Harry Mortimer

Harry Mortimer   Cornet / Conducotr

Born on the 10 April 1902 in HebdenBridge, Yorkshire.

Harry was named after his grandfather a respected brass band player and conductor just like his father Fred.

Harry’s early education was at StubbingsSchool, HebdenBridge, Yorkshire.

At the age of eight Harry learnt to play the Cornet in the Yorkshire Town of Hebden Bridge where his father Fred was the conductor of the local band.

At the age of 9 Harry was given permission by the HebdenBridgeVillage band to be given a Cornet to learn to play on. Within a year Harrry had gained his first success, winning his first medal, one of 35 he is said to have won before he left his teenage Year’s behind.

In 1911 Fred Mortimer decided to take a job with the Luton Red Cross Band and Harry followed him, playing cornet with the band his father was conducting. In those early days Harry was so small he had to stand on a ginger beer box to do his solos.

Harry went to the Old Bedford Road Boys’ School in Luton.

In 1913 Harry Mortimer made his debut as a Cornet Player in the “National Championships” playing “Labour and Love” at the age of 11.

In 1915 Harry left school to be taught music by trainer and composer William Rimmer. Harry’s first paid job was as an office boy for the Great Northern Railway moving after a short while to the same job at Vauxhall Motors.

In 1916 Harry became the conductor of a Junior band which he lead them to a third prize in a local contest and which had been led by his father.

With the Luton Red Cross Band, Fred and Harry won four prizes.

                1920 (4th Prize), 1921 (6th Prize), 1922 (2nd Prize) and 1923 when they came first the first time that a Southern Band had won the CrystalPalace championships.

While at Luton, Harry also played as part of the local Luton Palace Orchestra (Theatre) and worked with his professional coach William Halliwell to help the Luton band to their Crystal palace win in 1923.

The Grand Festival Concert in 1924 featured Harry playing a solo named “Shylock”.

Apart from two years at Mansfield Colliery band Harry stayed with the Luton band until 1925.

In 1924 Harry’s father Fred moved his family to Sandbach and the start of an association with Fodens Motor Works Brass Band that would continue until his death. Harry made his debut with the band on the 29 December 1924 when he attended his first rehearsal in Sandbach.

His success with Fodens were 1925 (6th   Place), 1928 (4th Place), 1930 (1st Place), 1931 (6th Place) 1932 (1st Place), 1933 (1st Place), 1934 (1st Place), 1936 (1st Place), 1937 (1st Place) and 1938 (1st Place).

Harry became the first Principal Cornet player to lead a band into two “Hat Tricks” at the Nationals (1932-1934 and 1936-1938).

When Harry joined Fodens he was a bachelor as had Edwin Firth been in 1909. It seems traditional that all new band members who were unattached were matched up by Edwin Foden with one of his daughters. At the age of 23 (1925) Harry was offered a choice of the Foden girls but managed to decline their advances.

On the 20 June 1927 Harry married Annie Bullock (nee Blissett .b. 1904/4 .D. c1984) a drapery assistant and the daughter of Jack Blissett of Elworth. Harry and Anne went on to have two daughters, Brenda and Margaret.

Between 1924 and 12 o'clock midnight, on October 30th 1928 the Majestic Cinema Stoke housed a new BBC Station 6ST an experimental Local Radio station set up to see if local radio is a viable possibility. The programme director of 6ST was broadcaster John Snagg who went on to become one of the best-known voices on the BBC. Harry was asked to appear on the new station as a solo artist (Cheaper for the BBC to hire one player rather than a whole band) along with the Potteries Choir Society conducted by local celebrity and writer Carl Oliver with the programme being introduced by John Snagg. Unfortunately, this was one of a number of test stations for the BBC and the forerunner of BBC Radio Stoke (Launched in 1968) and was not listened to by the public as few knew about it or had radios in the Staffordshire area. 

In October 1927 Harry Morimer became the new postmaster at Elworth Post Office taking over from Mrs Bicktill.

Before 1929 Harry was taking on so much work with local bands that it was affecting his playing and Fred Mortimer and William Halliwell decided that he should take a break and sent him to take an enforced break by sending him to Abram Colliery Near Wigan (Formed in 1919 by Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Hart a colliery owner. In 1936 after a local reorganisation the band became known as “Bickershaw Colliery”) to get back into form.

In 1927 Sir Hamilton Harty invited Harry to be 3rd trumpeter with the Halle.

In 1928 to 1930 Harry joined the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra moving back to Manchester in 1930 when he was welcomed back to the Halle as principal trumpet (1930 to 1941).

While with Fodens Harry got a good reputation as a Solo cornet player and was hired by a number of smaller bands to help them win various competitions. As this brought in extra money Harry thought nothing of this practice of using a “Borrowed man”. That was until a job on the Isle of Man. All had gone well and the band Harry played with walked off with first prize. On the way back on the ferry Harry was feeling a little ill and decided to hide himself under a green tarpaulin in one of the lifeboats when two band members from another band passed by and noticed a person hiding. “Hey, Charlie, who’s that under the tarpaulin?” said one of them, with the reply “I don’t know, but I hope it’s that bugger Mortimer. He deserves to drown, playing against us little bands in the way he does!”. This eureka moment changed Harry’s mind about the fairness of “Borrowed men” helping bands to win. On the 4th August 1928 he wrote to “The British Bandsman” suggesting ringers be disqualified from taking part. Eventually 17 years later his appeals were put into practice. 

