The Mortimer Years

The names Foden and Mortimer go together like Peaches and Cream and are just as tasty. So how did it come about?

Elder brother, Billy Foden, had emigrated to become a sheep farmer in Australia, so the mantle of responsibility for the Band fell on the shoulders of younger brother Edwin Richard (ERF).

It was now 1924 and Foden's Band had not won a British Open or a National Championship since 1915; that would not do for ERF.

150 miles South, or thereabouts, Luton Band was making a name for itself and breaking the mould of Northern domination. Much of it was due to the Mortimer's; father Fred, eldest son Harry, and second son Alex. Youngest son Rex was still at school. In this trio E R Foden spied a golden opportunity to kill three birds with one stone, but, in all probability, acted with due diligence.  Bear in mind that William Halliwell was the Professional Conductor of both Luton and Foden's Bands.

On 22nd May 1924, Alex left Luton and joined Foden's. The others stayed at Luton. Many years ago, Hubert Shergold, star flugel player at Foden's for a lifetime, told me of an incident which happened in the late summer of 1924.  He was getting off the train from Crewe at Sandbach Station when also getting off was Fred Mortimer whom he knew. Hubert enquired why he was at Sandbach and, rather sheepishly, Fred said he had come to see how Alex was getting on.

As events turned out, Hubert subsequently surmised that there was more to it than that. I am sure I agree with him.

On 6th January 1925, the attendance register records that Jim Thorpe stepped down as Principal Cornet to be replaced by Harry Mortimer and Tom Hynes stepped down to be replaced as Bandmaster by Fred Mortimer. There was no smoke without fire.

It was not all sweetness and light at first, not least because many of the bandsmen thought that Tom Hynes, Fred’s predecessor, had been treated badly and that Fred’s nagging conducting style was not suited to Foden’s Band. Also they were uncomfortable at Fred’s insistence on playing at the top of the beat would hamper the Foden Sound.

Thus begun a period in banding without parallel. With Fred as Bandmaster under William Halliwell, Foden's won the Belle Vue British Open in 1926 – 1927 – 1928, with teenager Rex coming in on second euphonium for the last of the three. It was at this point that Halliwell stood down and Fred had sole charge.

Because of the distraction of Bob’s Racers amusements just beyond the entrance door to King’s Hall, Fred decided there would be no more Belle Vue contests for Foden's.  That left Crystal Palace and at his first attempt, 1930, Fred led Foden's to victory. What a start.

Unbelievably, Fred and Foden's went on to win the National Championships in 1932 – 1933 – 1934 – were barred in 1935, but went on to win in 1936 – 1937 – and 1938.  Then the War intervened, even so, now aged nearly 70, Fred went on to win with Foden's at the new North West Regional Contests and a third place at the National Championships.  Fred passed away in 1953, aged 73, and was laid to rest in Elworth Church Cemetery.

But the Mortimers were not finished as son Harry, now working for the BBC in London, took over and in the next six years he and Foden's secured two Firsts and four Seconds. When he then laid down the baton, youngest brother Rex took over and in the next six years secured four placings plus yet another Championship, the tenth for the Mortimers and Foden's.  

When Rex laid down his baton in 1975, it was appropriate that a celebration concert should take place at Winsford Civic Hall, where both Harry and Rex conducted to celebrate 50 years of the Foden and Mortimer partnership. 

In their time all three had received the Iles Medal and the Baton of Honour.  Better even than peaches and cream.

Allan Littlemore   March 2018