Working Lives

From banking to music (1940s-1960s)

Location: London

Peter began work at the Midland Bank at 16 before the war. At the same time, he was the compere of a concert party playing for the troops. He took part in the Normandy invasion. Eventually he became a professional musician on the London scene in the 1960s.

My first job was as a clerk at the Head Office of the Midlands Bank in London. I had just left school, so I was sixteen. I was in the premises department, which was looking after all the Midlands Bank buildings all over the country. It might be of interest that the Midlands Bank at that time, just at the beginning of the war, had a concert party and I went along for an audition with my ukulele and they made me the compere and so, we used to go up after office hours to do entertainments at mostly anti-aircraft sites and from time to time there would be an air-raid and the troops would dash off, fire a few rounds and then come back when the all clear went and we would finish our little entertainments for them.

I can’t remember how much I was paid, but it was a very modest sum. I was living at home in Reigate with my mother, but as things got worse with the air-raids, I went and stayed with people up in Cricklewood, in London because it was difficult to get home.

My mother knew of somebody at the bank and put my name forward. I didn’t learn many skills. It was war-time and every morning when you came into work there were a lot more buildings demolished over night. Besides the concert party, we also had to do fire watching at various branches and I can remember we spent one night, on the top of a bank opposite Madame Tussauds. Fortunately nothing happened that night, it was a quiet night. From there I went into the army. My brother had been a regular soldier and by then was a captain working in the war office and his words of advice were ‘the sooner you go in the sooner you come out,’ which now I think is absolute nonsense, but , anyway, I decided to volunteer. I could have been put up into reserved occupation, apparently, because the bank said that with my involvement with the concert party they could have had my call up deferred, but I went and volunteered and as I’d been in school in Sussex, I went along to recruiting office on the Edgware Road and the man asked, ‘What do you want sonny?’ and I said, ‘I’d like to join the Sussex regiment.’ He said ‘ You’d have to go down to Brighton to that- well, where do you live?’ I said I lived in Reigate in Surrey and he said. ‘Well, you want to join the East Surreys,’ so I said, ‘Right fine.’ He said ‘Sign here,’ which I did and when I eventually got my calling up papers, I was sent down to Canterbury and instead of the East Surreys they put me in the Middlesex regiment.

I always loved music right from the early days. My brother and I both played ukeleles and we had an act together called Pete and Oscar and we used to do war-time fundraising concerts playing as backing artists to Winona Wynn people like that and from there on, all the time I have always had some musical connections, all through my life.

I worked a normal nine to five when I worked at the bank. I wasn’t there that long. The army affected my life more than the bank. They asked me to come back to the bank after the war but I didn’t want to. The army gave me an interest in music, I bought a second hand guitar while we were still in training and I learnt a few chords and I teamed up with the Sergeant, Fred Pierce who played the accordion and was a very good singer and we got a little act together which we called Fred and Pete. Just before the invasion our Sergeant Major came along to see us and we were stationed at Hastings and he said ‘when the wives and girlfriends come down at weekends, because this is a restricted area, there is nothing for them to do, the cinemas are all closed, there’s not many pubs, there’s one or two, what I would like you two lads to do is come to this old fella’s pub every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and play a few tunes for us. He said, ‘I’ll look after you, I’ll take the hat round.’ And he did, true to his word, he took the round, and it was very inadvisable for anyone not to drop a few coppers in the hat so Fred and I did very nicely out of that. We made lots of good friends.

