21 NOVEMBER 1952, Page 46

The Good Natur'd Man

BEFORE 1914 the Albert Hall and Queen's Hall programmes styled him Frederick. Later a public of unguessed dimensions changed the name to Freddy ; and Freddy now tells Frederick-Freddy's story. Unassuming but far from artless, the story reveals a natural writer. The chronology is a little odd. It is surprising to be told about those memorable Oxford productions of The Coronation of Poppaea and Der Freiselditz in the 'twenties before we hear of singing lessons, professional debut or the 1914' war. Once he joins the B.B.C., however, the author keeps the sequence clear, and a likeable, humorous, sensitive personality holds the tale together. The chapters about his Oxfordshire boyhood are excellent, and blossom naturally into a number of good stories. Few readers will be unmoved by the history of the pet fox who stopped to play with the hounds. Radley, always a musical school, was followed by Magdalen; a singing part with the O.U.D.S. by a letter to the Reverend Mr. Grisewood from Sir Hubert Parry, insisting that such a gift must not be wasted. A lesser authority the clergyman would not have heeded, but he gave way to the outlandish suggestion, and his son was committed to the formidable Victor Beigel.

It is well that we should realise just what that young man's pros- pects were. No merely passable singer would find himself booked for a soiree where the other artists were Maggie Teyte, John McCormack and Mischa Elman, or be chosen by George Henschel (later Sir George) to sing the bass part in his Requiem, at its first performance in England, with Carrie Tubb, Muriel Foster and Gervase Elwes. WIt.;n the First World War came and blew an epoch to pieces, the young bass seemed all set for a fine career. War brought adventure, desperate illness and a decree which made that first career impossible. The doctors prescribed years in the open air; but no one, not even doctors, can keep a good singer down. Freddy, now married, gave lessons in Oxford, sang locally and was invited to broadcast. Then Savoy Hill claimed him, and his career for close on twenty-five years has centred on the B.B.C. No broad- caster in our time has had a wider range, or excelled in so many roles. Now, once more a freelance, he has gone back to singing and to the type of broadcast, such as chairman in Any Questions, at which he is pre-eminent. Anyone who has worked with him on that programme will testify to the care and pains he takes to make each session a success for all concerned. He never trades on the qualities which have made him what he is—sincerity, friendliness and warmth of heart.

The book is full of good stories, including one of 'a memorable cricket match at Hyde Park Corner. I could wish for more about those early years, more mention of other singers and instrumentalists, more glimpses into that legendary London world of 1911-1914. There are generous tributes to colleagues, passages of shrewd observation, of optimism based on deep experience, and golden good sense about the microphone. The entire book is a delight, its one fault too much modesty. For a second edition 1 have noted a few slips of the pen. The song Freddy's mother sang so movingly was The kith Emigrant, not immigrant. Der Wanderer is by Schuber,; Sir John Maud has no final E, and the Sadler's Wells soprano, also a Griscwood pupil, who made such a charming Annie in Der Freischiitz spells her name Suzan Turner. Finally, Beigel had been a singer. He recorded for Columbia in 1902 as a baritone.

One incident, not in the book, I relate because it is typical of the man. When Freddy was an announcer, a former pupil, scared and shaky, came after a long illness to give his first programme from Broadcasting House. Though Freddy was not on duty, he gave up a free evening to come in specially and hold the pupil's hand. Action and book are, all of a piece. I know: I was the pupil.