Choir History By Len Briddon

 

Derbyshire Community Male Voice Choir 

2016 the Derbyshire Constabulary Male Voice Choir (formerly called the Derby Police Choir) celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. Len Briddon of Mickleover, a former police Inspector and a member of the choir for some 30 years, takes a look back to when the choir was formed and some memorable moments  over the past 62 years.

 

How did it all begin?

It was In February 1956, that the Chief Constable of the former Derby Borough Police Force, Colonel Horacio Rawlings, had a memorandum placed on the notice board at Full Street police station ‘expressing his wish that a Male Voice Choir be formed in this Force’. As a result nineteen interested members of the Force signed up. A meeting was held on the 16th February and so the Derby Police Choir was formed.  A committee was appointed at which Sergeant Carter was nominated as Musical Director and Constable Jack  Garner as accompanist. (copy of original memo, and committee minutes enclosed) photos(1and2)

At this time it was known that several police forces around the country had well established male voice choirs and advice was sought as to the way forward and particularly in respect of the choice of suitable music.

After a few short weeks of practise the first concert was performed at the former Derwent Hospital in Derby on the 2nd June 1956, followed by 12 more concerts that year.

Click on images and photos to open in a separate window

Pictures 1 & 2

Time off to sing

Such was the Chief Constable’s enthusiasm that he instructed that choir members should be permitted ‘time off’ from police duties to attend rehearsals and concerts. Naturally this concession proved popular with choir members, but as time went by and the requests for concerts on a Friday and Saturday evening increased,’ time off’ became difficult to arrange around shift patterns. As a result numbers began to fall and in order to maintain a viable choir it was eventually decided to open up membership to non-police officers.

 

Choir uniform

From the outset, choir policy was that police uniforms would be worn at concerts. This posed no problem for the serving officers, nor did it for the 5 members of the British Transport Police who subsequently became members. But what of the increasing number of ‘civilians’ who joined? No problem there either it seems –they just borrowed spare uniform from the serving officers, under clear instruction that they must not be seen wearing it outside the concert venue. This solution was fine but the downside to it was that choir members appeared at concerts in a variety of different style, and often ill-fitting, uniforms,  with some even showing badges of rank, which didn’t really  give the best  impression of smartness on stage. 

 

As serving police officer numbers dwindled, and more ‘outsiders’ became choir members, the availability of uniform proved an increasing problem. To try and overcome this, a decision was taken at one stage for the non-police officers in the choir to be sworn in as ‘special constables’ and so qualify them to be issued with a uniform. Special Constables’ were by law required to perform a minimum number of hours each week on’ police duties’, and it was decided that this criteria could be met by counting the hours choir members put in at rehearsals and concerts as ‘police duties’. However, this arrangement eventually came to an end  when  a new ruling was introduced stipulating that special constables must retire at 55, years of age, which applied to the majority of choir members.

Problem solved

It was in the late 1980,s that the problem with uniform for the choir was solved, thanks to the determination and kindness of Mrs Alma Clark,(pictured)(3) the widow of a former police sergeant.

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Approval was granted by the then chief constable for cast uniform, which would normally be discarded, to be purchased by the choir for a nominal sum.  Alma , a seamstress employed at police headquarters volunteered to become tailoress to the choir,  working from home.

This was a huge undertaking. Armed with the ‘vital statistics’ of some 25 choir members , Alma took on the job of trawling through racks of cast uniforms in police stores to obtain a stock of suitable sizes, to then carry out the necessary tailoring and also adding the various decorative items. Turning up at rehearsal brandishing her tape measure and sewing equipment was a regular occurrence for Alma until at last the task was completed. The choir now had a standard uniform for all members whether they were a serving officer or more commonly by that time a ‘non police officer’

 

A visit to Alma’s bedroom

On moving to Oakwood in 1990, Alma utilised the spare bedroom at her bungalow as a sewing room and so uniform fitting or alteration became known as ‘a visit to Alma’s bedroom.’This naturally resulted in much ‘leg pulling ’, particularly  for new members. 

