britain later this year. Tony Bennetts
performance was, as usual, faultless, and I feel that he
and Mr. Farnon deserve each other.
Each half had its own guest star, the first was Cleo Laine
and the second Annie Ross, surely two of Britains
best singers. They each sang two songs solo and shared a
third with Tony Bennett. A short piece of film was also
included in each show - familiar London scenes, the Changing
Of The Guard and a boat trip along the Thames. As these
were shown on the monitors around the theatre they were
accompanied by a Bob Farnon composition, although regrettably
no mention was made to the audience of the composer or the
The orchestra was superb especially the rhythm section
- the same group, I believe, that augmented the London Philharmonic
Orchestra that Robert Farnon conducted at the Royal Albert
Hall in January 1971.
The final pleasure came at the end when it was announced
that a technical fault had been discovered and some of the
second show had to he repeated thus giving us another chance
to hear Tony Bennett and Annie Ross sing, and Mr. Farnon
accompanying the Changing Of The Guard with State Occasion.
If Robert Farnons association with Tony Bennett means
that we see and hear more of this kind of music presented,
long may it continue. I, for one, will not complain!
Jimmy Gibbs was also present on 6 February:
I really enjoyed the shows
they were superb! The
highlight for Farnon fans was the orchestra playing Gateway
To The West to a film of Tony sailing up the river admiring
all the landmarks. Cleo swung through On A Clear Day
and a duet with Tony.
In the second show the highlight was Bob Farnons
State Occasion which we were lucky enough to hear
twice, as the first recording had been faulty. As Tony said:
"We can listen to it again and again I dont
mind, and I dont suppose you do." We certainly
All through this we sipped champagne
on the house, of course! I liked Bobs smooth casual
approach to it all, and his parting remark to the orchestra
"same time next week!" shows what a friendly get-together
of superb musicians this was. How Kenny Clare enjoyed those
drums! And what a laugh there was when the orchestra was
recalled for the retake and one of the violinists (a big
man) came puffing back with his violin already packed in
It all seemed so informal. Everyone stood around chatting
while the tape was checked. Yes, it was superb!
Finally a few more comments on the same show from George
We were seated downstairs about thirty feet from the stage
and were able to see and hear everything with the maximum
of comfort. The orchestra was, of course, superb
as regards the guests this, of course, is a matter of personal
preference. I realise that Cleo Laine is very highly regarded
in the music profession as a very accomplished singer and
stylist. She sang two songs, On A Clear Day and a
modern pop song Making It With You but, quite frankly,
she didnt make it with me!
On the other hand I really did enjoy the singing of Annie
Ross. No vocal gymnastics, she sang two good tunes
both very much with a jazz flavouring and as luck
would have it they had to be repeated.
I could have sat there all night listening to the orchestra
and the two singers; it was a great experience.
David Ades reported on the 13 February shows:
Billy Eckstine guested on both these shows, looking quite
different from his usual public image, but with the great
voice still there. However the duet with Tony My
Favourite Things caused as much trouble in the
evening as it had during the afternoon rehearsals!
Bobs compositions in the two filmed spots were Down
Home (with added strings) and the ever-beautiful Melody
Fair. Two particularly nice Bennett songs were Summer
of 42 and Street Of Dreams, the latter with a
splendid Bob Farnon arrangement. Also watch out for a long
and unusual performance of It Had To Be You
quite a tour de force by Tony Bennett with lovely piano
playing by John Bunch.
Barbara Bunfield was present on 27 February:
The orchestra straggled spasmodically on to the stage,
as do orchestras all over the world; the chandeliers dimmed
and the big arc lights over the stage blazed. The conductor
walked on to the stage, picked up his baton and an expectant
hush fell over the waiting audience. This is the sort of
scene that happens nightly all over London, but, to us,
this evening held a particular interest ... it was not just
any conductor, this was Robert Farnon and this television
recording at The Talk Of The Town was giving us an all too
rare opportunity to see (and indeed hear) the master in
The strains of San Francisco announced the appearance
of Tony Bennett, the star of the show, who gave his own
particular magic to such differing songs as Wave,
Get Happy and The Shadow Of Your Smile, not
forgetting Bob Farnon s own hauntingly beautiful composition
How Beautiful Is Night (With You). The guest artist
was Matt Monro, who I think must be rated as the best British
singer of recent years, particularly since he seems to have
picked up some of the suavity and polish of American performers
whilst visiting those shores.
Our president led the orchestra in his own inimitable compositions
Portrait Of A Flirt and To A Young Lady and
here we come to my one criticism of the presentation: both
of these pieces were played as background to some extremely
appealing film of Tony Bennett and his small daughter shown
on the monitor screens. Now this was explained to us, but
what was not mentioned was that recording of the music was
still taking place and therefore most of the audience seemed
to look upon this as a diversion staged for their benefit
and seized the opportunity to chat amongst themselves, which,
as you can imagine, annoyed Peter and myself intensely.
