Obituary: Philip Bate
Friday 05 November 1999
He was born in Glasgow in 1909, of English parents. His father, Percy Bate, was then secretary to the Glasgow Museum of Arts, and later Curator of the Municipal Art Gallery and Museum in Aberdeen. It was seeing the instruments of the orchestra demonstrated at a schools' concert given by the Scottish Orchestra that inspired Philip to take up the clarinet on an instrument bought for half-a-crown. He was given lessons by an ex- army musician and plumber by trade who had "hands like sausages but played like a bird!"
He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and went on to Aberdeen University, where he took an honours degree in Pure Science. At this time he was employed casually in the Drama Department of 2BD, the Aberdeen station of the BBC, where he was known as "the man with the English accent". He moved to London in 1934, where he was employed in the Music Department of the BBC as a balance and control assistant, graduating to Studio Manager in 1937. When the Second World War came, he failed a medical for the RAF but found himself in military censorship. The BBC soon recalled him and he became involved in a number of projects including announcing dance bands and producing the legendary percussionist James Blades in his famous drumbeat, the symbol of European resistance.
After the war, Bate became a music producer in television in the live series The Conductor Speaks, in which Sir Henry Wood, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir Thomas Beecham and Leopold Stokowsky all took part. The Edinburgh Festival also came within his province. He developed a keen interest in ballet, and produced Margot Fonteyn's first appearance on television at the Alexander Palace studios; he was also instrumental in bringing the Paris Opera Ballet to Britain for the first time in its history.
Bate's interest in woodwind instruments never diminished and when he retired from the BBC he continued to lecture on the subject and also made reconstructions of draw-trumpets in his own workshop, some of which were used by David Munro in recordings made by the Early Music Consort of London.
It was many years earlier at the Essex Archaeological Society that he met Canon Galpin, then vicar of Hatfield Broadoak, and a passionate collector of early musical instruments. Galpin and Bate, united by their common interest, became lifelong friends. Galpin introduced him to most of the leading figures in the early musical instrument field, with whom he also formed friendships. In 1956 Bate was founder-chairman of the Galpin Society, established as a memorial to the Canon's work, and in 1977 he became President, a position he held until his death.
So it was that over the years, combined with his regular visits to the London auction rooms and the Caledonian Road market, Bate amassed a private collection of over 300 instruments which, together with a cognate library of "tutors" and correspondence, covered the development of woodwind from 1680 to the present day.
In the mid-1960s he became concerned that if, at his death, the instruments were dispersed, their chronological significance would be lost. So he presented his treasures to Oxford University as a gift with the proviso that sufficient funds should be raised to enable it to be maintained in perpetuity and a curator with a special knowledge of musical instruments should be appointed. He also stipulated that it should be a "teaching" collection where the instruments could be taken out, played and dismantled for study. The funds were duly acquired and the "Bate" Collection of Historical Instruments was established in 1969 at the Faculty of Music in Oxford. It now attracts visitors from all over the world.
Philip Bate was a gifted writer and published three books on his subject and contributed to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. His most important work was a series of monographs on wind instruments (The Oboe, 1956; The Trumpet and the Trombone, 1966; The Flute, 1969) which made him an acknowledged authority. In 1973, Oxford University awarded him an honorary MA.
As a man, Philip Bate was kind and generous to his friends and colleagues and had a delightful, dry sense of humour. He liked people to say what they meant and would listen intently to an opinion even if he disagreed; he could not tolerate hypocrisy of any kind.
Philip Argall Turner Bate, organologist, writer and collector: born Glasgow 26 March 1909; married secondly 1959 Yvonne Leigh-Pollitt; died London 3 November 1999.
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