 

Alma continued as tailoress to the choir for more than 30 years, during which time she became a much loved member of the choir family, providing unstinting support and dedication. Until failing health prevented it she would attend almost every concert locally and around the country, including a trip to Osnabruck, Germany, the Royal Albert Hall, and also took part in many social occasions and annual dinners. Sitting in the audience at a concert she would be keeping a watchful eye on choir members appearance and would readily advise them when it was time to pay her a visit to have a ‘nip and tuck’ to smarten up their uniform.

 

There was even a time when Alma would take an active part in concerts, dressed as ‘Norah Batty’ chasing ‘Compo’ with a yard brush, during the choir’s rendition  of the ever popular number ‘Last of the Summer Wine’

Over the years , in addition to the many accolades from the choir,  Alma’s support and dedication has been recognised and rewarded at the highest level of the Police Force, in that  she has been presented with two Chief Constable’s commendations, a similar award from the Police and Crime commissioner, and was recently made an honorary Life Member of the choir. 

Such is Alma’s pride in her connections with choir , that the walls of her home are heavily adorned with choir photographs and memorabilia of the various presentations,  sitting alongside the many paintings symbolising another of her talents as an artist of some repute.     

 

On reaching her 97th birthday in July, 2016 Alma at last decided to hang up her needle and thread and the bedroom door has finally closed. We wish her a long and happy retirement

 

Uniform decoration

The standard uniform introduced at Alma’s initiative, and still worn by choir members today is a 1970/80’s style Derbyshire Constabulary police uniform, decorated with silver ornamental shoulder epaulettes and with a ‘lyre’ worn on the left sleeve. Medal ribbons are also worn where appropriate.

The first ‘lyre’ badges to be worn were presented to the choir by a serving Warrant Officer from an RAF band who at the time was stationed at the Drill Hall in Derby. Eventually, owing to lack of availability, the ‘lyre’ has since been replaced by one of a different design. 

The uniform worn by the choir’s Musical Director, currently Mr. Chris Hare, is also fitted with an ‘Aiguillette’. This could more commonly be described as a lanyard which passes over the right shoulder and is secured at the front, before passing back under the right arm.  The aiguillette was presented to the choir by Deputy Chief Constable James Fryer in the late 1980’s with a request that it be worn as part of the musical director’s uniform.

Choir Objectives

The objects of the choir shall be ‘to maintain good relations between the Police and the public by musical performance, including charitable concerts’. These aims were the foundation on which the choir was formed 60 years ago, and remain as relevant  today. Since those early years, all concerts performed by the choir have, in the main, been to raise funds for local good causes but large amounts have also been donated to national and local charities. Accurate records have not been kept until recent years, but it is estimated that the amount raised during the lifetime of the choir is in the region of a staggering ¾ million pounds.

 

Memorable moments

High jinks with British Forces in Osnabruck

Two concert tours to Derby’s twin town of Osnabruck, Germany, have been undertaken by the choir as guests of the International Police Association organised in conjunction with the German envoy to Derby.

 

During one such visit in 1991, the choir was invited to perform at Robert’s Barracks in Osnabruck as guests of the Royal Military Police. Having just returned from active duty in the Persian Gulf War the troops were in good spirits and the evening was soon in full swing. After a few numbers by the choir our hosts decided it was their turn to return the compliment, and an impromptu  choir was quickly formed. The sight of battle-hardened troops parading  around the corporal’s mess in a conga style  dance to ’ Mule Train’, together with the traditional head banging with metal trays, really set the evening alight.

But the entertainment didn’t end there ! When we thought things were quietening down, suddenly the door burst open and in walked two Military Police officers in full uniform regalia asking for Ron Applegate(pictured in Peter Johnson’s article arrowed in picture 8A). Ron had served in the RAF and the MPs announced that he was wanted as a ‘deserter’. He was duly identified, ’arrested’ and taken away in handcuffs much to everyone’s amusement. 

