jabw_vintage/report no. 40

Let Us Tell You About.....

Charles Shadwell

this page first published by John Wright, 9 March 2021
last update 13th September 2021vintage@r2ok.co.uk


The big name in the Coventry orchestral music scene of the early 1930s was Charles Shadwell. The whole nation was entertained on BBC Radio with regular broadcasts of the Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra directed by Charles Shadwell. He went on to greater fame at the BBC.

Charles Shadwell
b. 26 March 1898 in Surrey
d. 28 July 1979 in Pershore, Worcestershire.

Charles Shadwell wanted to be a doctor but being called up for duty during WWI put an end to that. It was during the war that Charles, an engaging young officer with a flair for music, decided to make music his career. In 1917, Lieutenant C. W. M. Shadwell, of the West Yorkshire Regiment was invalided home from France, and given the task of organising entertainment for the troops. His headquarters were the Garrison Theatre, Ripon, Yorkshire, where every day except Sundays, a khaki-clad orchestra, under the baton of the young lieutenant himself, played to a packed audience of soldiers of all ranks.

Many famous artists of those WWI years appeared in Lieutenant Shadwell’s shows, but, except on the great occasions when star variety was arranged, the entertainment was provided by a soldiers' concert party called the ‘Veri-Neats’ whose personnel was in a perpetual state of transition as the soldier-artists were called away to duty.

With the help of such visiting stars as Fred Barnes, T. E. Dunville, Chirgwim, R. G. Knowles and George Mozart, and the excellent amateur and professional talent in the Army itself, Lieutenant Shadweil was never short of good material for his garrison shows. Among the artists who figured prominently in the programmes was Mamie Gilroy, the soubrette and dancer of the party, who became Mrs. Charles Shadwell!
(ref. 1, Coventry Herald 1939).

After WWI Charles studied piano, organ, and violin and played in the York Symphony Orchestra, then became a touring musical director of several revues and served for some years as a theatre conductor, including Portsmouth and Brighton.

Charles was appointed musical director of Coventry Hippodrome in August, 1931. He was responsible for a large measure of the success which the Hippodrome Orchestra subsequently achieved, particularly in broadcasting, and when he left Coventry in May 1936, to join the BBC as conductor of the BBC Variety Orchestra, he was already on the road to fame.

this photo was taken in a
photographic studio in Coventry

The earliest mention of Charles Shadwell in Coventry newspapers that I can find is 24th January 1930 where it was announced that the revue "Painted Dolls," is to be staged at the Hippodrome next week, music conducted by Charles Shadwell (direct from the London Palladium).

Charles was appointed orchestra conductor at the Hippodrome in August 1931. Later that year he and the orchestra were getting good reviews in the local papers :

Coventry Evening Telegraph- Tuesday 1 September 1931
'Oriental Nights' at the Hippodrome .......
The musical director (Mr. Charles M. Shadwell), with his orchestra, makes good use of what used to be a tiring interval by an excellent rendering of a symphonic arrangement of " Faust."

Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 10 October 1931:

For next week only, the Hippodrome is to depart from the usual round of musical entertainments and to present a farce, "My Wife's Family".........

A review on 13th October included: Another pleasing feature of the entertainment is the excellent programme of music by Charles M. Shadwell and his orchestra. Mr. Shadwell has arranged some particularly attractive musical interludes during the evening, assisted by Master Paul Jennings, the Coventry boy soloist, and the xylophone solo by Mr. P. Brassington, of the orchestra. At the second house last night, Master Paul Jennings had to respond to an encore for his rendering of " Love's Old Sweet Song."

At this time the Coventry Hippodrome Theatre was located adjacent to Swanswell Gate

the medieval Swanswell Gate
can be seen on the right

The regular shows at the Coventry Hippodrome would now have music support from Charles’s orchestra, and indeed the orchestra itself became one of the features of the shows e.g. see advert dated 29 April 1932.

The orchestra were invited to play elsewhere, e.g.

Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 12 October 1932
"THREE ARTS" FANCY DRESS BALL, to be held on January 5th, 1933 at the Drill Hall, Coventry, will feature Priestley's Syncophonic Orchestra and the second orchestra to be engaged is the Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra, under the personal direction of Mr. Charles M. Shadwell, by permission of the Hippodrome directors. This should prove to be an extremely popular choice. Every member of this orchestra is a soloist, and the majority of them are broadcasting regularly from BBC Midland Regional.

This text is from BBC's 'Radio Times' for one of Charles' early broadcasts on BBC Regional radio in 1932

BBC Regional Tuesday 8 November 1932 19:40
Vaudeville - From The Hippodrome Theatre, Coventry including
Alfredo and his Gypsy Orchestra augmented by Charles Shadwell and The Hippodrome Orchestra
Leo Sax (Supercilious Comedian and Mimic) with Lucille Chard and Sylvia Royan
Billy Russell (Broadcaster of Mirth)

Charles' first BBC National broadcast, to all regions of the nation, was on Christmas Eve 1932

From The Hippodrome Theatre, Coventry, Saturday 24 December 1932 14:30
And this was followed by a New Year’s Eve afternoon broadcast.

The photo below from the 'Coventry Herald', is likely taken during the first recording session for the Hippodrome Orchestra, 17th May 1933 (or possibly the later session in November 1935). The recordings session took place at the Coventry Hippodrome. In the photo conductor Charles Shadwell is standing on the right of the photo, seated on the conductor's right is the EMI Recording Manager, Joseph Batten. Standing at the back, on the left-hand side is the orchestra's famous pianist, Jack Wilson. (ref. 7)

Also from the 'Coventry Herald', conductor Charles Shadwell with his Hippodrome Orchestra are on the theatre stage listening to a playback of one of their records. Centre left Charles Shadwell, centre right pianist Jack Wilson.

The orchestra recorded medleys of popular tunes and Jack Wilson recorded a piano work with orchestral accompaniment. The full story of the first recording session is described in the Coventry Herald of 19th May report (ref. 7)

The next recording session for the Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra saw them make this Regal Zonophone record, 12th November 1935, also at the Hippodrome Theatre.

The 'Happy - Selection' is a medley of dance/show tunes, performed as well as any of the top dance bands at the time.

Piano is played by Jack Wilson.

The orchestra recorded several medleys of popular tunes. The full story of the second recording session is described in the Coventry Herald of 15th November (ref.7)

Click this title to listen to 'Happy - Selection' (both sides):

"Happy Selection"

The Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra, conducted by Charles Shadwell, was now rated one of the finest theatre orchestras in the country and continued to be hired for regular, often weekly, BBC radio broadcasts relayed directly from The Hippodrome Theatre, Coventry.

Sometimes the performances featured singers and instrumental soloists (some of who were local Coventry/Warwickshire musicians) e.g. these broadcasts listed in Radio Times:

25/5/33, 28/10/33, 23/11/33 with Jack Wilson, piano
14/9/33 soloist, Leslie Uzzell trumpet
28/9/33 soloist Al Rice
12/4/33 soloist Harry Buckley
2/8/34, 12/10/34 soloist David O’Rourke
23/8/35 Trumpet duet, Leslie Uzzell and C. Savage
15/3/36 Emily Broughton (soprano)
3/5/36 Dorothy Richards (contralto)
5/4/36 Nora Savage (soprano)

It is estimated that Charles' Hippodrome orchestra performed in over 250 BBC broadcasts during 1932-1936. By 1935 Charles Shadwell was receiving around 2500 fan letters per year from all over the country.

In 1934 the popularity of the Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra was recognised by music publishers Campbell & Connelly who were selling sheet music with a photo of Charles Shadwell!

This page from the 'Radio Times' in 1935 gives an indication of the large number of tunes the orchestra could cram into a 1 hour broadcast, a mix of light orchestral and dance/show tunes

Charles Shadwell was very popular with theatre audiences, who particularly loved hearing his infectious laugh! A later report noted:

"Thin-man " Charlie Shadwell, who, in ITMA, became radio's biggest stooge, really enjoyed holding the title of " the most libelled man in radio." He would "certainly not admit that the abuse that has been heaped on his head in any way accounts for his lack of hair".

