Agency Changes: 1940—49
DOI link for Agency Changes: 1940—49
Agency Changes: 1940—49 book
Agency Changes: 1940—49
DOI link for Agency Changes: 1940—49
Agency Changes: 1940—49 book
The dark days of the Second World War and the immediate aftermath of rationing, stringent controls, and austere living were not the only shadows to be cast across the agency in the 1940s. There were many changes, largely brought about by retirements or deaths, not only among artists but also the among the management itself. As noted, Rachmaninov and Wood died within a year of one another (1943 and 1944 respectively), so did the stalwart Welsh tenor Ben Davies, who lived to the ripe old age of 85, having been associated with the agency since the days of Vert. He was in touch with John Tillett during his last years and, before retiring to Bath, wrote from his West Hampstead home, thanking him for organizing a dinner to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a professional singer:
My dear Johnny,
My most grateful thanks to you for all the trouble you took over Saturday's dinner – it was a splendid evening and one that I shall always remember with the greatest pleasure and gratitude. Kindly convey to the Committee my deepest sense of the obligation which I feel, and give them my heartfelt thanks. Our love to you and Hetty, ever yours, Ben (19 May 1930)
My dear Johnny,
Accept my warmest thanks for the lovely book of names, with which I am charmed. It will always be to me a most delightful reminder of a very memorable evening, which will ever lie enshrined in the inmost recesses of my heart. And now also please accept our united thanks for the Stilton you and Hetty have so kindly sent us. It's very kind of you to treat us so generously. I like the conjunction of those two gifts, one so spiritually uplifting in memories, the other so pleasant to the taste. Well, a truce to all this, and expressing again our best thanks and wishing you and Hetty with all our hearts the best of everything for Xmas and the New Year. (21 December 1930)By the outbreak of war Davies had moved to Bath, where he died on 28 March 1943. Three more letters survive from the old man, by now increasingly sad, his wife growing more senile, the last written just four months before his death. John Tillett kept all five of these letters in his personal leather-bound file, so clearly Ben Davies meant more to him on a personal basis than just having a business relationship with this eminent singer on the roster of the agency.
My dear John,
Although I've not written you for a long time, I would not have you think that I've been unmindful of you. I often wonder how you are getting on in these terrible days. I trust your health is good and that you are as happy as one can be under the awful circumstances. What a horrid world it has become!, and all thro' a few devils let loose to work destruction — no punishment will be too heavy for them when we win this war, (which we shall do).
I learn that 'Biz' is not very good with you, but I hope it has not entirely vanished. Glad to say we are well. My dear wife's memory is not getting any better, but she is very happy and is spared the horrors of the world. Derek and Kitty are in Bermuda, they were asked to go there in the censorship. Derek could not pass the M.O. and had to return from Aldershot, he was earnestly disappointed as he wanted to fight. His chief was very pleased with what he was doing (training cadet officers) and wrote very highly of his work, however the M.O. said he had blood pressure. I hope his visit to Bermuda will put him right.
I wonder if you can help me to help a man who had some lessons with me – he was in the 256Admiralty at Bath – and used to cycle over to see us sometimes. Well, his wife would not leave her home in Carshalton, Surrey, so he had to return home. He is a very nice chap, has a very good voice, and wants to use it, not for earning money, but to be of some use. He would like to sing in these parties that entertain the forces. Could you let me know who manages these things? Perhaps you could spare a moment to see him?? He is really a good chap. If you'll send me a line I'll tell him to call on you (cussed nuisance), his name is J King-Currie. Gwen is in London and hard at work. She writes very bravely. Well my dear John, I've bothered you enough. God bless and keep you safely. Yours ever, Ben. P.S. Oh for the days that are no more.
(10 December 1940)
My dear John
Just a line to let you and Emmie know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. We send you our love and every good wish for as happy a Xmas as these dire days will allow, and may the New Year bring us all a just and righteous peace. I hope you are both well. My dear wife has not been so well lately, her memory has completely gone, she eats and sleeps very well and seems happy. We thought that she had another stroke but the Dr. said it was a spasm. However she's got over it thank God. Excuse this writing and paper, this is a one-horse place, excuse also a short note. Accept our fond love.
May God bless and keep you. Yours ever, Ben
(20 December 1941)
My dear John,
I am ashamed of myself for not having written you 'ere this, forgive my neglect. I cry 'mea culpa', I fear that I am getting very lazy, but two things have thrust your dear old 'Phiz' prominently before me this week. One was the death of Bobbie Ibbs, which I was sorry to read of, I hope he did not suffer much. R.I.P. Although he had quitted the firm some time ago, it's the last snapping of a long and successful association, and I daresay you feel it muchly. The other was a letter from Gwen saying you had very kindly sent her tickets for Benno's [Moiseiwitsch] concert, which she much enjoyed. She said he was magnificent.
