Victor Silvester Junior
20 October 1999
Victor Silvester Jr, who has died aged 75, followed in his father's footsteps as leader of the Victor Silvester Orchestra for almost 30 years.
He was always anxious to update the band's repertoire while preserving its nostalgic character and its essential nature as a provider of strict tempo dance music. As a frontman. he gave a more relaxed approach to his father's sense of formal elegance. Musically, he brought a wide-ranging knowledge of popular music cultivated since his early youth.
While Victor senior was alive, father and son worked in tandem. Victor senior, a former exhibition dancer and dancing teacher, was a showman. His was the face, the voice and the immaculately attired figure with erect posture that the public recognised, and his main concern was with the orchestra's rhythm.
While working with his father, Victor junior was the one with the passion for the melodies and their composers. He would also book the hotels and transport; read through requests from around the world for their BBC World Service Programme; write the scripts for the radio and the Television Dancing Club; choose the tunes and write the sleeve notes for the records; and run the behind-the-scenes administration of the Victor Silvester Dance Studios (set up in conjunction with the Rank Organisation in the late Fifties).
Father and son spent much time together outside office hours. For several years, Victor senior's wife Dorothy, a former dancer who had lost a leg through infection after the war, provided lunch for three generations - of Silvester males - Victor senior, Victor junior, and her grandson when he was on holiday from school.
Victor junior was immensely proud of his father, yet their personalities were quite different. While Victor senior was charming and dapper, he was also egocentric, impulsive and dogmatic. Victor junior was more modest and accommodating.
Victor Newton Silvester was born on February 17 1924. His parents were working as ballroom dancing instructors at Bayswater in London. But before long Silvester senior had opened his own dancing school in Mayfair, and the family eventually moved to Dover Street.
Few small boys of his own age lived nearby, so Victor junior was left to his own resources. He went to Orley Farm prep school, near Harrow, named alter the Trollope novel, and then to Berkhamsted.
He learned to play the clarinet and adored Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. At the age of 18, he went to work as a recorded programmes engineer at the BBC, where he was able to indulge his love of mostly American popular music by devising themed programmes for Forces Favourites.
In 1942 he was commissioned in the Hampshire Regiment and was posted to the 6lh Airborne Division. While training in a derelict quarter of Birmingham, he had to lead his section in a mock attack on a house. He threw a bakelite training grenade through a window and a grenade splinter entered his left eye. A surgeon was able to save the eye, though his sight in that eye was destroyed.
By the end of his Army service in 1947 Silvester was second-in-command of the British Forces Radio Network in northern Italy. On demobilisation he could have returned to the BBC but instead chose to join his father's business, which was set to expand from recording and broadcasting into live performance. Victor junior became the bookings manager.
On the recording side, too, Victor junior played a crucial role in negotiating contracts with EMI and Pye.
In 1957 Victor Silvester suggested expanding his second unit, known as Strings for Dancing, into the 32-strong Silvester Strings, consisting of the original orchestra supplemented by tenor sax doubling clarinet and a string section with 16 violins, four violas, and four cellos.
Victor junior researched the music for a series of albums themed around composers of standards, such as Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Noel Coward and Johann Strauss the Younger. Another example of Victor junior's enthusiasm was a couple of party albums in which the orchestra was accompanied by a chorus of singers.
Later, in the Seventies, the orchestra recorded vocal albums with Max Bygraves and Edmundo Ros. Although Victor junior was never impatient to assume the leadership of the orchestra, in 1956 he had to step in and front the orchestra when his father was seriously injured in a motor accident. His first engagement was a police ball in Stoke-on-Trent, followed the next day by a Sunderland press ball and the day after that by an engagement in Harrogate.
Another training ground was the annual spring tour of Ireland, which Victor senior entrusted to his son because he could not abide the erratic timekeeping of Irish dance-hall managers. These tours continued until the murderous attack on the Miami Showband in the early Seventies, after which the orchestra's musicians declined the offer of work in Ireland.
The baton was formally passed from father to son in 1971, and over the next few years their roles were reversed. While Victor junior conducted, his father worked in the office or observed recording sessions from the mixing room, where he offered opinions on arrangements and advised their producer, Ray Horricks, on the tempo of each number.
Victor senior died in 1978. Thereafter Victor junior was fully in charge, although the orchestra's violinist, Oscar Grasso, was a co-director of the business.
In recent years, Silvester and the orchestra worked only intermittently. Their last engagement was at Pontin's in Pakefield, on the Suffolk coast, in August 1998, shortly after Silvester had recovered from a prostate operation. This year, however, he succumbed to lung cancer.
Silvester was an avid collector of antiques and stamps, but his abiding passion was golf. He was a member first of Pinner Hill Golf Club, and later of Hampstead Golf Club. He played in numerous celebrity pro-am tournaments and was a stalwart of the Lord's Taverners, the Stage Golfing Society and the Vaudeville Golfing Society.
Silvester was married three times. His first two marriages ended in divorce and his third wife Deirdre, a former Windmill girl, pre-deceased him in 1990. He is survived by a son and a daughter from different marriages.
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