The high spot of the evening was, for me, a Farnon arrangement
of Georgia On My Mind sung by Matt Monro;
this took me back nostalgically to my youth and my love
of Dixieland jazz when this was a favourite piece, but nostalgia
didnt feature at all in this arrangement - a more
swinging big band sound would he hard to imagine coming
right down to the romantic strings that only Mr. Farnon
is complete master of. I bet Matt Monro could hardly believe
his luck. I know I couldnt!
May I digress here to mention the outstanding acoustical
properties at The Talk Of The Town ... I only hope the quality
comes over on the television so that we can all enjoy it
David Ades reported on the 5 March shows:
Blue Theme and a lengthened En Route were
the Farnon specials for this Sundays recordings. Also
a lovely Farnon arrangement of Heres That Rainy
Day. During the afternoon rehearsals I told Tony Bennett
that the chattering of the audience during the film sequences
was most annoying, and I said that I hoped that the microphones
were not picking it up. The following week, as soon as I
arrived at the theatre, Tony came straight up to me to say
that he had taken my complaint seriously, and
checked some of the shows already recorded. Im pleased
to report that everything sounds fine, with no noticeable
chatter on the soundtrack.
The final two shows were recorded on 12 March, and David
Ades completed his impressions of a memorable series:
The last two programmes to be recorded merely featured
Tony Bennett and the Robert Farnon Orchestra. As far as
I was concerned they were the best of all. Not that Tony
cant face up to competition from guest stars - he
most certainly can, but after all it is his TV series, and
each show only lasts 24˝ minutes in total. I understand
that guest spots in the next series may feature instrumentalists,
rather than singers. [Editor: as already mentioned, this
series did not happen.]
Bobs pieces in these final shows were Journey
Into Melody and A Summer Love (retitled A
Promise Of Spring on screen). Journey had the
main theme repeated to increase its length; it had been
hoped to use the original Chappell version, but the scores
were so badly spoilt (in the Chappell fire several years
previously) that they could not be rewritten in time.
We could go on forever praising these TV shows, but this
article must end somewhere! May I thank all the members
who have shared their evening out with us. One
point needs emphasising - the order in which the shows were
recorded will not necessarily be the order of their transmission.
[Editor: the shows were eventually broadcast on ITV
in Britain, but not in all parts of the country and occasionally
at different times. In those days the UKs only commercial
TV broadcaster was split into many regional companies who
often opted out of the programmes being screened
elsewhere. The shows were also shown overseas, and at the
start of each programme a separate opening sequence was
recorded especially for the USA.]
Under the headline "FARNON: THE GUVNOR"
the prestigious British weekly music newspaper Melody Maker
printed the following article on 11 March 1972.
American musicians of the calibre of Quincy Jones and Nelson
Riddle call him "the guvnor."
That, of course, in Stateside parlance is the ultimate
accolade. "Not," says Robert Farnon, with a self
deprecatory smile "as it means here - the boss, in
the usual context of the word."
Yes, in one sense, Bob Farnon is the "boss man"
when it comes to the specialised job of conducting a 38-piece
orchestra for Tony Bennett.
The fact that Bennett chose Farnon to front and conduct
his accompanying orchestra is itself enough testimony to
his qualities. Yet, to the public at large, he remains a
somewhat shadowy figure less well-known to those who listen
to Tony Bennett on TV and concerts than some fairly lightweight
talents who bounce into the spotlight via the album or singles
Farnon is no dyed-in-the-wool reactionary who dismisses
rock/pop with contempt. He pays tribute, in fact, to predecessors
whove done much to break down the snob
barriers between the legit and pop idioms.
"We owe a lot to people like Andre Previn and Leonard
Bernstein for bridging the gap," he says.
America, of course, was always more flexible in its musical
attitudes than Britain.
"But I think the gap started to close when Tutti Camarata
(once a trumpeter with Benny Goodman) came to Britain and
formed an orchestra of our top symphonic men and jazz musicians
for the London Town movie."
The gulf between the American and British feeling
for jazz is still closing.
That had a lot to do with Ted Heaths tours of America
in exchange for the Stan Kenton Band, which came here. This
presented British musicians with an opportunity to see and
hear American musicians at first hand.
"American musicians were not such good readers as
the British musicians, but they phrased the music better,
and in the case of pop and jazz music, they made a nice
sound on their horns."
In his 38-piece orchestra accompanying Tony Bennett on
his TV series, Robert Farnon now includes such jazz talents
as Don Lusher and Bobby Lamb (trombones), Kenny Baker and
Stan Roderick (trumpets), Kenny Clare (drums) and Arthur
Robert arranged for Ted Heath, Geraldo and recorded on
Decca, accompanying such topliners as Vera Lynn. He moved
into film work, and has some 40 films to his credit.
"I first met Tony Bennett 20 years ago" he recalls.
"We decided then wed get together one day to
do an album and some concert work."
Farnon has now done three Bennett albums: Snowfall,
an album of the TV show with the London Philharmonic at
Londons Royal Albert Hall, and Tony Bennett With Love.
- LAURIE HENSHAW.
[The Melody Maker article was reprinted in Journal
Into Melody by kind permission of the Editor.]