Forgotten genius 

1 September 2001

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Gavin Sutherland on the composer of Three Rivers Fantasy

Arthur Wilkinson began his arranging and composing career in the RAF, providing many numbers for the Squadronaires. From here he moved into television, hired at first by Eric Robinson to arrange the music for his “Music for You” series.

His work was often heard on other BBC programmes, whether it was accompanying three dancers treading a light course through Lime Grove studios in “We Are Your Servants” in 1956 (one of the dancers being a very young Gillian Lynne, subsequently choreographer and director of Cats and Phantom of the Opera!) or providing arrangements for Billy Cotton, Christmas Night with the Stars or the myriad of variety shows.

He also orchestrated all of David Heneker’s shows in the West End (including “Half a Sixpence” and “Charlie Girl”), as well as orchestrating music for Bonanza and other American series and even adverts for the North Thames Gas Board!! (A famous concert item of the time was his wonderful “Beatlecracker Suite”, containing Tchaikovskian parodies of the Fab Four’s output).

On 15th January 1959 Tyne Tees Television opened with his splendid “Three Rivers Fantasy”, a medley of North-Eastern songs (such as: Blaydon Races, The Waters of Tyne, The Keel Row, Billy Boy, Oh! The Bonny Fisher Lad, Sair Fyeld Hinnie and The Colliers’ Rant).

This piece was used for many many years, and yet it is sad to think that due to cuts and re-organisation all of the Tyne Tees music library, containing over 1000 arrangements for many of TTT’s top shows, was destroyed.

Sad also that Arthur Wilkinson, among whose achievements was the formation of the Northern Sinfonia, after working 18-hour days for so long, died suddenly from a heart attack in 1968, at the age of only 44. Like so many of the “backroom boys” of those days, his work is now largely forgotten, the remaining scores having ended up in the BBC Music library.

Suggested Listening

The only available work of Wilkinson’s is his arrangements for the London cast recordings of “Half a Sixpence” and “Charlie Girl” (both on Sony) – well worth a listen!

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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1 response to this article

Joanne Gray 20 October 2015 at 3:49 pm

I was born in 1971 and grew up in the Tyne Tees region; this very tune was part of many a morning during my childhood. Thanks for tugging at my nostalgia strings.

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