- This week’s post is by Tony Scaife, a Heritage Volunteer based at the Local and Family History Library. He’s been indexing volumes of The Palm, the magazine of the old Leeds Central High School, which inspired him to delve a little deeper into the city’s early radio days…
In 1901, the groundbreaking Central High School (CHS) of Leeds was being described in a Royal Commission report “as the most interesting [school] in Leeds in many ways” (Jenkins, 1985, p.52). Dr David Forsyth, Head Teacher 1889-1919 and himself a model of the Victorian self-made man, tirelessly pursued the School Boards’s original 1885 vision that: “The future of the school lay in making the great mass of people aware that it offered, at very moderate cost, a higher education which would ‘open the doors of the professions and the Universities to children of the working classes’” (p.55).
The Palm, the school magazine, first appeared in 1920 and the Leeds Local and Family History Library has a complete set at shelfmark L 373 PAL. In the early editions, a reader can see how the city was recovering slowly from the trauma of World War 1. But we also see how the resilient young pupils were grasping the opportunities of the new age – pupils like Sidney Errington, using his CHS experiences to anticipate the challenges of the coming wireless world.
Born in 1905, Sidney Errington entered CHS in 1916. As a pupil he clearly caught the attention of the staff, since he was made a prefect and played a leading role in the annual school camping and theatre trip to Stratford on Avon in July 1923 (Errington, 1923) – a trip, incidentally, which would fail all modern child protection and health and safety protocols by a very wide margin.
But it is as a keen musician and talented violinist that he appears most frequently in The Palm. By December 1921, he is the secretary of the CHS Music Society and is listed as a violinist in various school music events and charity concerts for the likes of the Leeds Bairn’s Fund and a Red Cross concert for the wounded soldiers still at Beckett’s Park War Hospital. He left school with a Higher School Certificate in July 1924 and became a paid member of the Leeds Symphony Orchestra, whilst pursuing his music studies at the Leeds College of Music (see Discovering Leeds). Errington joined the CHS Old Scholars’ Club, and the next time he appears in The Palm is in December 1925.
Now, to modern ears used to contemporary radio’s “introducing stages”, perhaps, it does not seem remarkable that Errington writes, “What a privilege to stand before the microphone knowing your efforts will reach the ears of countless thousands” (Errington, 1925, p.25). Undaunted by this thought, he goes on to describe the apparently prosaic experience of a live broadcast for 2LS Leeds. Like all musicians he was concerned about his instrument and its “thin, dead and woolly sound” in this “unfamiliar place”. But the short article is, in essence, an altogether assured account by a twenty-year-old man confident of his place in the modern wireless world.
But stop and think for a moment: at this time, the BBC (the then British Broadcasting Company) itself was only three years old, and its station 2LS Leeds was just celebrating its first birthday when Sidney Errington made his live broadcast. Here was a young Leeds’ citizen embracing the new technology of his day with enviable ‘cool’ – with an aplomb and grasp of the opportunities of a new age that surely vindicated the opening doors vision of the CHS founders.
Elsewhere in the December 1925 issue of The Palm it was noted that Errington’s Ebor Trio was “establishing a name for itself in broadcasting circles” (Brostoff, 1925). Indeed, the Radio Times lists contributions by the Ebor Trio to 2LS Leeds’ broadcasts in July and September 1925, with a venture further afield to play for 6FL Sheffield in October.
The 2LS Leeds programmes started at 19:40 and were presented by Doris Nichols, a member of 2LS staff, and actor Clifford Bean – whose long radio career was just beginning. The usual programme format was for a Sidney Errington violin solo, before the Ebor Trio would play in an hour-long slot. There would be other speech-based elements before the Clifford Essex Band, relayed from the Grand Hotel Scarborough, would take the final segment of the show from 22:15.
We cannot tell from his article which of these 1925 broadcasts Errington is describing but, whenever it was, he deplored having to climb the stairs to what must have been the upper floors of the Cabinet Chambers on Lower Basinghall Street, for that was the home of 2LS Leeds from its inception, with much civic fanfare, in July 1924 (Briggs, 1975, p.171). Cabinet Chambers has long gone but we can see from this later photograph from Leodis how it might have looked in 1925 – though with fewer cars:
Basinghall Street at that time was quite the media hub, with film distributors and the offices of the Daily Mirror based there. The newly-installed 2LS was a relay station designed to cover Leeds and Bradford but reaching to Harrogate and further into the West Riding. It broadcast both London-produced and local programmes to 30,000 licence holders in Leeds alone. Contemporaries describe the atmosphere at 2LS as “remarkably informal” and the local press frequently reported on events at the station: thus, the celebratory first-year party on 8 July 1925 was “hilarious” whilst, it was noted, many local debutante contributors failed to demonstrate Sidney Errington’s sangfroid in front of the microphone (Briggs, 1975, pp. 174-175).
Errington was not entirely seduced by radio fame, however, for the Ebor Trio played in a CHS concert on 19 December 1925 (Brostoff, 1926). Errington continued to follow his musical talent, studying the then ‘coming’ instrument, the viola, under Lionel Tartis. In 1928, he joined the Halle Orchestra, where he had a long career, rising to become lead viola under Sir John Barbirolli. Ill health forced him to retire from the Halle in 1975 and he died in Leeds in 1980. (Discovering Leeds)
- Briggs, Asa (1975) “Local and Regional in Northern Sound Broadcasting” in Northen History, vol. 10, 1975, pp. 165-187.
- Brostoff, Harry (1925) “Orchestra Society Notes” in The Palm 6 (3) Dec 1925, p.30. Shelfmark: L 373 PAL.
- Brostoff, Harry (1926) “Orchestra Society Notes” in The Palm 7 (1) April 1926, p.38. Shelfmark: L 373 PAL
- Discovering Leeds, Leeds Classical Music (www.leodis.net/discovery – accessed 22 December 2015).
- Errington, Sidney (1925) “Broadcasting Notes – 1” in The Palm 6 (3) Dec 1925, p.25-27. Shelfmark: L 373 PAL.
- Errington, Sidney (1923) “Stratford Again” in The Palm 4 (3) July 1923, p.37-39. Shelfmark: L 373 PAL.
- Jenkins, E.W. (1985) A Magnificent Pile: A Centenary History of the Leeds Central High School. Shelfmark: L 373 JEN.
- Radio Times (Jul/Sep 1925). Shelfmark: Q Periodical 791.44 RAD.
Also visit the East Leeds Memories blog for a great account of travelling to Central High School on public transport in the 1950s.