Dancing Through the Blitz: the Big Band Story

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by ritsonvaljos, Jul 24, 2015.

  1. ritsonvaljos

    ritsonvaljos Senior Member

    Arguably one of the things that kept up morale and united British and Allied service men and women and civilians was the 'Big Band sound' and dancing in the ballroom. A new (2015) 90-minute documentary featuring Len Goodman, Lucy Worsley and Jools Holland tells the WW2 story of the 'Big Band' sound, dancing and dance music especially at Blackpool. This is a link to the relevant BBC website page:


    As some members of this forum will remember, as I am a former ballroom dancer, some of the articles I did as a volunteer for the BBC "People's War" website (and then for "2WW Blogspot") were about ballroom dancing and dance music during the war years. For anyone interested, the following links are to four of these articles:

    ("Dancing Through the War Years" by Andé Lyons")

    (Victor Silvester's 'BBC Dancing Club')

    ("Keeping the world on its toes")

    ("Dual Dancers")


    In the modern day, most people will remember the outstanding Glenn Miller Band and especially that Major Glenn Miller was tragically lost in the war. The mystery of his disappearance has never yet been resolved but his legacy lives on.

    Victor Silvester (Snr.) enlisted to the Army at the outbreak of WW1: when still only 14! He was still only 18 when that war ended. During WW2 Victor Silvester (Jnr.) served as an officer with the Hampshire Regiment (6th Airborne Division) but was badly injured (blinded in one eye) during training before the Normandy Landings.
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  2. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Thanks for that. Looking forward to watching it (if husband doesn't monopolise the handset.)
    My Dad, in the RNVR, was a good pianist and had a small dance band during his service in WW2.
  3. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    I've got two left feet, can't sing, am tone deaf - ( there must be a song lyric in there ) and love music of all sorts, but much prefer Dance Band music to Big Band Music. Nevertheless, thanks for the reminder because it will be worth watching. The sort of programme you cannot do properly on commercial telly with over 15 minutes of mind-numbing adverts per hour and only the BBC can deliver, like Strictly Come Dancing. Anyway, bring back Nat Gonella and Ambrose, Henry Hall and the Teddy Bear's Picnic, etc...
  4. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    The great Jean Porter doing the Feet Dragging Blues by Harry James. Her partner is no dancer.

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  5. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

  6. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Another good one:

    They were fit in those days.
    There were tap dancing classes in our town - one of my aunts went. She was mad on American culture and went to live and work there eventually.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2018
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  7. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    On a similar subject, this was recently repeated on Radio4Extra and should be on the BBC Sounds for the next four weeks or so: BBC Radio 4 Extra - Hits of the Blitz

    "Paul Morley tries to discover what people were really listening to during the Blitz of WWII, and finds that there is much more to it than 'We'll Meet Again'.

    We all think we know what people were dancing and listening to in their homes, in shelters and in night spots, but Morley hears hit tunes of the time which might come as a surprise to many of us. Morley goes in search of what these hit tunes tell us about how people were really feeling and coping during those difficult days.

    If you had eavesdropped on a living room in 1940, you were more likely to have caught a burst of 'When You Wish Upon A Star' from Pinocchio than 'White Cliffs of Dover'. He speaks to Tony Benn about his memories of popular music during the Blitz as he experienced it, and what other members of the public were really humming during this time of crisis. He speaks to social historian Juliet Gardiner, musicologist Tim Healey and music therapist Stewart Wood about the mood of the time and why the music that evokes the war to us is often not the music that was actually being listened to.

    Morley goes in search of what people were singing and dancing to in the Cafe de Paris in London's West End on the night that it was bombed in March 1940*, and finds that it was not the American Lindy Hop swing that many of us picture of when we think of nightlife during the Blitz. In fact, it was a world where people still did the foxtrot and the waltz to numbers such as 'Oh Johnny Oh,' played by the band.

    Producer: Victoria Shepherd
    A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4.

    EDIT: * See post immediately below ;-)
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
  8. CornwallPhil

    CornwallPhil Senior Member

    For the record, Café de Paris was bombed on Saturday 8th March 1941.
    Typo forgiven.
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  9. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    I've done some swing dancing and ballroom and hopefully that documentary will be on the BBC website at some point :)

    I'm not at all surprised that many people were still doing the foxtrot and waltz.
  10. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    Recently on UK Radio 4, and on BBC Sounds (after broadcast, for usually about four weeks):

    BBC Radio 4 - Black Music in Europe: A Hidden History, Series 2, 1939-45

    Black Music in Europe: A Hidden HistorySeries 2

    "Drawing on rare archive recordings, Clarke Peters' new three-part series explores the hidden history of black music across Europe, from the late 1920s through the war years and beyond.

    Black music in Europe doesn’t begin with the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury. There is a long, rich history preserved on shellac discs that shows how diverse sounds enthralled the continent long before 1948.

    Throughout the series, we hear from a huge array of different performers - including classical composers, jazz stars, calypso legends and more - as well as commentators and historians, to get to the heart of early black music in Europe.

    Episode 2 - 1939-45
    Clarke looks at the music of black Europe at the time of the Second World War with recordings of Nazi propaganda jazz, underground bands in Hitler’s Germany, black American trumpet stars in occupied Paris, and Caribbean swing bands playing through the Blitz in London. He also examines the work of Nigerian composer Fela Sowande and plays extracts of his wartime broadcast for the BBC.

    Presented by Clarke Peters
    Produced by Tom Woolfenden
    A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
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  11. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  12. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    I didn't know the Bowery Boys comedy crew were such good dancers. Huntz Hall also made a lot of WWII training films playing a duffus who didn't follow instructions

  13. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Read an interesting item on Jazz in the 3rd Reich some time ago. Whilst the Nazi's defined Jazz as "degenerate music" it had a significant following in the German population including the forces particularly but not exclusively the Luftwaffe. Black market records did get in from Sweden. In occupied Paris a jazz club flourished. It was patronised by senior German officers who afforded it some protection and a number of black artists played there.
    The Dirty Dozen is fiction but a raid on a Jazz club in Caen might have had the same effect. It seems that when the Germans thought the weather too bad for an invasion many took advantage to go there the night before D day.
    Hitler did not approve of dancing etc in war time - too frivolous - but his populist instincts kept him from trying too hard to crack down on it. Jazz indeed became a motif for anti Nazi sentiment and a youth movement calling itself the swing kids grew up (there has recently been a film on the subject). This was covered under the home front on the MA course I've just completed. In reality it formed probably the only real German resistance movement. It's influence spread into the occupied countries so for example the original Dutch Swing College Band was a Dutch resistance cell. The Jazz singer Josephine Bell was a member of the French resistance.
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  14. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    "In occupied Paris a jazz club flourished."
    France was always more receptive to black jazz musicians then the USA in those days
    eg Sydney Bechet
  15. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    The point was it still flourished during the occupation
  16. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Yes, sorry Robert, I know that was your point.
    I remember watching a french film set during the years of occupation about a cabaret club in Paris frequented by the Nazi occupiers. I think Gerard Depardieu was in it.
  17. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

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  18. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

  19. Trackfrower

    Trackfrower Member

    No matter how bad you think you may be............................................ there is ALWAYS someone worse
  20. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

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