Written by Terry Prue
I was 13 in 1959 when Freddy Hargraves retired from Ramsgate’s post-War entertainment. My interest in his style of dance band music was then waning as a new generation; Elvis, Cliff, Buddy and Adam, rose with TV coverage of pop on Juke Box Jury. Yet I remember him with affection, perhaps because I had seen his show at the West Cliff Bandstand every year of my life up until then. Both his limp and his talent show interlude, with a ‘magic’ whistling kettle as first prize are, for me, unforgettable.
My quest for biographical information started with this flyer:
The ‘Broadcasting’ claim led to the ‘Radio Who’s Who’ of 1947 (1) and the entry for Frederic Hargraves was:
“Dance Music, b. Burnley, 17th May, 1909. First broadcast, 1942. Address: 39, Grange Road, Ramsgate. Phone: 912 Ramsgate. Started studying violin at age of nine, and at fourteen began career as professional musician. Started playing dance music on saxophone and clarinet in 1928, and has since led his own Dance Band in principal Hotels and Ballrooms. Has broadcast in “ Music While You Work “ programmes, and “Saturday Night At The Palais.” Hobby: “Collecting fine violins“.
The address of 39 Grange Rd matches Kelly’s Street Directory of 1951 so it would appear that he created a base in our town.
Being disabled, with a clear limp Freddy was exempt from conscription and became a working musician throughout the War. Initially he entertained the forces with personal appearances but from 1942 to 1944 he was a regular broadcaster on BBC Home and Forces Radio stations – sometimes as Frederic Hargraves and the Knights of Music, occasionally Knights of Swing and sometimes Frederic Hargraves and his Band. In 1943 he regularly played the 3pm weekday ‘Music While You Work’.
Probably the biggest accolade in his broadcasting career came in 1945. The new Light Programme began on July 29th with a peak time evening show at 7:10pm. The first Saturday broadcast was ‘Holiday Nights’ with Freddy Hargraves and his Band at the West Cliff Ballroom. In peacetime, his broadcasts would become fewer but by then he had moved to light entertainment. In February 1948 ‘Variety Concert Hall’ at the Palace Theatre Ramsgate starred Peter Brough and ‘Archie Andrews’ with Freddy. (2)
As radio work declined in the late 1940s, personal appearances increased. West Cliff Hall and both Cliff Bandstands saw regular summer seasons. Audiences at the West Cliff were larger, being sheltered from the wind and enjoying refreshments. The souvenir postcard shows the now demolished bandstand:
Freddy’s ‘orchestra’ provided strict-tempo dance music in Dover, Canterbury and Whitstable. He was ‘proprietor’ of the Odeon Ballroom, St Peter‘s Street, Canterbury (3) and from 1942 to 1947 advertised dancing every night to the band of Frederic Hargraves’ ‘Swingtette,’ probably four musicians rather than his orchestra.
By the end of 1947 changing tastes led Freddy to convert the Odeon Hall to the Talisman Restaurant with dinner-dances on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and regular fashion shows. A report from March 1948 reveals sartorial elegance as the band joined the spirit of the events:
“Frederic Hargreaves’ Band (with both names mis-spelled) in their full sleeved blue blouses and scarlet boleros, played light background music throughout the show, in an alcove at the further end of the room with banks of lilies, daffodils, tulips and pussy willow” (4)
Freddy managed talent: Johnny O’Rourke, his trumpet and orchestra at the Oval Bandstand, Cliftonville, and Ronnie Mills & His Band at the Marina, Great Yarmouth.
At Ramsgate in the 1950s Freddy’s summer shows in the West Cliff Hall included comedy routines that were usual for dance bands; ‘Margette & her novelty band’ on my 1947 handbill would feature band members in drag. Two photographs from these shows remain in Ramsgate Library probably dating from about 1955. The blacked-up musician is no longer politically correct but he pre-dates ‘The Black and White Minstrels Show’ on TV. The ‘Egyptian Sand Dance’ is also not quite PC but, is still featured and remembered with amusement.
Near the end of his career Freddy achieved national if unplanned, publicity. At a fete in Ellington Park the Band was supported by “Professor” Jimmy White’s sword-and-apple “William Tell” act. Usually a female volunteer would have an apple placed on her head and the Professor would cleave it in two with a downward sweep of a sword. When no volunteers came forward, Carol Hayes, singer with the band, stepped up. The apple split but Carol had a two-inch cut in her scalp, and bled profusely. The Daily Mail front page of August 3rd read: ‘She was rushed to hospital. The professor disappeared.’ Carol was pictured bandaged and in bed, claiming ‘she could hear the strains of music from Frederic Hargraves’s Band Show 200 yards away on Ramsgate’s Western Promenade’. Professor White was a café owner in York St and Hargraves asserted against White’s protestations, the singer ‘most definitely did not move.’ (5)
Through the 1940s, Freddy was heard on the BBC but was never in the first league of band leaders. Unlike the ‘greats’ he had no recording success. He was extraordinarily hard working, an entrepreneurial individual and a big fish in the small bowl of South East Kent. He remained a core ingredient of entertainment for Ramsgate Holidays from wartime until 1959. Two years after retiring from the Ramsgate summer season he died in 1961. The same year, West Cliff Bandstand, stage for his long career, was demolished and became the boating pool that still exists.
(1) Compiled and edited by Cyrus Andrews. 1947 Pendulum Publications
(2) Radio information: newspapers, BBC Radio Times Genome Project
(3) Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald 19 Sep 1942
(4) Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald 27 March 1948
(5) Daily Mirror August 8th 1956 Page 5