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Eric Coates

Eric Coates (1886-1957) – Marching to His Tunes

The son of a Hucknall surgeon, Eric Coates was a leading composer of light music in the 20th century. His gift for memorable melodies added some familiar tunes to the soundtrack of our lives.

Overture: He was home taught by his sister’s governess at the family home of Tenter Hill on Duke Street. From the age of 10 he was interested in nothing but music. His chosen instrument was the viola, in which he trained at the Royal Academy of Music. Coates had a low boredom threshold and was known as ‘the man who never practiced.’

First Movement: He was invited to be principal viola in the Queens Hall Orchestra by his friend Henry Wood, founder of the Proms, but he spent so much time sending substitutes to fill in for him while he conducted his own compositions that he was sacked. He never picked up the viola again and spent all his time writing.

Main Themes: New entertainment technology provided a big opportunity for a tunesmith like Coates. His London Suite was used as the theme for In Town Tonight a BBC Radio chat show that ran from 1933-1960. Other themes followed; Workers Playtime boosting Second World War morale and, after the war, marches to start each day’s TV broadcasting. His most famous march was used in the iconic film The Dam Busters.

Long Player: By the Sleepy Lagoon has been the signature tune for BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs since World War Two. It conjures up a palm fringed South Sea island, but was actually inspired by the view from the shingle beach at Selsey across to Bognor Regis in West Sussex.