Music While You Work

It was in the dark days of 1940 that the BBC instituted 'Music While You Work', following a Government suggestion that morale in industry would be improved if there were daily broadcasts of cheerful music piped into the factories. The theory (which turned out to be right) was that improved morale would lead to better production. The concept was for two half hour programmes each day, one at 10.30am and the other in mid-afternoon. A different band, orchestra or ensemble would play each day and it was felt that the best programmes were those which made workers feel inclined to whistle or sing along with the music. Because the music would have to compete with factory noises, and be heard through tannoys, the BBC insisted on a fairly constant sound level, plenty of familiar tunes, nothing too slow and nothing very fast. ( Curiously, it was believed that very fast music would have an unsettling effect on workers). In fact, the BBC issued memos which set out the quite stringent rules that were to be applied to the programme - one of which read:

1. Banned completely - all numbers with predominant rhythm, insufficient melody, or other unsuitable characteristics.
2. Banned Completely - numbers that are lethargic or unsuited to any speeding up of tempo.
3 Banned completely - all modern slow waltzes , due to their soporific tendencies.

There was also a long list of pieces that were deemed unsuitable for one reason or another, such as 'Deep in the Heart of Texas' which has a clapping motif, which it was felt would encourage workers to bang their spanners on the machinery, possibly doing damage!

The first programme was on Sunday 23rd. June 1940 and was played by Dudley Beaven at the theatre organ with the afternoon edition provided by a trio called The Organolists, which in later years evolved as Jimmy Leach and his Organolians who, in fact played the final edition in September 1967, some 16781 editions later! Initially, the programme had no signature tune, but light music composer Eric Coates had just written a march called 'Calling All Workers' and this was adopted as the signature tune from October 1940. Orchestra leader Wynford Reynolds was appointed 'Music While You Work Organiser' in 1941 and one of his tasks was to visit factories around the country, ascertaining workers' opinions on the programmes and, more importantly, the suitability of the contributing musical combinations. Pizzicato violin playing was outlawed (because it was inaudible) as were 'over fussy' arrangements that were likely to obscure the clear cut melody line - an essential requirement that also led to the exclusion of jazz.

The programme featured ballroom dance orchestras, light orchestras, brass and military bands, small instrumental ensembles and (initially) cinema organs, but these were eventually phased out because it was felt that their tone was incompatible with factory conditions. Although nearly 500 musical combinations were featured over the years, some 60 only appeared once, because they were found unsuitable, sometimes for what one might consider petty reasons. For example, bandleader Ken Mackintosh was dropped after just one show because his drummer played too many 'rim shots' - which apparently sounded like gunfire over factory tannoys! Incidentally, the BBC considered it part of their brief to advise factory managers as to the most suitable sound reproduction equipment.

During the war, many factories were in production throughout the night (particularly munitions), so a third edition of 'Music While You Work' was introduced in 1942, at 10.30 pm. for the night shift. This lasted for the duration of the war, but was reintroduced between 1947 and 1950 - but in an early evening slot. BBC executives were quite sure that MWYW had helped to win the war - there was apparently a 13% increase in production during the times of transmission !

Although primarily intended as a morale booster for industry, MWYW proved very popular with domestic listeners, regularly achieving an audience of four million. To this must be added its 'captive audience' in the factories and, by the fifties, the burgeoning number of motorists who found it an ideal accompaniment. It was certainly very different to the 'boom-thud' cachophany emitted from many cars today !

Over the years some once very famous names appeared on the programme: Mantovani, Victor Silvester, Frank Chacksfield, Harry Leader, Lew Stone, Joe Loss - to name a few. The most popular combinations got the most broadcasts with Troise and his Banjoliers (in later years directed by Jack Mandel) doing an amazing 476 shows, with Cecil Norman and the Rhythm Players coming a close second with 466 editions. For most of its run, MWYW featured a weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) slot for brass and military bands - including all the Guards bands, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers and the R.A.F. Central Band amongst others. Famous names from the brass band world - Black Dyke, Grimethorpe Colliery were just two of the many top bands included. From the light orchestral world, popular contributors were Ronnie Munro, Bernard Monshin, Harold Collins and Anton and his Orchestra. From the dance band world, Phil Tate, Tommy Kinsman, Jack White, Syd Dean and Bill Savill will be remembered by many people.

The popularity of 'Music While You Work' in the post-war years led to the afternoon editions being extended to forty-five minutes. Many of the dance bands found this quite arduous, as brass players often found it difficult to maintain their 'embouchure' for long periods, their lips becoming quite tired towards the end of the programme. It has to be remembered that it was a requirement of the programme that the music should be continuous, so if a band wanted to have more than about three seconds between numbers, a piano or celeste link had to be inserted. Quite a number of combinations adopted this in later years - as it not only gave them more time to change their music, but had the additional advantage of effecting a modulation between numbers. If there was no link, the conductor had to ensure, when planning his programme, then the key of each piece was compatible with the key of the closing notes of the preceding piece. A delightful characteristic of the programme was that you could often hear the frantic rustling of manuscript paper between numbers!

'Music While You Work' was broadcast live until the Summer of 1963, after which time, most programmes were pre-recorded - usually the previous day and often in the evenings. This enabled more studios to be free for other programmes during the daytime. When the Saturday morning show was discontinued in 1964, it proved to be the 'thin edge of the wedge', as in 1966, the afternoon editions ended. The final edition of MWYW was broadcast on 29th. September 1967 - the last day of the Light Programme.