In 1931 Harry conducted his first band at the May Festival at Belle Vue when he took the Leek British Legion Band there.

The Grand Festival Concert featured Harry playing solo cornet in 1930 “The Warrior”, 1931 “Romanza” and “Warblings” and in 1938 he played “Alpine Meadows” at WindsorCastle for the King and his family.

In 1933 Harry conducted three bands at Belle Vue when he took Burbage Nr Buxton, Congleton and Llangollen towards the prizes.

Other local bands Harry conducted were Knutsford, Leek British Legion

Harry would also be part of the BBC Northern Orchestra joining them in 1935 where he stated until 1939 among the other jobs he had.

Between 1936 and 1940 Harry held the position of Professor of Trumpet at the Royal Manchester College of Music.

In 1936 Harry was appointed Musical Director of the Fairey Aviation Band a post he continued with until 1971 when he became musical advisor.

In 1938 Harry left Fodens as a cornet player just after the National Championships.

In 1942 Anne and Harry parted due to his commitments in London; however they stayed friends (officially divorcing in 1951).  

In 1942 Harry Mortimer left Fodens Motor Works Band.

It was in 1942 that at the suggestion of Sir Arthur Bliss, Harry joined the BBC as their Brass and Military Band supervisor. He held this role with the BBC until his retirement some 20 Years later (1964) advising on all matters connected with the brass band world and supervising the output on the air. In this role he was responsible for generating a larger output of brass band music from the broadcaster and it was also in this role that he started putting together players from various bands in a format that would later become his “All Star Brass Band” and eventually the “Men O’ Brass”.

Harry Mortimer became a byword at the BBC and he was known for sometimes having explosive rows with management about his programmes. On one occasion he was asked to postpone two of his programmes as the BBC wanted to broadcast Wimbledon live. The tennis had to wait for Harry’s programmes to end.

In 1941, Harry won the British Open Championship as conductor with Fairey Aviation but it wasn’t until after the war in 1945 that he started his reign of success as a conductor with a number of Bands coming in first place. (see Below)

The BBC launched the “Third Programme” on the 29 Sept 1946 and in 1948 Harry conducted the Fairey Aviation Band in the first brass band concert on the channel. 

Between 1949 and 1955 and again in 1981, Harry Mortimer was guest conductor at the “Grand Festival Concert” following the “National Championships”.

In 1950 Harry Mortimer was awarded the OBE.

After his divorce in 1951 Harry married (Hilda) Margaret Bailey (.b. 1917 .D. 1999), a personal assistant from Yorkshire working for the BBC. They had one son, Martin. 

In 1951, having worked with a number of bands he decided to form an “All Star Concert band” with the best players from a number of bands including Fodens. They recorded a total of 17 Single 78’s and 16 Single 45’s starting in 1952.

During 1956 Harry was persuaded to go to Australia by the BBC to become the Adjudicator for a number of Brass Band Concerts there.

In 1958 the format of his “All Star Concert band” changed because there were too many bands to be contacted every time he wanted to arrange a concert and so he cut the bands down to three with Foden’s, Faireys and Morris Motor’s making up what became known as the “Men O’Brass” which he conducted on 28 LP’s between 1958 and 1978. (Some Biographies put this change at 1953)

The name “Men O’ Brass” came from a newspaper columnist called Hannen Swaffer who had once described Harry Mortimer as “That Man of Brass” in the Daily Herald. 

The Men O’ Brass adopted the “Opening Fanfare” by George Hespe as their signature tune with the Gallop and Finale from the William Tell Overture providing the crescendo at the end of their concerts.

In 1961 the Men O’ Brass went on tour to Canada. The various companies agreed to the tour on the condition that Harry pays their wages. Harry agreed and while the band members were on tour he arranged for the usual payments to be sent to their wives of the players according to the band members wishes, some of whom only wanted their wives to have the usual amount they themselves gave them each week with the rest of the money being paid to them on the tour. The band also had to get to Canada and so Harry hired a BOAC plane to get them to the other side of the Atlantic. The plane was due to take off at night after the band had said goodbye to their families and had made a farewell broadcast from the BBC’s Maida vale Studios in London. 

In 1964 Harry’s job as band supervisor with the BBC ended.

In 1970 the Men O’Brass recorded “Cathedral Brass” at Worcester Cathedral (EMI TWO308) along with organist Christopher Robinson. Harry considered this his favourite album with “Jesu Joy of Man Desires” being his favourite track.

In 1971 Harry hung up his baton as Musical Director of the Fairey Band.

