Obituary: Douglas Reeve

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The Independent Culture
DOUGLAS REEVE was Brighton's famous broadcasting organist. In his home town, he was known as "Mr Music" and in the organ world as "Mr Brighton". His bright style - particularly when it came to rhythm - was known internationally and, in fact, one of his first albums, Brighton Brassy (1967), was issued in the United States.

A real Brightonian, Reeve was born in the Lanes, in 1918. His potential as a musician was spotted at an early age and piano tuition was arranged. Aged 14, Reeve was appointed Assistant to H.G. Goddard at the Savoy Cinema in Brighton, and while there was spotted by the BBC staff organist Reginald Foort when visiting the Regent cinema in the town.

Reeve was immediately engaged as a "Wonder Boy Organist". Dressed in an Eton collar and what he described as a "bumfreezer" jacket, Reeve toured the UK for County Cinemas.

Theatres he visited included the Regals at Golders Green, Canterbury, Wimbledon and Hull, the Ritzes at Nottingham and Southend; the Empire Aldershot, and the Majestic and Capitol at Wembley. From the beginning of 1936, he played for variety acts at the Regal and Orpheum cinemas in Golders Green, sometimes appearing at the organ in a solo spot.

He accompanied artists such as Albert Sandler, Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson, Macari and His Dutch Serenaders, Mario "Harp" Lorenzi, the illusionist Maskelyne, Les Allen, the impressionist Beryl Orde, Norman Evans ("Over the Garden Wall"), Clapham and Dwyer, Harry Hemsley, Hughie Green, the xylophonist Teddy Brown, Nellie Wallace, Joe Loss and Flotsam and Jetsam.

From the end of 1938, variety ceased at both theatres and Reeve performed organ interludes up to the outbreak of the Second World War, following which he spent a short spell as a manager for County Cinemas. In 1940 he joined the Army and later that year, by candlelight (there was a power cut), married a singer, and the youngest member of the ATS, Joyce Jackson.

Invalided from the Army in 1941, Reeve returned to Brighton and, aware that the superb dual-purpose organ at the Dome concert hall was not getting much use, he approached the authorities with the idea of playing it for dancing, as the Dome had been converted into a dance hall for the local forces. His idea was so successful and Reeve was so popular, that he was appointed Borough Organist, a position he held for more than 50 years.

His name soon became synonymous with that of the Dome. There was not a seat to spare at his Pack Up Your Troubles concerts and he was the high spot in the weekly Tuesday at the Dome variety shows. The latter ran for 1,600 performances and earned Reeve a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

There was an unwritten rule that, whatever you were staging at the Dome, you included Reeve in your advertised programme if you wanted a capacity house. The Dome is attached to Brighton Pavilion and was once the Prince Regent's riding stables - Reeve joked that he had a job in a stable and "the work kept piling up".

In the 1950s, Reeve was appointed manager of the Dome and Corn Exchange for Brighton Corporation, and in 1977 he became Assistant Director of the Resort and Conference Department at Brighton; in effect, being responsible for all indoor entertainment in the town. Finding that he had little time for his music, he retired from that position in 1979, but continued as Borough Organist and producer of Tuesday at the Dome.

Throughout his life, Reeve was a prolific broadcaster. He made his first broadcast at the age of 18, in 1937, at the BBC theatre organ in St George's Hall and treasured a letter from Reginald Foort congratulating him on his performance: "You really played like an old hand and everybody here was delighted." Reeve was adept at introducing his own programmes, and he performed a series of these on Sunday mornings on Radio 2 from the BBC Theatre Organ (Mark III) at the Playhouse Manchester.

His wit, sense of humour and charm endeared him to his audiences, with whom he had an excellent repartee. At the close of one of his Pack Up Your Troubles concerts, his audience would not let him go. He retorted, "You don't half want a lot for sixpence!"

He leaves a host of recordings (mostly at the Dome but some at the Worthing Wurlitzer with which he had an association in recent years) and a tremendous contribution to light music. For some years, he was the President of the Cinema Organ Society.

Douglas James Reeve, organist: born Brighton 7 January 1918; married 1940 Joyce Jackson (died 1982; one daughter); died Brighton 18 July 1999.