Reg Pursglove and The Albany Strings

Reg PursgloveMany purveyors of dance music have subsequently, or simultaneously, become associated with light orchestral music. The names of Percival Mackey, Ronnie Munro and Jack Coles immediately come to mind. Another musician whose career followed a dual path was Reg Pursglove, remembered by radio listeners in the fifties and sixties for his Albany Strings.

Reginald Pursglove was born on 21st November 1902, and, having become proficient on the violin, commenced his professional career with Moss Empires as sub-leader and conductor. He later joined the Savoy Group, playing for Carroll Gibbons's band, The Sylvians, and the Orpheans under Debroy Somers. After a spell with Howard Jacobs's band at the Berkeley Hotel, he joined Ray Starita in 1928 for a two-year engagement at the Ambassadors Club. He formed his first band in 1930, playing at Quaglino's Restaurant and at the Embassy Club. Throughout the 1930s he did freelance work for such bandleaders as Ambrose, Ray Noble and Carroll Gibbons. In 1931 he landed an engagement at the exclusive Malmaison Restaurant in Stratton Street, Mayfair, but for some reason, probably contractual, for this engagement and on early records, he called himself 'Gene Arthur and his Band'.

Reg Pursglove and his Orchestra adopted the signature tune 'Love is in the Air' by Richard Whiting. This also became the title of a series which the orchestra did for the BBC in 1939, Pursglove's 'sweet' style being ideal in view of the 'love' theme of the show. He was, however, required to use extra strings and a harp.

It is difficult to be precise when describing the instrumentation of Reg Pursglove's broadcasting combinations, as they varied according to the requirements of the show or series. When Reg Pursglove and his Orchestra started doing 'Music While You Work' in 1940, the instrumentation was three saxes, four rhythm, trumpet and violin (nine players), and this appears to be the line-up on their many recordings for Decca's special MWYW label. After the war the orchestra was augmented to 26 players for a while, having five saxes, strings, two pianos and a full brass section. As Pursglove was once again doing theatre pit work, this combination would have been ideal.

During the war years, another combination called The Music Makers had been regularly heard on the air. Initially there was no credit given to the Musical Director in Radio Times, but it was indeed Reg Pursglove, and his name was eventually attributed to it.

The Music Makers originally consisted of six players but was later increased to eleven and heard regularly for some years. The larger orchestra had ceased to broadcast by the late forties and Reg had formed yet another orchestra, this time for the BBC Music Department, playing light music. He called it the Albany Players. It is evident from the BBC files that the Variety Department didn't take kindly to 'their' musicians playing under the auspices of the Music Department or the Light Music Department (formed in the mid- fifties). Playing for two departments obviously doubled potential broadcasting opportunities, but was seen in some quarters as unfair to those conductors who specialised in one area of music. In fact, in 1949, Kenneth Sydney Baynes told Reg Pursglove that he would not be offering the Music Makers any more MWYW programmes, as he deemed them 'unsuitable' for the series. I must say that it had taken him a long time to come to that conclusion and one can only speculate as to whether Pursglove's contract with the Music Department might have been the real reason! When Reg complained, however, he was told that as the Corporation was still employing his Albany Players, the BBC was fully satisfying its obligations to him.

After some persuasion, Reg Pursglove managed to secure a broadcast with the Music Makers in December 1949 but the BBC deemed that 'it lacked guts and was not sufficiently audible in factories'. Apart from one dance music date in 1951, Reg's career was now entirely in the light music field.

The 18-piece Albany Players ceased broadcasting in 1951 and Reg Pursglove formed a combination of eight to twelve players called The Muted Strings. Its title and style made it most suitable for late-night broadcasts, and although used occasionally in 'Morning Music', it was not getting broadcasts as frequently as Reg Pursglove would have liked. In 1954, the BBC pointed out that its title was tending to limit its use and advised him to rename it The Albany Strings. He took their advice and so was born a highly attractive 11-piece light orchestra which appeared in a wide variety of programmes over the next 14 years.

Reg Pursglove had already done 142 editions of 'Music While You Work' with his dance orchestra and the Music Makers. On 1st June 1959, The Albany Strings made the first of 75 appearances in the series.