Between 1976 and 1991 Harry directed operations for the “British Open Championships” after the owners of Belle Vue were keen to get rid of organising the extra activities at the venue and gave the Rights to the British Open to Harry for him to take control.

During 1977 Harry Mortimer celebrated his 75th Birthday. On the 10 April Morris Motors Band with whom Harry had been associated with for the last 32 Years, played its 501st broadcast on the BBC.

The Men O’ Brass were taken on tour to Utrect in Holland for a celebratory concert.

In 1977 as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Harry was responsible for providing a Massed Band concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. 

In 1981 Harry Mortimer published his biography “Harry Mortimer On Brass” written with the assistance of Alan Lynton.

In 1984 Harry Mortimer was awarded the CBE and in1987 he was given a fellowship from the Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester) and an honorary Doctorate from SalfordUniversity in 1988.

Harry Mortimer died on the 23 January 1992at his home, 50 Ladbroke Grove, London.

Harry left his body to medical science and his remains were finally returned to the family for cremation in Streatham Vale on the 25 January 1995. His asked were scattered in the private garden behind his home in London where a tree was planted and a memorial plaque was unveiled in his honour.

At the 150th “British Open Championships” held at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham they paid tribute to the man who was born 100 Years ago.



Wife 1.                   Annie Bullock (nee Blissett .b. 1904/4 .D. c1984)

                                                (Married 20 June 1927 Divorced in 1942)

Wife 2.                   (Hilda) Margaret Bailey (.b. 1917 .D. 1999) Married 1951.

Daughter               Brenda Mullins   

                                Margaret Beard (Lives in Haslington)

Son                         Martin (Mother Margaret)

                                                CONCERT SUCCESS AS CONDUCTOR


                                1945 North West – Fairey Aviation (2nd Place)

                                1947 North East – Black Dyke Mills (1st   Place)

                                1947 North West – Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1948 North West – Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place)

                                1949 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (1st   Place)

                                1950 North West – Fodens (1st Place)

                                1951 North West – Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1951 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (1st Place)

                                1952 North West – Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place)

                                1952 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (2nd   Place)

                                1953 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (2nd   Place)

                                1953 North West – Fodens (1st Place)

                                1954 North West – Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1954 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (2nd   Place)

                                1955 North East – Black Dyke Mills (1st   Place)

                                1955 Midlands – Munn and Feltons (1st Place)

                                1955 Midlands – Ransomes and Marles (2nd Place)

                                1955 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (1st   Place)

                                1956 North West – Fodens (1st Place)

                                1956 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (1st   Place)

                                1956 North West – Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place)

                                1957 North West – Fodens (2nd Place)

                                1957 London and Southern Counties – Morris Motors (1st   Place)

                                1957 Midlands – Munn and Feltons (1st Place)


                                1945 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1946 Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place)

                                1947 Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place)

                                1948 Black Dyke Mills (1st   Place)

                                1949 Black Dyke Mills (1st   Place)

                                1949 Fodens Motor Works (2nd   Place)

                                1950 Fodens Motor Works (1st   Place)

                                1951 Fodens Motor Works (2nd   Place)

                                1951 Fairey Aviation (4th   Place) 

                                1952 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place) 

                                1952 Fodens Motor Works (2nd   Place)

                                1952 Morris Motors (5th   Place)

                                1953 Fodens Motor Works (1st   Place)

                                1953 Fairey Aviation (6th   Place) 

                                1954 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1954 Fodens Motor Works (3rd   Place)

                                1955 Munn and Feltons (1st   Place)

                                1955 Black Dyke Mills (5th   Place) 

                                1955 Morris Motors (6th   Place) 



                                1936 Luton Red Cross (3rd)

                                1937 Baxendales (5th)

                                1937 Luton Red Cross (6th)

                                1940 ICI (Alkali) (6th)

                                1941 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1941 ICI (Alkali) (6th Place)

                                1942 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1942 Brighouse and Rastrick (4th   Place)

                                1943 Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place)

                                1943 Brighouse and Rastrick (4th   Place)

                                1944 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place)

                                1945 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place) 

                                1945 Bickershaw Colliery (3rd   Place) 

                                1946 Bickershaw Colliery (1st   Place) 

                                1946 Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place) 

                                1947 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place) 

                                1947 Bickershaw Colliery (5th   Place) 

                                1947 Black Dyke Mills (6th   Place) 

                                1948 Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place) 

                                1949 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place) 

                                1950 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place) 

                                1951 Fairey Aviation (6th Place) 

                                1952 Fodens Motor Works (2nd   Place)

                                1953 Fairey Aviation (2nd   Place) 

                                1953 Fodens Motor Works (5th   Place)

                                1954-55 No placings.

                                1956 Fairey Aviation (1st   Place) 

                                1957 Fairey Aviation (6th   Place) 



Luton Red Cross (7 Records – 1 as Solo Cornet)

Fodens Motor Works Band (56 Records -14 as Solo Cornet)

Orchestral works (4 Records – 4 as Solo Cornet)

Massed bands (28 records)

Mark Foden (Alias for Harry Mortimer) (2 Records on Cornet)


Stewart Green

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