Allan Littlemore; Fodens Band; Elworth Cricket Club. If, in years to come, anyone remembers me, it will be for those two associations.
I came to live in Elworth with my parents on 3rd January 1948. I am quite sure because it was my tenth birthday. I soon discovered that there existed Fodens Motor Works Band as most of the players lived in the village and the band room, formerly Pring’s Nail Shop, was just round the corner. More than that, as the nights lengthened, players practised outdoors so the village echoed with these wonderful sounds.
Fred Mortimer was still conducting the band and his word was gospel to the players. My first concert was at Sandbach Town Hall in late 1949 when they gave it free of charge for the Parent Teacher funds of Elworth village school. Fred conducted, or as historians and old black and white film record, he nudged his elbows a bit, barely moved his baton and if he raised his arms, the band produced a thunderous sound; but what a sound.
Harry, the Great Harry Mortimer had moved to London to work for the BBC, but the village grape vine was prolific and the whole village soon knew if he was coming up to take a rehearsal.
Rehearsals were in the former Nail Shop of John Pring & Son, Wiremasters, and supporter of the band since its foundation. For what was one of the finest bands in the world, a peep inside was a real eye opener. I don’t think the whitewashed walls had been painted in fifty years. Heating was by a coke stove just to the right of Teddy Gray, the Principal Cornet. Every rehearsal day it was lit in the morning by Fred Sowood, the band’s second horn player, who worked in the Pattern Shop and so had ready access to fire wood. It was also where Billy Foden, son of the Founder and then Governing Director, sat, usually smoking a big cigar He was in his nineties..
The acoustics had been carefully catered for and matched to the band’s wonderful sound. How come? Well hanging from the ceiling were heavy hessian sacks, smothered in coke dust. How the players had lungs to breathe let alone to play was a medical mystery.
One rehearsal evening, my good friend Ellison Warner, junior organist at nearby Mount Pleasant Church, and I ventured to wait for Fred Mortimer to appear from over the railway bridge, from his home in Clifton Road, whereupon we asked him if we could sit in and listen to rehearsal. We had to promise to be quiet!
Apart from Work and Music and Cricket, I somehow had time to play tennis on the private court of a local industrialist. You’re ahead of me; my partner was Margaret Mortimer, Harry’s younger daughter.
I clearly remember in 1950 the band bus being met at Lawton Arms public house a few miles away, and leading a procession of Foden trucks as they brought home the National Championships Trophy from London, having won on Pageantry. That was on the Monday evening, and there was great jubilation in the village. There was a repeat performance in 1953, Coronation Year when the band won again, this time on Diadem of Gold. The front of the offices on London Road were decorated with hastily updated ‘Congratulations Boards’.
But that was nothing compared to the following year, for in October 1954 I was to join the village Company of Fodens Ltd, diesel truck manufacturers, as a Student Apprentice Engineer. How did I get the coveted job? Well the man who opened the doors for me was General Sales Manager George Dean whose daughter had recently married Edwin Twemlow Firth, son of the great Edwin. This involved working in most of the workshops but I started off in the Laboratory where I was put with Chief Metallurgist, Alex English, who just happened to be Solo Trombone in Fodens Band.
My next location was the Repair Shop where one of the fitters I was put with was Dennis Heath, Assistant Principal Cornet to Teddy Gray.
In 1956 I was moved for a year into the Machine Shop. The first section I was put in was Tool Grinding where the foreman was Tommy Hough who had played tenor horn in the band before the Great War. These bandsmen were everywhere.
When I moved onto a lathe, I had to work piecework, where the Chief Clerk was the great Teddy Gray, and the foreman inspector was Bob Knott, Solo Trombone through the late thirties and all of the forties; a winner of ten Open and Nationals medals.
It was the Erecting Shop next where my first job was on a bench next to Joe Moores, who was bass trombone in the band. It was uncanny.
It goes on. In 1958 I went into the holy of holy places; the Drawing Office. I thought I had made it. I had only been there a couple of weeks when the Munich air disaster struck, and so many were killed, including my hero Duncan Edwards.
One of the specification clerks was Reg Moores son of Joe Moores, a most charming man and repiano cornet in the band..
After six years in Truck Development, where there were no bandsmen, I was made Foreman over the building of all the sub assemblies prior to final assembly. Among the fitters were Arthur Webb Jnr, second baritone, Arthur Mullock, second euphonium and Ellis Shufflebottom, second horn. I just couldn’t get away from bandsmen.
Four years later I thought I had cast them off as I was appointed Head of Personnel, but I was wrong. In 1975, I took a phone call from the secretary of Joint Managing Director Ted Foden. Would I stay in my office as Mr Foden was coming down to see me. Normally I had to go to see Managing Directors, so what was afoot?
He soon appeared to tell me that same morning he had advised the Board that he was about to retire. The main question that seemed to arise was ’Who will look after the Band?’ ‘ I told them Allan Littlemore.’ A new challenge.
I could hardly say no, but on the other hand I didn’t know a crotchet from a quaver. What about players, instruments, recruitment, engagements and a host of other things. Talk about in at the deep end; I was certainly out of my depth.
