The string quartet that never was - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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The string quartet that never was


The photograph above shows Dr Llifon Hughes Jones supervising the SGS string quartet. This was a set-up for an article about ‘Your School’ published on 13 March 1952 in the Manchester Evening News; actually, there was no string quartet. The photographer arrived at short notice and so Dr Jones grabbed the first four members of the orchestra he could find and, behold, a string quartet was formed there and then. I am on the left in the photograph above and my diary entry number 787 for 26 February 1952, has brief mention of the event (below).

In 2005 I had an email from Brian, a nephew of Dr Jones. He told me: "You are quite correct to recall his passion for music and the piano, it was a major part of any family gathering as I was growing up too. Llifon passed away in 1996, and now rests in the family grave at Pwllheli, while his library of text books and manuscripts are now in the keeping of the Music Faculty at Bangor University."

As my lessons with Mr Cunliffe continued well into a second year, I gradually came to accept that I would never reach professional standard as a violinist. If the truth be known, I was far more interested in musical theory and composition, and I started concentrating all my efforts on that. During my last few weeks in the 5th Form, I decided that I wanted to make a career in music but not as a violinist. It was assumed, by the school and by me and my parents, that I would be moving up to the 6th Form to study music. Recognising and encouraging this, Dr Jones eventually persuaded my parents that I really did need a piano at home. Somewhat reluctantly, Mum and Dad managed to buy an old second-hand upright piano, but it must have taken all their spare cash. There was no question of formal piano lessons because there was no more money, so I was self-taught again. I never became a decent pianist but having a piano at home helped me considerably with harmony, counterpoint and general music theory, and with my own experiments with composition.

On 21 February 1952 I noted in my diary that Identity Cards were abolished - or to be precise, it was no longer mandatory to carry one. They had been introduced, for every man, woman and child, at the start of WW2. The main reason given for their introduction in 1939 was: "The major dislocation of the population caused by mobilisation and mass evacuation and also the wartime needs for complete manpower control and planning in order to maximise the efficiency of the war economy." After the Second World War the Labour government, under Prime Minister Clement Attlee, had decided to continue the scheme in the face of the Cold War and the perceived Soviet threat, but ID Cards quickly started to become very unpopular; the public at large thought they were more to do with bureaucratic interference with ordinary people's lives. Apparently by 1952 the ID scheme was employing 1,500 civil servants to administer it. That's bureaucracy!

As I already knew to my cost His, now Her, Majesty's Prison Service tended to move their staff around every two years or so and so it was no great surprise after two years in Salford that Dad was told in May 1952 that he was once again being transferred - from Strangeways to Wakefield. I am quite sure Mum and Dad were delighted to be moving back to Yorkshire because all our family connections were in and around Leeds, but I was absolutely devastated.

Added on 09 February 2019: Albert Finney. I was saddened to hear on 8 February 2019 that Albert Finney had died. In 1952 in the 5th Form at Salford Grammar School, Albert Finney and I had shared a side-by-side two-seater desk for some lessons. Like me, Albert came from a poor family but so did most of the boys in Salford Grammar School at that time. Even then he was an accomplished actor, but he probably would not have thanked me for remembering that his major triumph at school was in drag playing Ma Gargery, Pip’s ill-tempered Aunt, in the all-male school production of Great Expectations. He was brilliant. On the night of the final performance, Albert was quite ill – a severe dose of ’flu I seem to recall. He insisted on performing and, like the true star that he later became, he was persuaded to take his final bow in front of the curtains all on his own at the end of the first act, the only act in which Ma Gargery appeared, so that he could go home early and take to his bed. For that he got what was probably his very first standing ovation. (My contribution to the school plays was to play the incidental music over the school's public address system as and when required on a very dodgy wind-up gramophone.)

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