Osborne was a well known name in Britain during the late 50's,
the 60s and the early 70s, thanks to his many recordings
and appearances on radio and television. He was born Edward
Benjamin Osborne near Cambridge on 29 June 1922, and completed
his education at St. Georges College.
first professional gig was as a 14 year-old accordionist in
Josephine's Gypsy Orchestra, having been junior accordion
champion of East Anglia. Eventually he escaped from those
Gypsies for long enough to form his own band which became
popular in the Cambridge area.
second World War Tony joined the Royal Air Force in 1942,
and spent three years in Cairo and the Middle East. Like many
other musically talented conscripts his talents were soon
put to good use. His weapon of choice was the trumpet and
he played his way through the war helping the likes of 'Monty'
and Ralph Reader to entertain our troops to victory ......
At least that's his story!
discharge from the RAF Tony's first professional jobs were
playing trumpet and piano with the bands of Cyril Stapleton
and Frank Weir, before moving on to Carroll Gibbons and Ambrose.
In those bands he played alongside the likes of George Shearing,
Ronnie Scott, Jack Parnell, John Dankworth and Kenny Baker.
He had come home from the war with such great technique and
'chops' as a trumpet player that he was often called in to
augment the various BBC orchestras on their bigger programmes
like 'The Goon Show' and 'Take It From Here' but, realising
that he was never going to be the best trumpet player in England
while Kenny Baker was alive, Tony began concentrating more
on his piano. He became a staff arranger for various top publishing
companies and this led to increasing interest from the record
companies who soon noticed that he was not only talented but
rather handsome as well. Osborne eventually had major deals
with Pye, E.M.I and Decca (the big three of their day).
In the late
1950s he was musical director on Britain's first ever pop
music television show, the BBCs legendary 'Six-Five
Special'. This naturally led to work with many of the top
pop acts of the time, such as Eden Kane, John Leyton, Freddie
and the Dreamers and Peter & Gordon.
Tony had married lovely Lancashire lass Joan Mason; they produced
two children and separated amicably after 20 years. They're
a musical family. Son Gary Osborne became a successful songwriter,
famous for his collaborations with Elton John (including Blue
Eyes & Part Time Love) and Jeff Wayne (The War of the
Worlds & Forever Autumn). While Tony's daughter Jan Jones,
herself once an excellent singer, was for many years married
to Rock drummer Kenney Jones, of The Small Faces, The Faces
and The Who. Tony's brother-in-law is Bob Adams, a 'Geraldo'
stalwart and top session sax player in London's 50s and 60s.
Bob worked closely with Tony, often acting as the 'booker"
who ensured the presence on Tony's sessions of such master
musicians as Kenny Baker, Ray Davies, Stan Roderick, Kenny
Clare, Ronnie Verrell, Roy Willox, Keith Bird, Ike Isacs,
Joe Mudelle, and Frank Clark who incidentally turns out to
be the virtuoso bassist son of none other than Josephine (she
of the Gypsy Orchestra). A great reed man and Tony's closest
friend (and biggest fan) for over half a century, Bob Adams
went on to become the foremost musical director in the South
Africa of the late 60s and 70s.
progressed to arranging and conducting sessions for major
stars, such as Mel Tormé, Johnny Mathis, Vera Lynn,
Connie Francis and Shirley Bassey. In 1964 he conducted
for Shirley at her appearances in New Yorks Carnegie
Hall where he used to open for her with a marvellously flashy
Liberace-type piano set.
Of a week
he did with Bassey in a big club in Majorca, Tony recalls
"Shirley was eight months pregnant at the time
and I honestly thought she was going to have the baby right
there on stage. For her opening number she used to come on,
point to the massive bulge in her dress, and sing I
should have danced all night ... it brought the
house down." That gig in Majorca was at a club called
Titos, where Tony was to play again with the next Diva
to avail herself of his services on stage... Eartha Kitt.
back in the recording studio Tonys credits were beginning
to read like a Hall of Fame, including: Buddy Greco,
Alma Cogan, Larry Adler, Gary Miller, Dakota Staton, Dennis
Lotis, Eve Boswell, Hildegard Knef, Joni James, Russ Conway,
Millicent Martin, Cleo Laine, Stanley Holloway, Max Miller,
Bud Flannigan, Nina and Frederick, Edmund Hockridge, Johnnie
Ray and Gracie Fields.