On completion of the tour and as we arrived back at the ferry port, our coach was unexpectedly directed into the ‘red’ (something to declare)lane. There was much clanging of bottles as the coach came to a halt and some very worried faces as the custom’s officers climbed aboard to check our ‘duty free’. Naturally, we were all given a clean bill of health and allowed to continue our journey home with the laughter of the custom’s official ringing in out ears. But who had set us up ?.

On TV with the stars.  In January 1996 I received a surprise telephone call from Granada TV to the effect that a police choir was required to take part in a televised quiz show starring the up and coming entertainer Shane Richie and called the ‘Shane Richie Experience’. The purpose of the show was that engaged couples would be tested on how well they know each other and the winners could choose to get married anywhere in the world, all expenses paid. 

Several police choirs were asked to submit a recent recording, as a result of which the Derbyshire Constabulary Male Voice Choir was selected

 

The date given for the recording to take place was initially changed twice at short notice to fit in with recording schedules, until at last we got the green light. The choir, together with spouses, assembled at Derby Bus Station to be picked up by two ‘Shearings’ luxury coaches, equipped with drinks machines and on board attendants. 

On arrival at the TV studios in Manchester we were guided to a large room with tables laden with food and invited to help ourselves to lunch. It was then time to start the recording.

 

Dressed in full choir uniform and wearing peaked caps loaned  by Greater Manchester Police,( photograph 4) we were required to perform just one number - ‘Every Breath you Take’ recorded by ‘The Police’, a  well known pop-group of the time, which included the lyrics ‘every step you take every move you make I’ll be watching you’. During the recording, Shane Richie was also on stage performing e number of routines and also dressed in full police uniform. Much to our delight we performed the song to perfection on the first occasion and so were  then able to sit back and enjoy witnessing the making of a top TV show. There then followed more food, before going back on stage in front of a live audience to complete the recording.

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At the end of the evening a crate of ‘refreshment’ was loaded on to the coach, courtesy of Granada TV, including wine for the ladies, and we were waved off on our journey home by TV actors and the recording crew.

The show was subsequently broadcast nationally on a Saturday evening prime time slot and the choir enjoyed its few moments of glory.

Shane Richie has of course since then become famous for his many film and television roles, a most recent being the part of Alfie Moon in ‘Eastenders’

Name change

Following the amalgamation of the Derby Borough Force with the Derbyshire Constabulary in 1967, the choir fought to maintain its original title of Derby Police Choir for a number of years until eventually the chief constable of the day deemed that the choir should be given the new title of Derbyshire Constabulary Male Voice Choir . Naturally, this decision brought considerable opposition, especially from some longer serving members, but the change never the less went ahead.

    

Recordings

The choir has made a number of recordings all of which have been appropriately named, for example- ‘A Handful of Coppers’, ‘Mr Plod sings again’, ‘On the Beat’ and ‘Stout Hearted Men’ ,the choir signature tune for over 40 years. The latest recording is entitled ‘Let all men sing’ the title of a favourite number currently part of the choir repertoire, and which is currently on sale at all concerts and from choir members.

 

The recordings were made in a variety of different locations, one of which was at a school in Littleover, when the tweeting of birds in the rafters could be heard in the background. Another at the former Queen’s Hall on London Road when the sirens of ambulances coming and going from the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary frequently interrupted the proceedings.

 

Musical Director’s 

Despite the choir having existed for 60 years, there have been surprisingly few Musical Directors.

We know with certainty that Sergeant Carter was appointed Musical Director when the choir was formed in 1956. The sequence thereafter is believed to have been Detective Constable Frank Loydall, BEM,  George Dunning , David Eyre, David Scott-Savage, Christina Powell and currently Mr Chris Hare.

