Janet Lord MBE will probably be unknown to most of you, especially if you were not employed by EMI at any time from the early 1950’s to the mid 1990’s. However, to those who did enjoy working years with the company she was a legend, one of that huge band of unsung heroes – except that we managed to secure her a well-deserved MBE at the end of her long career…..which she told me about here….
My first job was in a board mill in High Wycombe. I remember there was cardboard on big rollers and it had a bright orange facing to it. I said ‘what’s that going to be used for?’ and they said Oxtail soup powder – how dated that sounds!
My second job was even worse. I did typing for the Imperial War Graves Commission, details of the gravestones. It was in a big manor house in Wooburn Green. A lady downstairs had the lovely job of making the white crosses that were temporary markers until they got the stones done. It was run by old admirals and people like that and you had to have the right coats of arms on the stones – all this sort of detail. It had to be very precise typing. I had done a commercial course and a lady was given a typewritten print which she read to me at dictation speed for me to type back. I just said ‘give me the thing to type.’
I went up to London one day and I knew how to get the No.1 bus from Marylebone to Oxford Street, got off the bus at Selfridges and walked the length of Oxford Street looking in the windows. For my lunch break I’d turned to the right instead of walking up Oxford Street, to get a sandwich from Joe Lyons, gone across to Marble Arch (which wasn’t an island then but an entrance to the Park), sat on the seats there to eat my sandwich and look at the paper. I’d got the Telegraph to see if there were any jobs. They’d just had this big drive to say you had to go the Job Centre to get job – and the only one that said to call or write was for EMI Records. So I got on the No.1 bus and went up to Oxford Circus. The office was just behind Peter Robinson, in Great Castle Street. I went in and saw Sheila Johnson who was C.H. Thomas’s secretary.
What was the job?
Just typing in the typing pool
Did EMI Records mean anything nto you?
No. My father was a semi-professional musicasn and was always off to Ronnie Scott’s, and took me to the Ad Lib club. I refused to go to Ronnie Scott’s when Stan Kenton was there because I thought he would be too loud! Dad was a real music man and knew a lot of people – Johnny Dankworth, Ronnie Scott, Acker Bilk – I met them all. He used to put bands on in the local town hall. He ran a jazz club at the Cadena Hall in High Wycombe…on a Sunday in this Quaker Town! He got away with it because it was an afternoon club and he said ‘we always finish at 6pm because these people have got to be elsewhere!’ The Salvation army came at 6pm so we had to be out by then. The original jazz club in High Wycombe was run by Max Jones. Mum and dad used to do ballroom dancing and dad played the double bass. I think this was my whole influence, and it can’t be ignored. People like Ralph Dollimore and Don Lusher I met years ago. I don’t see them now but they are people I have known. With dad’s varied interest in music, I was interested too. But I was more into the big band sound. We’d go backstage to see Ted Heath. The musicians all knew one another. Dad never recorded but he was once on a Pathe newsreel. He happened to be down in the Underground and it was dressed up like a French Metro station and they asked him to dep. for someone and it ended up on the newsreel. Years later people would say “we’ve seen a funny thing with your dad in a band.’
A Google search reveals that the Cadena Hall in now “buried” under the shopping centre, but a letter in the local newspaper from 2010 remembers Bob Lord”
I recall Lord of jazz
LAST week’s letter regarding the Cadena Hall (now buried under the Chiltern Shopping Centre) brings back memories for me of the 1950s’ Sunday afternoon jazz club sessions run there by the late Bob Lord.
I well remember seeing the likes of the Ronnie Scott/Tubby Hayes Jazz Couriers, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, Mick Mulligan Band with George Melly, The Vic Ash Sextet and numerous others playing there. Although somewhat older now, I am still helping to keep the jazz alive by attending the Sunday lunchtime sessions at the Merlin’s Cave in Chalfont St Giles and those on Tuesday evenings at the Marlow Jazz Club – which is also helping to keep me alive!
So you joined the EMP typing pool but you weren’t excited about being in a record company?
No..it was Records Division then. To me it was a job. I was never in early in the morning.
That was in 1953?
Yes..it was steam trains and smutty clothes. I think my first weekly wage was 24s/6d (£1.23p) and at least I already knew how to get off the train at Marylebone and go on the tube to Oxford Circus. I used to go through the scrum of Oxford Circus before it was altered. I was interested in the music because records were fun. The first show I saw courtesy of EMI was Howard Keel in Kismet down at the Aldwych Theatre, which later became a tv studio. I could find my way home because it was on the underground!
How many were there in the typing pool?
About six or eight of us, including Mrs Nicholls, who was a lovely old lady who had known L.G. Wood for a long time. The training was that every week we had to have a rep’s report to type up, deciphering their handwriting. After a year I went up to work in promotion with Rex Oldfield.
Did you feel part of the company in the typing pool?
Oh, definitely. Great Castle Street had, at a guess, 80 or 90 people there. It was an unusual building because you came in on the ground floor but you could also walk from one side of the building top the other on the first and fourth floors. The first floor was the sales office on one side and you would walk through the typing pool and the swing doors to C.H. Thomas’s office and secretary. So many people would walk down to sort things out. Mrs Nicholls would be in touch with what was going on!
None of the managers had secretaries then?
Yes they did. We did more of the admin., learning how the company worked. I went as far as Sheila Johnson’s office outside C.H. Thomas’s.
I didn’t see any more than that until I got moved up to the fourth floor. You would be moved on when the company reorganised. On the top floor you had Ray Martin and Norrie Paramor in the A&R office, with a secretary outside, and a small office with Rex Oldfield doing the plugging and I was working for him. I also worked for Alan Tallock (?) who was on the opposite side and was doing the plugging for George Martin. (Judy Lockhart-Smith was his secretary), Ron Richards, John Burgess and Shirley Spence, who is now Shirley Burns.
What did you have to do working for these two pluggers?
They didn’t have an organised mailing list as they do now, but you would make up a list and make sure they had the right addresses to send the records to. It was like an information process. It was a new department that had moved up from Hayes and a lot of things were still governed from head office.
I imagine these were the peaceful days before rock and roll
We were doing the groundwork, pulling it all together. I do remember Ronnie Bell frequently talking about Who’s sorry now, and I would say ‘yes, but she’s not here!.’ When she did come over and was immediately successful with her personal appearances, I realised that he could hear the commercial side of the record.
Ronnie Bell, who, if still alive, will be over 100. Can anyone help? I last heard from him in 2009.
I didn’t think it was commercial – I just knew my favourites. I remember being spellbound by Count Basie’s Atomic Mr. Basie. It should never be off the catalogue. I sound a bore but I’m really a records person.
I was upstairs at Great Castle Street, then I moved down to the ground floor where they had John Phillips doing promotion. I shared my desk with Joan Coulson (whom I remember from EMI’s Classical Division in the 1980’s). My first project was a promotion called “May We Suggest” and I got the whole typing pool typing up these suggestion lists like a promotion mailout. John Phillips was Head of Promotion, (died in 1962 aged just 46) Roy Squires was also down there. We all used to go to the cafe next door, Peter Mario’s and that became the place to meet if folk couldn’t get into the office. It was like The Westmoreland for Manchester Square.
Life was competitive then. In those days you’d have three or four different recordings to get broadcast and the publishers would be pushing as well. If someone had scheduled a record for a certain programme and the library copy, which should have been sent to the BBC direct from the factory, hadn’t turned up, I would scoot up in my lunch hours and deliver things. That’s how I knew Valerie Britten personally. Sometimes they would say ‘no, we don’t want any pluggers, too busy’ so I would go up to Valerie Britten to take her parcel and I was allowed in because I wasn’t a plugger!
Valerie Britten, revered head of the BBC Gramophone Library, so much so that she was a guest on ‘Desert Island Discs.’
Tony Crombie came in to see Norrie Paramor about making a record. I made the tea and took it in. There was an aghast silence. Tony looks up and says ‘hello Janet, how are you? How’s Bob?’ His agent was Jeff Kruger, who’d seen me at The Flamingo, but didn’t know who I was. Norrie just looked like this ! ( I can imagine the face Janet pulled?) After they’d gone Norrie said ‘and how do you know Mr Kruger?’. I said ‘well, my dad’s taken me down the clubs – Ronnie’s old place and others like that.’ Norrie said ‘that’s very interesting – you must tell me if you see something interesting’ It wasn’t his scene to go down the clubs – he was a studio man; you didn’t mix it.
What are your memories of Norrie?
He was a charming gentleman. In comparison, Ray Martin was a very polished suave conductor type. They worked in parallel – the two different fields of Columbia. Norrie did things like The Big Ben Banjo Band. He was very affable. He never threw a wobbly. George Martin was even nicer. But we didn’t see a lot of them; they’d come in for meetings and then go. They were more in Abbey Road than the office. They used to have audiences on a Sunday for shows – an invited audience for a recordings, like That Was The Week That Was.
Were the recording managers the most important people in the company?
Yes they were. They each had different fields and artists.
There was no marketing so no one ever questioned with the people were doing – they just put the records and everyone did their best for them?
The bread and butter were Joe Loss, Victor Sylvester and Jimmy Shand. But Parlophone had some lovely jazz. I’m sure we had early George Melly with Mick Mulligan. I heard Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson at the Gaumont State in Kilburn.
Here’s Janet at my Abbey Road retirement party in July 1998 (Studio 2 don’t you know!) Photos of her are in short supply, but I’ve put out a plea for more to go with the second and final part.
text ©David Hughes 2018, Photos from Google search or my own collection and for illustration only. No money changes hands for these postings!