Dudley Savage was one of the last of the cinema organ superstars. Amid a career spanning more than half a century, this most accomplished performer, composer and arranger never ceased to make music both accessible and enjoyable. In addition, as the host of the long-running BBC radio programme As Prescribed, his name still engenders a particular warmth of affection felt only for a very few broadcasters.
William Dudley Savage was a Cornishman, born near Penzance in the village of Gulval, in 1920. Educated locally, he inherited his considerable musical talent from his mother, a very fine amateur performer. Initially taught piano by his mother, he later studied organ at Truro Cathedral. In 1936, under contract to Union Cinemas, he toured extensively, billed somewhat unimaginatively as "The Cornish Boy Organist".
Two years later, aged only 18, Savage was chosen as the first organist of the newly built ABC Royal Cinema in Plymouth. Here his arrival proved particularly propitious, coinciding as it did with the installation of a brand new state-of-the-art Compton organ complete with melotone unit. It was conspicuous for its balance and refinement, superb reeds and varied mixture scheme plus diapason units that would grace many a church organ. Savage was in his element, fully able to exploit its immense musical possibilities.
Called up for military service in 1940, he spent most of the Second World War in the Indian Army. Commissioned in 1943, he later rose to the rank of captain. Demobbed three years later, he then returned to the Royal Cinema, staying until its conversion to a bingo hall in 1976.
In June 1948, initially on the BBC West of England Home Service, Dudley Savage's distinctive signature tune, "Smiling Through", heralded the launch of his own organ music series. Aptly titled As Prescribed, this hour-long show, essentially a request programme for hospital patients, was broadcast live every Sunday morning from the console of the ABC Cinema in Plymouth. Here, in addition to providing a varied mix of music, Savage proved a consummate communicator, building a very personal rapport with his audience.
When, in September 1968, the BBC summarily cancelled the programme, uproar ensued. More than 43,000 signatures were collected on a petition presented to the Director General. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Michael Ramsey, felt moved to express his outrage in what was then the biggest protest the Corporation had ever received. Reinstated within three months, the programme later transferred to Radio 2, finally ending in 1979.
As musical fashions changed and cinema organs disappeared, Savage adapted both his repertoire and technique to enthusiastically embrace the smaller and much more flexible Hammond organ. An occasional presenter on BBC Television's Songs Of Praise, still very much in demand, he was also a most welcome contributor to Radio 2's ever popular The Organist Entertains. A new recording, a retrospective entitled Perfect Partners (due for imminent release), provides a most poignant and fitting monument to his work and achievements.
William Dudley Savage, organist, broadcaster, composer and arranger: born Gulval, Cornwall 20 March 1920; MBE 1978; married 1940 Doreen Vosper (died 2003; two sons); died Liskeard, Cornwall 25 November 2008.