George Dunning was Musical Director in 1994 when he was honoured with the presented of a civic award ‘for services to the musical life of the city of Derby’ by the then mayor of Derby, Councillor Robin Wood. George had by then served many years with the choir as a fine bass singer before being appointed Musical director. The award also recognised his long association with the Derby Opera Company, of which he later became president. (pictured 5) 

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Chris Hare, previously a bass singer with the choir,  was appointed Musical Director in 2011. He brought to the choir a long history of musical experience having been an army bandsman for some 24 years as a French Horn player.  Initially serving with the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters he was a founder of the Army Air Corps band achieving the rank of Band Sergeant Major. (pictured 6)

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Accompanists

The original accompanist, Constable Jack Garner was succeeded by Dora Hadfield,(1966-68), Kitty Jones(1968-74) followed by the appointment of our existing accompanist Anne Allen LRAM in 1974. Anne, a former school teacher and music teacher has now completed an amazing 42 years with the choir and throughout that period has hardly ever missed a concert or rehearsal, travelling from Castle Donington in all weathers to fulfil her commitment. Some 10 years ago Anne was joined by Louise Buxton.(pictured together 7 and 7A) and together they make up a formidable music team

The choir is fortunate in having two extremely talented piano accompanists to share the playing at concerts and rehearsals and to entertain audiences with their piano duets

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Musical Memories

The article by Peter Johnson(Picture 8) (Derby Telegraph 10 May) showing choir members  on their way to a recording session for BBC  TV in the 1960s, I found particularly interesting. Although not a choir member at that time I was a serving police officer on the Derby Borough Force and so recognise many of those in the photograph. Some have been named by Peter, and I can also name  Len Shipton (second right), Ellis  Aled Lloyd ( 10th in from right) Norman Arrowsmith (12th from right) Elvey Wellard(15th from right), Eric Smith (16th from right) and (I believe) Jack Sergeant (second from left). Contrary to Peter’s belief, several of those pictured are still alive.

Interestingly, Frank Hodgkinson, a founding member of the choir whose name appears on the original memorandum issued by Colonel Rawlings in 1956, still lives in Derby. Mr Hodgkinson was present at a concert held earlier this year at the The Leylands on Broadway, when he was invited to sing a number with the choir for old-times sake and received a rapturous applause from his many friends in the audience 

 

Peter’s article featured snippets of interesting information regarding some of those in the photograph, to which I can add my own re-collections. 

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Father of famous sons

Ellis Aled Lloyd was a police Sergeant living in Alvaston, and had two sons, Terry and Kevin, both of whom grew up to become well known nationally. On leaving school Terry Lloyd (picture 9) worked as a journalist at Raymond’s newsagents in Derby and eventually became a television reporter, joining ITN in 1983. He was tragically shot and killed in controversial circumstances whilst filming the Iraq war for ITN in 2003. 

His brother was the actor Kevin Lloyd (picture 10) who, amongst many other TV  and film roles became best known as ‘Tosh’ Lines  in the long running and very popular Thames TV series ’The Bill’. Kevin died in 1998

 

As young boys in the early 1960’s Terry and Kevin would attend police swimming sessions with their father which were held on a Sunday morning at the former Reginald Street baths in Normanton. Ironically, their father’s life was also cut short when he was killed in a road accident whilst on night duty answering an emergency call in Derby.

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Len Shipton,

I applied to join the Derby Borough Force in 1961 and at the time Len Shipton was a Superintendent, responsible for recruitment. At my interview Mr Shipton insisted on meeting my then fian’cé, Norma, to explain what life would be like as the wife of a police officer. The reason being that he had lost a number of officers through the wives not being able to cope with their husband’s shift work. Norma must have given the right impression as I was duly appointed and served for over 36 years as a police officer.

My choir experience

It was not until 1986 that I decided to join after experiencing the excellent work being done by the choir in their fund raising activities. The following year I was ‘persuaded’ to become secretary.(photograph 11 and 11A).

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During my 30 years membership I have been part of an organisation providing concerts almost every week locally, travelling extensively in this country and abroad, appearing with many well- known personalities, and performing  with several military bands.