We eventually went on the Normandy invasion- we were due to land on D plus seven, D-Day plus seven. The unit went to Tilbury to embark. This was just at the time when the B1s started to come over and we were thinking it would be a good job to get on the other side of the water. Anyway, when we got to Tilbury; you don’t read about this much in the war books, well we found that the dockers were having a ‘work to rule’, so they wouldn’t load our boat. So, our commanding officer, in a Captain Mannering style said, ‘Don’t worry lads, we will load the boat ourselves!’ Which we did, so off we sailed down the channel into a force eight gale, and there we sat when they tried to get all of our equipment off the boat, it was found that all the winches had broken. So, we didn’t land on D plus seven, we landed on D plus twelve, so we spent five days in the channel in the gale and every night there were German planes coming over and dive bombing, but luckily we had a good gunner on board and he kept them away, but one interesting point is that the Russians on board were only supposed to cover one night, between Tilbury and Normandy, but of course we were on there five days so we had a continuous diet of corned beef, baked beans, Christmas pudding and the tradition cup of char, for the whole five days, quite monotonous, breakfast and dinner. When we got to Normandy, it was going through many battles, I don’t like to dwell on the war time side of it, but we eventually went through France into Belgium and Holland and Germany and when the hostilities ceased, the Sergeant Major appeared again and said, ‘The CO wants to see you,’ because the CO had asked that we, he couldn’t order us to, but he asked if Fred and I would take our instruments with us, so I can remember climbing down the side of that boat with my guitar on my shoulder and my rifle on the other, but anyway we eventually got into Germany and the Sergeant Major said again ‘ The CO wants to see you’ and we went there, and he said, ‘Right, I have this instruction, this war office instruction, now hostilities are finished, the priority is sports and entertainment, so you two are excused all future parades and there is a little hotel in this town which has been taken over and you two are going in there. It is going to be your job to muster any other of our troop members who can play instruments or sing a song and provide little shows for the lads two or three times a week.’ So that’s what we did for the rest of our time there. From there, when the unit was disbanded, I was sent to the combined services entertainment unit, into a big band, The Astrochords(?) and later on, I was transferred to the British forces network in Hamburg as a resident guitarist with the resident band there, which was a be-bop band, be-bop was all the rage at the time, so I spent the rest of my days in Hamburg, until I was demobbed, playing music, which I loved.

I had always written lyrics from when I first started with my brother with our little act, I used to write one or two bits and pieces for that and of course when we got into the army they said, ‘Would you write some songs?’ and I used to write things like, you remember Flotsam and Jetsam had a song called ‘When the Sergeant Major’s on Parade’ well, I wrote one called ‘When the Sergeant Major’s off Parade.’ Which was all about the sort of things he would do, like at eight o’ clock in the morning he would shout ‘don’t fraternise’ and at eight o clock in the evening there is a twinkle in his eyes, but that was really the theme of all those little songs and that went on until I came out.

I came out and I thought I would become a professional musician, but there were so many professional musicians being demobbed at the time that I went to up to Archer Street and I think I did get one interview with the Felix Mendelssohn Serenaders, but I had been playing be-bop so I didn’t really fit in there and so I could soon see that unless you were really one of the top musicians you had little chance of getting a career, so I got another job locally in an office and I decided to set up a semi-professional dance band, which I did and it started as a trio and became a quintet and we used to play in dance halls all over Surrey, at Masonics and Rotary Ladies Nights and things. We used to get bookings to go up to hotels in London: I remember distinctly the Park Lane hotel in Piccadilly and other Masonics up there and this went on and eventually, we entered one of the Melody Maker Dance Band contests. There were eight bands and we had the rivals of another band called the Meltones, which included one name you will recognise, Mike Sammes, and also Bill Shepherd and the Meltones came first in this competition and we came second and eventually, Bill Shepherd and Mike Sammes turned professional and to start a group called The Clarinets and they seemed to get a lot of work and eventually, we got a call from Bill Shepherd who said he needed some help because he was providing all the singing for pantomimes at the London Palladium and all over the country and he asked if I would like to do it and I said, ‘OK then.’

Jenny my wife said that I should give up my job with an insurance company in Reigate and go up to town to see what happened. So then I did for a while and I met up with Alan Paramor, Norrie Paramor’s brother who was, at that time, starting a new music company in Tinpan Alley and he asked if I would like to join the company to take over copyright and loyalties or whatever. There were only four of us in this little company but we were quite successful. Our first successes were with Helen Shapiro, her songs Don’t Treat me like a Child and You Don’t Know and the company grew and eventually, we were the British representatives for Simon and Garfunkel who went on to have big hits such as Mrs Robinson and The Sound of Silence. And it was there that I also had the opportunity to start writing lyrics and I met up with Val Doonican. At that time, it was before he had his big hit with Walk Tall, he just had a little series in the mornings on the radio and he asked if could I write a few lyrics for a few of things he was going to do in the week, there wasn’t a great deal of money in it, a few bob here and there, but anyway, that’s what I did and after he had his big success, he still continued to ask me to write songs when he was making an LP or whatever, which I did and from there, of course, Norrie Paramor asked me to write songs for various people, Frank Ifield, Sacha Distel and the Gunter Kallman Choir… so it snowballed.

Well, I’ve never made a great fortune, but I’ve always been quite happy and happily married to my wife Jennifer and this year, 2007, we will have been married fifty-five years.

Peter (1924-2009) talking to WISEArchive on 8th January 2008 in Wymondham.

© 2020 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved.