Edward Elgar’s “Rosemary”, Played by the BBCCO, Conducted by John Wilson

The smaller (50 players) BBC Concert Orchestra did a very nice job on this 2014 album of some of Elgar’s lesser-known works; I particularly like this short sweet quiet piece. And there’s my lovely lad as well.


English Folk Song Suite: March by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Played by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Conducted by John Wilson

This was just on KUSC, the classical music station of Southern California. Oh, I can’t stay mad at my bonny lad for very long. I’ll forgive you for West Side Story John, if you vow to get out of the Proms and go back to doing what you do best. Affectionately, Cantara.

This Vaughan Williams piece was the theme music for the dramatizations of Victor Canning’s charming Mr Finchley books on BBC4 starring the late Richard Griffiths.

The Earworm That is Knightsbridge, Conducted by John Wilson

You’ve heard this piece a lot if you, like me, have regularly tuned in to the BBC over the years. (It was the signature song for the twice-a-day radio program Music While You Work during World War 2, my mother’s time.) This is a sprightly “march” with a grand ending that doesn’t sound deserved—which is why I can’t get it out of my head—unless you know that this is actually the final movement of an entire 17-minute suite.

Performed by the BBC Symphony for the program “British Light Music” at the 2500-seat Royal Festival Hall in London, 2011.

I thoroughly enjoy watching John conduct the works of Eric Coates as he seems to have taken a personal delight in this particular composer—check out the very grand “Dambusters” below (starting at 6:05; endearing look of satisfaction unclouded by thought at 9:10).

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The Death Star and Dambusters Played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson

A grand movie score by the prolific Eric Coates, very inspiring and very English. This is the kind of piece that cues you to proudly fly the Union Jack, which obviously some chap did, right in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall. I’m guessing this is some sort of tradition. The 2007 BBC Proms included the famous climactic shots from The Dambusters—you know, the movie George Lucas ripped off when he did Star Wars. Not the Death Star down there, though, it’s the Eder Dam in the heart of Nazi Germany (6:05).

Captain Kangaroo’s Theme by Edward White, Conducted by John Wilson

And at around the same time of life baby John was home in Gateshead falling out of his high chair in excitement over the brand-new BBC news theme, I was in my crib in the living room of the old one-bedroom apartment in South Minneapolis jumping up and down in excitement to the theme of Captain Kangaroo on TV.

I think I was always aware that this thing called music existed—my mother continually had the “light music” station tuned in on the tabletop radio, and I remember, before I could walk, hearing again and again orchestral standards like Leroy Anderson’s “Serenata”, Morton Gould’s “Pavanne”, Trevor Duncan’s “Lady in Love” etc etc, and my absolute favorite, the ubiquitous (because Minneapolis) “Swedish Rhapsody” by Hugo Alfen, jauntily rendered by Percy Faith.

But the Captain Kangaroo theme is the first piece of music I remember being able to “grasp” entirely, except for that stop-time somewhere in the middle, but then I was only 1 or 2, and I didn’t learn about stop-time until college. Never even knew the piece had a name besides “The Captain Kangaroo Theme”. Then just last month I landed on this vid of an entire BBC2 program from 2008 dedicated to light music pieces used for BBC shows. Went there to rip the Dick Barton, Special Agent! theme, a Monty Python favorite, for my library—it’s called “The Devil’s Galop” by Charles Williams, by the way—and came away with “Barwick Green” from The Archers, “March from Little Suite” from Dr Finlay’s Casebook etc etc etc. And then like a bolt from the blue at 47:55 was “Puffin’ Billy” which, with a crazy thrill, I recognized from the first four notes, who wouldn’t? And there—and there!—at 36 looking 12—my darling lad on the podium.

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“A Song of Patriotic Prejudice” by Flanders & Swann, Sung by Themselves

The English, the English, the English are nice
They’re worth any other at double the price

For some reason am feeling sentimental about the English today. When I was 12 I watched At the Drop of a Hat on TV and thought Michael Flanders and Donald Swann were the two coolest guys in the world—and this the year Sgt Pepper came out.