Decades in rhythm with Ros
THOSE of us who belong to the older generation still recall the pleasure of tuning in our wireless sets to hear orchestras playing live music for dancing many a decade ago. Even the warming up, crackle and oscillation were tolerable.
Often the microphones were in posh hotel ballrooms or high-society clubs in London’s West End and those listening in our humble homes could only imagine the “white tie and tails” men and elegantly-gowned women living a life of sophistication straight out of black-and-white popular postwar films like Spring in Park Lane, The Courtneys of Curzon Street and Maytime in Mayfair, all starring Michael Wilding and Anna Neagle, attended by loyal retainers like butlers, maids and cooks.
Those films afforded temporary respite from austerity-wracked Britain when we saw them at our local cinemas in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston. You know the scenario: men offered cigarettes like De Reszke Minor from gold monogrammed cases, and the moment a woman inserted a cigarette into her holder, two or three Brylcreemed chaps were on hand with gold lighters a-flame.
Sometimes the bands were named after the venues, like drawling American pianist-singer Carroll Gibbons and his Savoy Orpheans. One of the bands to emerge during the war was distinctive because it featured Latin-American music, and was formed and led by Trinidadian Edmundo Ros. It followed the pattern, playing at the Coconut Grove Club and Bagatelle Restaurant in London’s West End from where BBC radio often relayed them live.
Although Ros and his Latin-American Rhythm were known to the clientele of those venues, and to radio listeners, he and his musicians became renowned throughout the land when the then Princess Elizabeth and her party visited the Bagatelle one night, and our future Queen danced in public for the first time... to Ros’s music.
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For many years Edmundo Ros and his wife have been living quietly in retirement in their villa on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, and in December he will become a centenarian, an achievement of particular interest to a Gorleston man with whom the former bandleader has been friendly for decades.
Seventy-six-year-old Malcolm Metcalf, of Magdalen Way, Gorleston, had long hoped he would be able to visit Ros to pass on personal greetings on his 100th birthday, but now has decided that he will have to content himself with a sending him a card and perhaps making a telephone call to Spain.
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“I won’t be able to go there, I’m afraid,” he says. “But Edmundo’s wife tells me he’s very well for a man of his age, although he cannot walk, and still remembers so much.”
The two men have met once, but the rest of their enduring friendship has been a long-distance one.
Malcolm, a retired employee of long-established ironmonger and hardware merchant Coopers in Market Gates in Great Yarmouth (a branch which closed this summer), still looks back with fondness to their 1999 meeting when, after nearly half a century of corresponding and talking, they came face-to-face when he was finally able to accept a long-standing invitation from Edmundo Ros to spend a week with him at his Spanish home.
It all began when 19-year-old Malcolm was confined to bed for 18 months, suffering from a serious illness.
Listening to the radio occupied his long days, and in particular he enjoyed programmes featuring Edmundo Ros, singing the lyrics to popular Latin-American melodies backed by his orchestra.
To young Malcolm’s surprise as he lay in bed listening to an Edmundo Ros session one evening, the star leader and vocalist played a request for the Gorleston teenager which had been submitted by a friend. Malcolm sent Ros a note to thank him for featuring the request; the bandleader wrote back, and their postal acquaintanceship flourished into friendship.
“When Edmundo retired and moved to Spain some years ago, he kept asking me to go over to stay with him and his wife but I never had the opportunity until 1999 because I has always very busy,” he recalls. The problem had been that Malcolm was still working and invariably used his holidays travelling far and wide, leaving no time for a trip to Spain. But the year after his retirement from Coopers in 1998, he was able to accept the standing invitation from Edmundo Ros, then aged 89.
“I had been looking forward to that moment for years and it was more than memorable, an ambition achieved,” Malcolm says.
A few years before that meeting, Edmundo Ros was the celebrity handed the This is Your life! red book. As luck would have it, Malcolm was abroad on holiday at the time the show was transmitted, but Ros sent him a videotape. Unfortunately, Malcolm had remained a staunch radio fan so had neither television nor VCR at his Gorleston home, so he had to take the recorded tape to a relative so he could enjoy viewing it.
Because Edmundo Ros played a request for Malcolm in 1953, the Gorlestonian asked BBC Radio Norfolk to play a song for his friend’s wedding anniversary in 1999, choosing – not unexpectedly – the Ros recording of The Wedding Samba, which sold three million copies worldwide. Malcolm knew BBC Radio Norfolk would not reach Alicante in Spain, but intended to tape-record it and send the music and greeting to his friend.
That well-laid plan was thwarted because Malcolm’s tape-recorded failed to function!
Although non-driver Malcolm has journeyed all over the world by air and sea, often staying with friends he has met on his travels, his favourite holiday spot is the United States and his preferred mode of travel is the American Amtrak trains.
“I reckon I’ve done about 185,000 miles on those trains in 20 years,” he says, “but unfortunately I reckon I have just done my last trip because of the difficulty of getting travel insurance.”
Abroad he has taken thousands of photographs, and regularly gives travel slide shows to organisations, usually for charity: recently he entertained audiences in East Harling and Norwich.