Charlie attributes his impromptu gagging ability to back-chat with variety stage artists and comedians and he gained plenty of experience in snappy badinage while pit orchestra leader at the Coventry Hippodrome.

Charles Shadwell rehearsing
with the BBC Variety Orchestra

In May 1936, Charles Shadwell left Coventry to join the BBC as conductor of the BBC Variety Orchestra, located in London. He was conductor during 1936-1946.

Read an article in from Radio Pictorial in May 1936

A Coventry Telegraph reporter caught up with Charles in October 1936 (edited):

"I wish there were 48 hours in a day instead of 24," observed Mr. Charles Shadwell, former conductor of the Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra, when I had a chat with him at Broadcasting House, London, regarding his new job as conductor of the B B C Variety Orchestra. Mr. Shadwell finds his work in London a real pleasure, largely due to the team spirit existing among the staff, which helps a new man to get into the broadcasting atmosphere and settle down under conditions considerably different from those under which he worked in Coventry. He asked me to give a personal message to his many friends in Coventry to the effect that he is often thinking of them and wondering how they are getting on. and whether they listen to the Variety Orchestra broadcasts.

One of the former Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra players, in the person of Leslie Uzzell, is now with him as second trumpet. Mr. Uzzell had recently left Coventry for Reading.

Mr. Shadwell observed that he still takes a keen interest in the progress of the Hippodrome orchestra, and he is coming to Birmingham to conduct for an evening broadcast on Sunday. He mentioned that Harry Engleman. of the Aston Hippodromie, was taking the place of pianist Jack Wilson on that occasion. I was able to obtain some details of the Variety Orchestra's work and composition. There are I8 members—four first violins, one second violin, viola. cello, bass, flute (doubling guitar), first clarinet (doubling second alto saxophone). second clarinet (doubling first alto saxophone), bassoon (doubling tenor saxophone), oboe, two trumpets, trombone, drums, and piano.

Of the pianist, Arthur Sandford, Mr. Shadwell stated that he regarded him as a genius - a very fine composer and arranger. In fact, he has been so impressed with the outstanding talent of the members of the Variety Orchestra that, he has arranged special BBC broadcast performances under the title of " Intermission," during which each member will have an opportunity for self-expression. The orchestra's contractual "working" hours are 36 per week, including all rehearsals and performances, and, only under exceptional circumstance would they exceed this time. For Mr. Shadwell, however, that is the bare minimum, as he has all the office and routine work to attend to, in addition to arranging the programmes.

There are weekly conferences with the other members of the Variety Department, head of which is Mr. Eric Maschwitz. Incidentally, the BBC Theatre Orchestra, which is conducted by Mr. Mark Lubbock, is an entirely different organisation, dealing with such music as studio operetta, Sunday concerts, of their own, and special feature programmes. The work of the BBC Variety Orchestra is primarily to accompany music hall programmes. variety programmes and light studio programmes, and it has provided incidental music for Shakespearean plays on Sundays, and of course, given special programmes of its own. Most of their broadcasts are given from St. George's Hall, in London, where all the music hall programmes come from, but a good deal of work is done in a studio three floors below ground level, and the large studio at Maida Vale has also been used.

In November 1939 Charles Shadwell returned to the Garrison Theatre, Ripon, for a 45 minutes concert, and with the help of an audience in khaki, put on a show typical of his old Garrison Theatre times in 1917, creating an authentic impression of the way soldiers entertain soldiers on a big professional scale.

Read an article in Radio Pictorial in March 1939

I.T.M.A. (It's That Man Again) was a BBC Radio Comedy programme which ran between 1939 and 1949. The program starred Tommy Handley with many regular performers. The BBC Variety Orchestra conducted by Charles Shadwell provided the music. The signature music “I.T.M.A” was composed by Michael North, listen to the orchestra during the introduction to a radio show

"I.T.M.A." introduction music

Arthur Sandford was the pianist in the BBC Variety Orchestra, he also wrote music arrangements including this 'Keel Row' performance, played on the I.T.M.A. broadcast of 3rd June, 1943.