I hope you and Emmie are in good health. I see with pleasure the old firm's name every Saturday in the Telegraph, which gives me great joy. You will be sorry to hear that I am not very happy about my dear Clara. Her health is A1, but her mental condition is much worse, she cannot converse with us, in fact her speech is very difficult and we cannot make out what she wants to say. So you can imagine what it is like for us all. I only pray she may not get worse. I am sure you will understand that I would rather she died than be worse than she is, however she is no trouble except in the evening when her mind wanders and she talks of going home. It's very sad after such a happy life as we've had. Excuse more dear John. My love to you both. God bless you.
Ever yours, Ben
[second half of November 1942]In this last letter Ben Davies alluded to the death of Robert Leigh Ibbs, which took place on 17 November 1942 at Instow, North Devon. It was reported in the press as follows:
A well-known cricketer and member for many years of the Hampstead and Middlesex Clubs and of the Nondescripts, Mr Robert Leigh Ibbs died on Tuesday at Instow. He was in his 74th year. Senior partner in the firm of Messrs Ibbs and Tillett of Wigmore Street until he retired five years ago, Mr Leigh Ibbs took an active part in concert organisation and management for over 50 years, and had travelled throughout the world with Madame Albani, Dame Nellie Melba, Dame Clara Butt, and other famous artists. He was also a personal friend of M. Rachmaninoff.Three letters from Ibbs (who remained unmarried at his death) and the newspaper clipping above were, like the Ben Davies letters, also kept by John Tillett in his personal file. Evidently the two friends and business partners had remained in touch, and the first two replies date from the summer of 1942:
257My dear Jack
Very glad to hear from you, and that Emmy and yourself are keeping fit notwithstanding your hard work and worry. It is good to hear you have got some business to somewhat repay you for all your slavery, but it's rotten to feel that others are benefiting by it, who apparently do so little of the hard work! I suppose the lordly "Bill" [William Tilbrook] has gone off for five or six weeks as usual! Has Maurice N. dropped out altogether? But I imagine so. I hope Worman is still with you. Give him my salaams. It is useless to say you should sack Roy P[embridge] as we've been saying that for years, but it really seems to have got to an absolute block, and I'm afraid you'll get into severe trouble with the I[ncome] T[ax] people. It seems incredible he can ignore things and people as he does, and I don't see how you can possibly let him go on in his own sweet way. I suppose I cannot do the Joint a/c books for you, if you were to send me all the necessary here? I don't want 'em for myself, and please don't think of sending me any money, as I cannot think there can be any profit to come, unless you have got all the premises well let!! Yes, I heard about Rumford's marriage. He wrote me that I mustn't think badly of him for doing so, but he was so utterly lonely and wanted companionship and a home again. From rumours I've heard (this keep to yourself) I'm terribly afraid it is not a success, but I do hope the old boy is not too miserable over it. I had a letter from him last week and he never mentioned 'her' or what is happening as regards his house. He wants me to go and see him for a day or two, but I've so rooted myself down here that I don't feel inclined to move at all.
It would be just grand if Emmie and yourself could get down here, but I'm afraid it is almost impossible to find a corner vacant. I think I told you the Admiralty have turned out all the houses on the front including the two small hotels, so that the only place now is the Marine Hotel, half of which has been collared by the military, leaving only a few rooms, which are chock-a-block always. There is the Royal Hotel at Bideford (3 miles off) or the Imperial at Barnstaple (6 miles off), where it might be possible to get in. If you want an absolute laze in the quietest of quiet country surroundings, there is a wonderfully well run hotel in a tiny village, Lifton, 3 miles from Launceston. Arundell Arms Hotel. Unlimited food, well furnished and comfy rooms, and really well run. It belongs to a Major Morris and is always full of people wanting a real rest. Trout fishing is the only other attraction. I went for a week with the Beresfords last May, but it is too relaxing for me and I wasn't able to walk much, which is what you could do to your heart's content! Just a one-street village and so restful. The Beresfords have taken refuge there, having been turned out of their beautiful house here. It may interest you to know I am gradually 'breaking up'! I've had acute lumbago all this week, the result of overdoing amateur gardening and too much stooping, so now I've got to keep quiet for a time. Tennis and golf are things of the past, and we have no cricket now. Well old boy, it would be lovely to see you both again, and I still hope to before I pass out, so shall live in hope. My love to you both and God bless.