It was revived for a week in October 1982, as part of the BBC's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. It proved to be so successful that the programme was reinstated on a daily basis on 4th January 1983 - running for over a year! Further short revivals took place in 1990 and 1991 with a final 'one-off' programme in 1995, played by the Victor Silvester Orchestra.

As a footnote, it should be mentioned that Radio Three broadcast a live edition of 'Music While You Work' on 24th June 2011 as part of their otherwise excellent light music festival entitled 'Light Fantastic'. Apparently confusing it with 'Workers'Playtime' they staged it in a factory near Manchester in front of an audience of workers, who had been given time off to hear it. The 90-piece BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Bell even donned high-visibility jackets for the occasion. Unfortunately, those responsible had obviously never heard the programme which, instead of being non-stop light music as was traditional, was interrupted by applause and announcements. It also included several items that would never have been considered suitable for the series. It is sad that there is probably nobody left at the BBC who remembers the show and even sadder that they seemingly lacked the initiative to listen to the preserved editions in their own Sound Archives - or indeed, the many examples on this site!

Here is a selection of bands and orchestras who played on the programme.
Click on the links to hear the full programmes

Chris Allen and his Sextet
Jerry Allen and his Trio
Maurice Arnold and his Sextet
Band of The Corps of Royal Engineers (Aldershot)

Band of the Coldstream Guards
Band of the Grenadier Guards
Band of the Scots Guards
Band of the Irish Guards
Band of the Welsh Guards
Band of The Royal Corps of Transport
Band of The Royal Army Service Corps
Band of The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
Band of The Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall
Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band
The George Birch Six
Stanley Black and his Orchestra
The George Blackmore Sextet
'Bones and Fifes

John Brown's Bodies
Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band
Central Band of The Royal Air Force
The Christine and Sandy Blair Two Piano Rhythm
Denny Boyce and his Orchestra
Eddie Carroll and his Music
Frank Chacksfield and his Orchestra
The Phil Cleary Sextet
Robinson Cleaver at the Electric Organ
Michael Collins and his Orchestra
The Cory Band
Coventry Theatre Orchestra
The Derek Cox Quartet
Graham Dalley and his Music
Ray Davies and his Orchestra
The Brian Dee Quartet
Delmondi and his Quartet
The Robert Docker Sextet
Tony Evans and his Band
The Fairey Band
Pearl Fawcett's accordion with the Harold Rich Orchestra
Barrie Forgies's Thames Eight
 John Fox and his Orchestra

The Francis-Langford Duo, their Pianos and Orchestra
The Bill Geldard Tentet
The George French Orchestra
Eric Galloway and his Orchestra
Harry Gold and his Band
The Gough-Adams Music
John Gregory and his Orchestra
The G.U.S. Band
 Dave Hancock and his Orchestra

Ronald Hanmer and the Marimberos
The Don Harper Sextet
Grant Hossack and his Orchestra
Johnny Howard and his Orchestra

The Neville Hughes Orchestra
The Pete Hughes Quintet
Alan Hurst and his Orchestra
The Bill Jackman Group
 The Gordon Langford Sextet
The Zack Laurence Trio

The Syd Lawrence Orchestra
Joe Loss and his  Orchestra
 Geoff Love's Banjo Band
The Henry Mackenzie Quintet

Ken Mackintosh and his Band
The Henry Mackenzie Quintet
Billy Mayerl and his Band
Ray McVay and his Band
The Metropolitan Police Band
Louis Mordish and his Players
Cyril Ornadel and the London Theatre Orchestra
ack Perberdy's Flutes and Things
Les Perry and his Players

Pianorama directed by Harold Rich
Bob Potter and his Orchestra
A.J.Powell and his Banjo Octet
Stan Reynolds and his Octet
Neil Richardson's Satin Brass
Robin Richmond and his Quintet
 The Harry Roche Constellation
The Bryan Rodwell Quartet
Carlos Romanos and his Orchestra
 Gordon Rose and his Orchestra

Andy Ross and his Band
The Sidney Sax Strings
The Dave Shepherd Quintet
Victor Silvester and his Ballroom Orchestra
The Sound of Strings directed by David Francis
Bryan Smith and his Orchestra
The Pete Smith Seminar
The David Snell Quintet
The Harry Stoneham Band

Iain Sutherland and his Orchestra
Lew Stone and his Band/Sextet
Terry Walsh and the Golden Guitars
 The Mick Urry Showband

Cyril Watters and his Players
Lou Whiteson and the Southern Serenade Orchestra
The Dennis Wilson Quartet
Ralph Wilson and his Septet
Pete Winslow's Tijuana Sound

 Johnny Wollaston and his Music

Calling All Workers sheet music cover
The stirring theme tune was called
Calling All Workers by Eric Coates and is available on
Guild Music CD GLCD5128.

Click here!
A Medley of intro's

Click here!
An Interview with Brian Reynolds for the BBC by Russell Davies

Music While You Work - An Era in Broadcasting
Click on the book cover for further details, reviews and ordering information

Many editions of Music While You Work and countless other programmes are available for hire to members of O.R.C.A (Old time Radio-programmme Collectors' Association). Membership details from O.R.C.A.  P.O. Box 1922, Dronfield, Sheffield S18 8XA or by e-mailing

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Text by Brian Reynolds : e-mail