Keel Row

That episode of I.T.M.A. also featured singer Paula Green in a very swingy performance of 'Do Something'. Accompaniment by a small group named as 'The Jazz Ticulators' who may have been some of the top musicians from the BBC Variety Orchestra. What a great recording!

Do Something

photos of ITMA © IWM D 24420, see ref. 4

Charles Shadwell and the BBC Variety Orchestra
rehearsing for ITMA 1945, Criterion theatre in Piccadilly (ref.7)

Listen to Charles Shadwell in a comic exchange with Tommy Handley before playing a music number from I.T.M.A. episode of 7th October 1943. Charles says the title is 'Handley's Seaside Holiday'.

'Handley's Seaside Holiday'

Here is an Arthur Sandford arrangement written for the I.T.M.A. show the 'Navy Number', 13th January 1944.

'Barnacle Bill'

And the BBC Variety Orchestra accompanied popular singer Paula Green in the I.T.M.A. 'Navy Number'.

'My Mother Did So Before Me'

Criterion theatre in Piccadilly (ref.7)

Charles is 'conducting' the I.T.M.A. cast!

The signature music for “I.T.M.A” was composed by Michael North. This recording by the BBC Variety orchestra conducted by Charles Shadwell from April 1945 was arranged by noted composer and arranger Ronald Hanmer.

"I.T.M.A." Signature Tune

Here is a recording, on Decca, Charles Shadwell and the BBC Variety Orchestra, a concert arrangement of the popular 'Ten Green Bottles recorded in 1945, but released in 1949.

For more music by the Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra and the BBC Variety Orchestra go to Guild Music (use their Extended Search tool and enter 'Shadwell'). Guild Music have made several tracks available on Youtube.

On leaving the BBC in 1946, Charles Shadwell formed his own fine orchestra and took it on tour. Charles made some recordings with HMV issued as 'Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra', here's one of Charles' own compositions 'Down With The Curtain 1946

Here is a programme from 1950 when the orchestra played in Southend

Programme of music, Newcastle 1947

The tour list for January 1947

In 1945 British Pathe made a very personal film of Charles Shadwell and his family Charles Shadwell and his family

I am indebted to John at the WR Bray website for this information about the Shadwell family:

Charles had four daughters:
Joan (1918-2001) a singer who performed under the name Joan Winters; Charles and Joan appeared together in the British feature film 'Variety Jubilee' (1943);
Daphne (b. 1927) a director and producer for both BBC and Thames Television;
Hazel (b. 1925) an accomplished violinist resides in Bushey, England
Sheila (1923-2014) resided in California.

The film 'Variety Jubilee' has been shown on the Talking Pictures TV channel (Sky 328). I'll try and record a clip of Charles and Joan next showing.

When he retired, Charles lived in Cambridgeshire and in the
1960s was the landlord at the Green Man, Trumpington.

Charles became president of the Cambridge Concert Orchestra
and gifted 100's of music scores to the orchestra.

Charles Shadswell died 31st July 1979.

Discographies (thanks to Peter Wallace and Hector J Hill for the details)

The Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra conducted by Charles Shadwell recorded in Coventry.