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Inevitably, over the years many changes have taken place within the choir, but its main aim of acting as ambassadors for the police force whilst at the same time raising money for charity and local good causes has remained the same. When I joined, members were still wearing the ad-hoc uniforms acquired from wherever they could and rehearsals took place in the Lecture Hall at the former Full Street Police Station, using a grand’e piano situated on the stage. 

Part of my responsibilities as secretary was to process applications for concerts and to put together a programme of events for each season’s concert schedule. Being the’ Derbyshire Constabulary’ choir its services were widely advertised and interest would flood in from all parts of the county and beyond. Undoubtedly, in addition to the fund-raising aspect, the unique sight of ‘policemen’ in uniform performing on stage was, and still remains, an added attraction. The choir’s popularity was such that on one occasion a mind boggling 47 applications for concerts were received in one year.

There was a time when the police force owned their own coaches and to help the choir reach the more distant venues in north Derbyshire and surrounding counties, a coach and driver would be provided. This arrangement lasted for a few years until the Force sold off its coaches and approval was then granted for coaches to be hired and paid for by the Force. The demand for the choir’s services was such that up to 8 coaches a year were sometimes required to enable the choir to reach concert venues.

Sadly, this arrangement came to an end with the government cuts to police finances, and for some years now it has not been viable to hire coaches, other than for weekend trips away paid for by choir members. 

On my retirement as Secretary in May 2016 after 29 years I was presented with a Tankard by the Choir Chairman. (Picture 12)

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Visit to Buckingham Palace

 In 1997 my wife Norma and I had the great honour of attended a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace (picture 13) in recognition of both my police service and my services with the choir.

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The choir today

(picture 14)

The demand for concerts in support of charities and  good causes remains high. Some 17-20 concerts each season (October to May) are performed locally and it is often necessary to maintain a waiting list of applicants. Other than a £50 booking fee, no charge is made for the choir’s services.  With approval of the concert organiser a retiring collection is taken, which, after deduction of a small amount for choir expenses, goes to the choir’s chosen charity which for this season is the Derby Kids Camp.

Being the choir’s  Diamond Anniversary year, on the 16 April a spectacular concert, hosted by Andy Potter of Radio Derby, was held at Derby Cathedral when the choir was joined on stage by Pye Hill and District, Alfreton and Chesterfield male voice choirs together with Derwent Brass Band before  an audience in excess of 600. (pictures ,15 and 16) As a result cheques for £5000 each were presented to the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland air ambulance, and to Safe and Sound, a locally based charity for the protection of vulnerable children. 

In the season as a whole, £17, 800 was raised for the various causes.

Until 2017 the choir remained in a close association with the Derbyshire Police Force. The Chief Constable, Mike Creedon, was choir President and continued to support the wearing of uniform by choir members, and also generously provided rehearsal facilities at St. Mary’s Wharf Police Station. Derby.  Each year choir vice-presidents were appointed from amongst other senior officers and from the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. The annual Force carol service, held each year in a different part of the County, and various other events organised by the Force were supported by the choir. 

A new Chief Constable was appointed in 2017 and decided he could no longer support a choir whose membership was almost entirely male and in September 2017, invited the current choir to change to a mixed voices choir.

We fully understand the rational behind the Chief Constables decision, however after considering the logistics and difficulties of undertaking such a transformation we felt unable to accept his invitation.

The choir changed its name on June 1st 2018 to Derbyshire Community Male Voice Choir, Rehearsals have now moved to Little Eaton Church Hall, new uniforms have been agreed, new logos and website update are now completed. We have concerts booked for the new season and looking forward to moving forward.

 

New members  

Compared to when it was formed, the choir is now some 34 members strong with members from all walks of life. In order to continue its fund- raising work recruiting campaigns are held regularly and new members are always welcome. Anyone interested in joining the choir (or in organising a concert to raise money for their charity or cause )can call Kevin Griffiths on Derby 606356. Our new website opened in 2016.          www.dcmvchoir.com 

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© Derbyshire Community Male Voice Choir

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