Rex Mortimer had just retired and he had appointed John Golland, a musician totally unknown to me, to replace him. My informants told me that he was a fine musician but not one for conducting brass bands. This situation made meeting and negotiating with shop stewards and trade union officials a piece of cake.
I decided to do what at least temporarily was safe; I did nothing. I did go to Band Practice twice weekly, but for a while kept my head down. It was only for a while, until my secretary booked me a meeting with a deputation from h the band.
They turned out to be Alan Brotherston, Principal Cornet; Alex English; Solo Trombone , and Colin Cranson, Solo Euphonium. They explained that they had been selected by their fellow bandsmen to meet with me and to ask just one question. ‘Does the Foden management intend to continue to have a band or not?’ I answered strongly in the affirmative, so I was then told that John Golland had to go; and promptly.
The next lunchtime i called a meeting of the band in the bandroom and got everyone to speak out. To a man, we had no women in the band then, they all told me I had to fire him, so next day I did.
So what now? I had fired Rex Mortimer’s choice and he thought I was the Devil Incarnate. He would turn me down flat if I asked him to return, however temporarily.. There was only one thing to do. I rang him at his home and told him what had happened, and that, as a temporary measure, Mr Foden asked if he would return. A complete lie but it worked.
I then proceeded to follow that old adage; you were given one mouth but two ears; use them in that proportion. Who should Fodens Band have at the helm?
The result, in two words, was James Scott, the then Music Director of Brighouse & Rastrick band. A couple of weeks and I had secured the man I wanted. What a revolution we then had. Smiles on faces; new instruments, new uniforms; a refurbished band room and a band to be proud of. Qualification in the first year for the National Finals and the year after winners of Champion Brass on North West tv, beating the Fairey band in the final. Fodens Band had been truly saved. I was a happy man.
Nearly five years of James Scott were a very good period for the band, and for once I had an easy time. It was as well because the Foden Company was having a rough time and business was not good. Music Director James Scott eventually left the band and was replaced by Bandmaster Derek Garside who held the fort in a difficult time.. It wasn’t the solution but luck was on my side.
One Friday morning my British Bandsman arrived and I spotted a tiny paragraph on an inner page. Howard Snell was moving home to rural Hollington on the Cheshire Staffordshire border. I promptly fixed to meet him at the Lion & Swan in midway Congleton, and we shortly agreed a deal.
But there was to be another hiccup. Fodens Ltd went into Receivership, and before long, successors PACCAR pulled the plug on any sponsorship. I put a lot of effort into getting a replacement sponsor when a conversation with an old friend, Stephen Sebire, also a friend of the band, took place. At the time he was a Director of the Britannia Building Society, and through him I was able to get an appointment with Managing Director Michael Shaw. There followed a full scale presentation which I made to the Board of Directors and sponsorship was secured. A top quality sponsor and a top quality Music Director, we were back in the pound seats.
1980 was Fred Mortimer’s Centenary, so I was able to secure a slot for Fodens Band to play a short programme at the conclusion of the National Championships in the Royal Albert Hall. Among the guests was 90 years old Foden pensioner and former flugel horn player Hubert Shergold. He had joined the band in 1913 and was a fund of stories over sixty years of being associated with the band. He once told me that Tom Hynes was a better band trainer than Fred Mortimer. Well he was there; who was I to argue. Today, due to the latest technology, it is possible to hear Hubert playing on dozens of 78 recordings of the band which I collected and donated to the National Sound Archives in London. They have recently been digitised and can be selected off the Fodens Band website. It was people like Hubert, and many others, who gave me the insight into the band over many decades, and which enabled me to write Fodens Band – One Hundred Years of Musical Excellence in 1999.
Then, among all the hundreds of engagements I had secured for the band, came the best one ever, and we didn’t even get a fee. I was mindful that in 1913, the band had played twice for the King and Queen. Then, in 1938, it played again but now for the new King and Queen. Son nothing ventured I wrote to Buckingham Palace. The result was that the band received an invitation to play a full concert on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, while the Queen watched and listened from a balcony window.
In January 1992, the great Harry Mortimer passed away; he was 89. In recognition of our passed associations, my wife Janet and I were invited and honoured to sit with the family and close friends at his funeral service in Manchester Cathedral.
The rest is history; ten prizes at the challenging North West Regional contest; eight prizes at the British Open; six prizes at the National Finals; seven prizes at the All England Masters; four wins at the Yeovil Contest; twice BBC Band of the Year; winners of the UK Entertainment Contest; twice prize winners in the European Contest; Swiss Open Champions; and more.
At the end of twenty five years of managing the band, my time was up. Is it any wonder that I could write the History of Foden;’s Band with all those experiences. The acid test was whether, when I put the manager’s pen band down, was it in better fettle than when I picked it up. That’s hardly for me to judge, but it was for sure exciting.
Now, nearly twenty years later, I am still involved, albeit on the periphery. A memorabilia project and a double concert event to remember the ultimate sacrifice by Principal Cornet, Edwin Firth, who was killed in France in 1918, are occupying much of my time.
For me it has been some journey. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it.
Fodens Band Manager 1975 – 2000
Honorary Life Patron.