"When we were recording Gracie's last ever hit 'Around the
World', producer Norman Newell was bothered by a clicking
sound on the vocal track. Eventually we worked out what it
was and I was given the unenviable task of asking 'Our Gracie'
to take out her false teeth whilst doing her vocals. I'm relieved
to say that she was happy to oblige."
had an easy affinity with female artistes and after his time
with Shirley and Eartha, he was asked in 1969 to become Musical
Director for Judy Garland. He conducted three fantastic concerts
for her in Scandinavia, but tragically a month later the great
Diva was dead.
has been said about Judy's troubled life and the booze and
drugs which played such a destructive part in it. All I can
say is that even at the very end of her career, as depressed
and confused as she was, Judy was still the ultimate professional.
Before the shows she was distant and, obviously high on uppers,
she inhabited a planet of her own. After the shows she seemed
lucid but lonely and would often ask me up to her suite to
chat for hours about music, until the downers took effect
and she could sleep at last. But between the uppers and the
downers.... out there on the stage she was magic! .... Alert
and alive, as much a part of the orchestra as she was a part
of the audience, she never missed a cue and she never hit
an unmusical note. To cut a tragic story short ... even at
her very last concert Judy Garland was still quite simply
The Greatest. It turned out that we were born just 10 days
apart and we got on so well that I was really thrilled at
the prospect of a long association with Judy. Sadly it was
not to be, but those are three concerts that I will never
had compositions recorded by the likes of Duke Ellington and
Shirley Bassey. Hes had four Ivor Novello nominations,
winning the Award twice. One of these was for 'Windows of
Paris' a catchy number which for many years was the popular
signature tune for the BBC drivetime radio show 'Roundabout'.
The great Johnny Mercer liked 'Windows so much he wrote
a lyric for it.
has also written the music for half a dozen feature films
(which his son Gary describes as great music for lousy movies!)
Films include 'Every Day's a Holiday', 'The Fiend' and 'The
Secret Door'. He also provided the music for dozens of cinema
and TV commercials.
He is particularly
proud of a special symphonic arrangement he once did for Louis
Armstrong to perform at the Albert Hall of his signature tune
'Sleepy Time Down South'. Other Osborne arrangements include
'I Who Have Nothing' (for Shirley Bassey); 'Sisters' (The
Beverley Sisters); 'Out of Town' (Max Bygraves); 'Say It With
Flowers' (Dorothy Squires); 'When The World Was Young' (Eartha
Kitt); and 'Miss You' (Jimmy Youngs last ever hit).
up a reputation through his instrumental recordings in his
own name, but in fact he was more prolific than many
people realised, having also made several fine albums as Laszlo
Tabor'. It was in the mid-1970s that Decca invited him to
record semi-classical albums under that name. The best of
these was 'Gypsy Romance', which allowed Tony's exotic orchestrator
Sordo Gomez to breathe new life into the fabulous melodies
Tony had played all those years ago in Josephine's Gypsy Orchestra
(will we never be free of that woman). It should come as no
surprise that Sordo Gomez is yet another nom-de-plume for
On television, as well as 'Six Five Special' he was associated
with the long-running 'Open House', a 2-hour live show every
Saturday afternoon on the newly launched BBC-2. He also worked
extensively on radio in the UK including a couple of years
fronting the band on 'Listen to this space' a comedy show
starring Nicholas Parsons and Barry Cryer.
the end of the 1970s Tony started working for several months
each year on P&O cruise liners. Initially he fronted a
small band which he then reduced to a trio, until finally
he entertained on his own at the piano. Always a reluctant
disciplinarian, Tony had grown tired of having to keep an
eye on the other guys amorous and alcoholic adventures
on those long cruises. "I loved playing, but hated having
to worry whether the drummer would turn up drunk, or the bass
player might get it into his head to chat to the Captain's
wife!" he recalls. "So I decided to go solo, which gave me
just as much pleasure with far less pressure".
On one of
those cruises Tony met and fell in love with Faye Morgan,
one of Australia's leading designers of sporting and theatrical
costumes. They married, settled in Sydney and Tony retired
from the showbiz merry-go-round, only to be tempted back on
very special occasions.
came out of retirement in the mid-1990s to lead the last ever
genuine Glenn Miller Orchestra on a tour of Australia, featuring
the six surviving members of the bands led by Miller himself
including trumpet players John Best, Steve Lipkins, and Zeke
Zarchy, saxmen Hank Freeman and Freddie Guerra and singer
Beryl Davis. Aged 74 Tony was the baby of the
Faye died tragically young, leaving Tony heartbroken. Although
he was approaching 80, he returned to his first love, music.
playing better than ever, can now be found every weekend entertaining
at the piano at Sydney's Clontaf Restaurant or the Sydney
Yacht Club. The punters know little of their pianist's
illustrious background, but what they do know is that hes
the best pianist in town.
"I love playing so much that Id do it for nothing"
says Tony, "but for God's sake dont ever tell the management
I said that".
Tony Osborne died in Australia on 1 March 2009 aged 86.