Yours Bob. [P.S.] The Arundell Arms charge 18/- a day all in but it's worth it.
(29 July 1942)
My dear Jack
Many thanks for your letter and the cheque! Are you quite sure this can be spared? At any rate it is good to know you are not losing money over the premises, and that you have a prospective new tenant, whom I hope you'll secure. The news you give me of Pedro [Tillett] is what I have been expecting to hear for sometime, as I could not picture him a lonely bachelor for long! I do hope he has been drawn a prize as he had a long spell of unhappiness, I'm afraid. As you say, it is 'secret'. I cannot send him a line but when it is made public give him my love and the best of good wishes. Emmie and yourself must get away for a bit, business or no business, or you'll both crack up, so just see about it. I really would take a strong line about Roy P[embridge] and cut him out altogether. Probably Stanley R[ubinstein, the firm's lawyer] could put you onto someone who could pick up the threads of your complicated business, and it would be a load off your mind. I'm amused to hear of Dennis Noble and Lord's. He was always touting round people there likely to be of use, but membership of MCC has fallen from its high estate, I fear, from the weird creatures I have seen elected in the past few years. 'Scuse a scrawl and scrappy letter, but I'm not at my best just now as my doctor tells me I have got a light 'bladder' trouble (this to yourself) which worries me a lot. Added to the lumbago I feel not less than 95! Much love to you both. God bless.
(13 August 1942)258Ibbs's last letter, written to Emmie in pencil seventeen days before his death and signed 'Padre', is dated 31 October with no year, but it has to be 1942 for several reasons. Beecham's divorce had taken place earlier that month, the reference to Menuhin may well be the violinist's attempts at that time to get back to Europe from America in order to make a musical contribution to the war effort, while the Ibbs and Tillett artist, pianist William Murdoch, had died on 9 September 1942 at the early age of 54.
How nice of you to have written, and our dear John also, but you really should not bother to as you can't have much time for private letters. Will you thank John for me, and say I won't add to his pile as I am writing to you. I saw the doctor again yesterday and he at once accused me of skipping about the room etc (true!!) and that if I was so insensate as not to really keep the leg up, I could never expect to get rid of the trouble, so now I am back tight in bed again and suppose I really must stay there, but it's very 'ard Mum!
Whatever has brought back Monica [Nixon] again? I thought she had retired for good. I only hope she is a real help to you both and will pull her weight for you. Does she go back to her old room, and if so what do you do? I had forgotten W.L.T[illbrook] is a Councillor! He does not seem to have been very successful with the new clerk he got in!! I am so truly sorry about poor K.D. I am not at all surprised to hear about T.B., as I always suspected it, but the other part I know nothing of. I only hope he will be able to pull himself round now that conditions are so altered. He's too good a chap to be wasted! I'm relieved that the advert was a wrong one!
I had not seen about Beecham. Poor Dora [Labbette], I'm so sorry for her but how does B get the divorce? I was delighted to see about Menuhin, then thought it was only a publicity stunt on his behalf. What a thrill about Myra [Hess]. Give her my dear love and wish her the bestest of good luck all through. You must be proud of your brother and I can only think he must have got a large part of his brains from you!! Will you give my love to your mother. I'm so glad she is in such splendid health and spirits. Long may it be so. Was Billy Murdoch's death unexpected? Sad at his age. I'm glad to hear the other flat is let, not from the pecuniary point but I know it will relieve John. Tell him he has got to sack Pembridge or you'll get awfully tied up with the I.R. Well my dear, I won't worry you with more. Forgive pencil and scrawl. I hope the day is not too far distant when we may meet again. It will be great. Love to you both as always. Your affect. Padre
(31 Oct)Material in the Ibbs and Tillett archive relating to the running of the agency is, perhaps unsurprisingly, weighted towards John Tillett and, after him, Emmie. Over the years there has had to be a disposal of papers, contracts and letters, either because of limited capacity to house them or through two moves of premises in the last decade of the agency's existence. Material would be thrown away upon the departure of members of the firm, and whenever artists were lost either to other agents or died. In researching this book, the uniqueness of the archive became clear, for no other agency today has anything like such material, regrettably not even Harold Holt (now Askonas-Holt). It is ironic that, over the years, the shorthand reference to Ibbs and Tillett among musicians and managements has been simply 'Ibbs' rather than 'Tillett', calling it after the man who nobody knows now, rather than after the two personalities who dominated its activities for so long, John and Emmie Tillett.