All medleys of popular tunes:

Good Old Tunes: Man Who Broke the Bank; Daisy Bell; Lily of Laguna*; Waiting at the Church; Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay; After the Ball; Dear Old Pals; At Trinity Church; Miner's Dream of Home*; A Little Bit Off The Top.
*vocalist Frank Copson
issued on Regal Zonophone MR946 (17th May 1933)

Tommies' Tunes: Pack Up Your Troubles; Where are the Lads; Good-bye-ee; Keep the Home Fires Burning; It's a Long Way to Tipperary; Roses of Picardy; Hello, Hello, Who's your Lady Friend?; If You Were the Only Girl; Mademoiselle from Armentieres; Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty.
issued on Regal Zonophone MR969 (17th May 1933)

The Knave of Diamonds Jack Wilson, piano. Accompaniment by a section of the Hippodrome Orechestra.
unissued disc (17th May 1933)

Happy Selection: I Want to be Happy; Happy Days are Here Again; Happy Feet; Back to Those Happy Days; Many Happy Returns of the Day; Spread a Little Happiness; I Want to be Happy (Pianist: Jack Wilson)
issued on Regal Zonophone MR1915 (12th November 1935)

Welcome Vienna Selection: Intro: Blue Danube; Live, Love and Laugh; Ungeduld; Grinzing; Vienna, City of My Dreams; Fliergermarsch
Irving Berlin Waltz Medley: Intro: All Alone; Always; What'11 I Do?
issued on Regal Zonophone MR2089 (12th November 1935, but issued in June 1936)

The Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra conducted by William Pethers also made recordings, that list will be included in a Bill Pethers webpage

The BBC Variety Orchestra conducted by Charles Shadwell

Of the records listed below the two HMV records were made in the old St. George's Hall and are very fine indeed. They also feature Reginald Foort at the organ.

Seville from "Cities of Romance" (Haydn Wood)
Lulworth Cove (Charles Shadwell)
issued on HMV BD523 (1938)

Curtain Up from Suite "Ballerina" (A. Wood)
Manhattan Moonlight (Alter)
issued on HMV BD55O (1938)

Here's To A Good Whisky
issued on Decca F8523 (April 1945)

I.T.M.A. Signature Tune (M. Forth arr. R.Hamner)
British Grenadiers (arr. Clive Richardson)
issued on Decca F8527 (April 1945)

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep (arr. Peter Yorke)
Ten Green Bottles (arr. Ronald Hamner)
recorded April 1945, issued in 1949 on Decca F9091

Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra

On leaving the BBC in 1946, Charles Shadwell formed his own fine orchestra. The records made by HMV are excellent.

Down the Mall (Belton)
Down with the Curtain (Shadwell) HMV B9487 (1946)

Concerto in Jazz (Phillips) (Solo Pianist - Eric James)
issued on HMVB9506 (1946)

Melody on the Move (Richardson) )
Dancer at the Pair (Portis)
issued on HMV B9526 (1946)

Picture Parade (Jack Beaver) )
Prelude to a Dream (Clive Richardson)
issued on HMV B9586 (1946)

The Spice of Life (Kennedy-Carr arr. Hamner))
Without a Song (Youmans arr. Harrison)
issued on HMV B9619 (1947)

Perchance to Dream - Selection (Novello)
issued on HMV C3501 (12") (1946)


1. British Newspaper Archive, articles and photos from Coventry Evening Telegraph and Coventry Herald

2. BBC Genome project - scans of Radio Times magazine https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/

3. ITMA recording extracted from youtube video by AndyMM2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGMfb4Mgkfo&t=234s

4. Imperial War Museum. The Charles Shadwell website is primarily information-led, research-oriented. Use of photos of ITMA from Imperial War Museum under Non-Commercial Licence is free of charge for private and non-commercial use © IWM (D 24420).

5. Cambridge Concert Orchestra Cambridge Concert Orchestra

6. Thanks to John at the WR Bray website for the information about the Shadwell family.

7. Thanks to Peter Wallace and Terry Brown for copies of magazines, thanks to Hector J Hill and Ian Thompson for I.T.M.A. information, and special thanks to Hector J Hill for locating important newspaper articles of the Coventry Herald.

Other Links

1. A tribute webpage to pianist and band leader Jack Wilson is in preparation : Jack Wilson

2. Dance band and some light orchestral music are the subject of this Facebook group:

Click: The Golden Age of British Dance Bands.

3. You can join these very active Facebook discussion groups and talk about Coventry:

Click: Visit Historic Coventry

Click: The Coventry I Remember

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