For the purposes of MWYW the programmes were, of necessity, light. The Albany Strings, however, was a versatile orchestra with skilled personnel and when used in other series, played more serious music, some of it specially written for string orchestra. Those who remember listening to this orchestra will recall its clear, refreshing sound. No guitars, no drums, just strings and a piano.

With the demise of MWYW in September 1967, and the corresponding reorganisation of radio, Reg found that many of the series in which he had participated were no more. He had been contributing to 'Breakfast Special' for some time but the BBC suddenly decided that he didn't provide the sort of music wanted for the show. So what sort of music did the BBC want? Whatever it was, the versatile Albany Strings could have provided it! In 1969, Reg Pursglove asked the BBC why it was that he had been given 23 broadcasts in 1966 but just one in 1967. The BBC conceded that Pursglove was justified in being aggrieved that after 30 years on the air, he should suddenly be dropped even though the standard of his orchestra's performances had in no way diminished. The problem was that suitable 'slots' were no longer available. After some discussions, the orchestra was given a few sessions as holiday relief for the BBC's London Studio Players, in which the orchestra was augmented to 22 players, but this proved to be its swan-song. Reg Pursglove died on 15th March 1982, aged 79.

Click here!
Listen to 'Music While You Work' played by The Albany Strings directed by Reg Pursglove
as broadcast on 20th October 1962

played by The Albany Strings
Directed by Reg Pursglove
at 10.31 a.m. on Saturday 20th October 1962

Calling All Workers (Sig)
We'll all go riding on a rainbow
. Everything's in rhythm with my heart
. Dancing with my Shadow
. Over my Shoulder
. Celebratin'
Moon River
Young Dandy
Skiffling Strings
Selection:Porgy and Bess
Runaway Romance
Blackberry Pie
Spring Green Lady
A Garden in Granada
Lady Beautiful
Calling All Workers (
Eric Coates

Harry Woods
Harry Woods
Harry Woods
Harry Woods
Henry Mancini
Reginald Tilsley
Ron Goodwin
George Gershwin
Florian Zabach
Jeanne Harker
Geoffrey Henman
Sam Lewis
Fredric Bayco
Eric Coates

Click here!
Listen to 'Music While You Work' played by The Albany Strings directed by Reg Pursglove
as broadcast on 12th July 1962

played by The Albany Strings
Directed by Reg Pursglove
at 3.31 p.m. on Thursday 12th July 1962

Calling All Workers (Sig)
. Easy to love
. You'd be so nice to come home to
. I've got my eyes on you
. Just one of those things
. Rosalie
The Boulevardier
Spring Green Lady
. Serenade No. 1
. Wedding of the Rose
. Rusticanella
Among My Souvenirs
Waltz Medley:
. Cruising Down the River
. Under Paris Skies
. Tulips from Amsterdam
. La Ronde
. Together
. There's a Lovely Lake in London
Runaway Romance
Selection: West Side Story
Silly Billy
Selection: The Dancing Years
Lady Beautiful
Betty Dear
La Torrida

Calling All Workers (Sig)
Eric Coates
Cole Porter

Frederic Curzon
Geoffrey Henman

Johnny Heykens
Leon Jessel
D. Cortopassi
Horatio Nicholls

Nellie Tollerton
R. Arnie
Oscar Straus
De Silva/Brown/Henderson
Tolchard Evans
Florian Zabach
Leonard Bernstein
Norrie Paramor
Ivor Novello
Fredric Bayco
Raymond Agoult
Trevor Duncan
Eric Coates

Music While You Work at 3.45 p.m. on 30th October 1959
Played by Reg Pursglove and The Albany Strings

Calling All Workers (Sig)
Colonel Bogey
I'll Be Around
Five Minutes with Joyce's Waltzes
Here's to Love
Sweden in Springtime
The Westminster Waltz
Regency Rondo
The Very Thought of You
Fiddlers' Bugle Call
Selection: The Dancing Years
Miss Melanie
Sicilian Samba
Honouring the Haggis
Spanish Gypsy Dance
Calling All Workers (
arr. Hartley

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Text by Brian Reynolds : e-mail