Ronnie Bridges

Co-writer of 'Gibraltar Anthem'


Ronald Vincent Bridges, pianist and lyricist: born London 15 March 1919; married 1947 Joan Albrow (two sons, one daughter); died Shenfield, Essex 8 December 2005.

The Windmill Theatre in London was where many learned their craft - Harry Secombe, Terry Scott, Jimmy Edwards, Arthur Haynes, Dave King. When a young pianist and songwriter, Ronnie Bridges, approached the Windmill's owner, Vivian van Damm, he was put on trial for three weeks. He stayed 19 years and was there when the theatre closed in 1964.

One of his treasured recollections was playing when Alfred Marks and Eric Woodburn, a famous character actor, were sharing the same roles. There were six shows a day and the two actors did three each. Things went terribly wrong, due to an administrative error, and both actors suddenly appeared on stage from either side to do the same show. The cast were in hysterics. The audience realised something was not quite right, but joined in with applause.

Bridges was born in 1919 and began his professional career as an insurance clerk with National Employer's Mutual before going into the Army. Invalided out due to a foot defect, he decided to join Ensa, as they were short of pianists, and found himself in the British Liberation Army. Whilst working with Claude Hulbert in West Africa he played in a show that was produced by Jack Hulbert, who encouraged him to write lyrics for revue and, once back in England and with the Windmill Theatre, he teamed up with a colleague, Charlie Rose, who wrote the music.

Following the closure of the Windmill, Bridges joined Liber-Southern Music as a composer and publisher. For many years he was a director of the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters. He retired from the academy when he was 70 years old, but remained on the committee for its Gold Badge Awards and attended this year's ceremony at the Savoy Hotel in October.

Bridges played the organ at Harry Secombe's wedding in 1948. He played piano for the auditions of Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse at the Windmill. Over the years he was the accompanist on television for Doris Hare, Tommy Cooper, Leslie Sarony, Jimmy Edwards and Leslie Crowther. For many years he appeared on the BBC Light Programme in Roundabout, where he was commissioned to write original or topical songs for the programmes. He wrote or co-wrote more than 200 songs, many of which have been recorded, including "You're Closer to Me" (Matt Monro) and "Where the Bullets Fly" (Susan Maughan). From 1957 to 1962 he played piano for George Robey for his concert acts.

In 2004 Bridges shared a proud and historic occasion with the former BBC producer Brian Willey. They were invited to attend St Clement Danes, London, to mark 300 years of British rule in Gibraltar and heard a song they had written 35 years before. In 1966, pursuing its ongoing dispute over sovereignty on the Rock, Spain had closed the border with Gibraltar. To boost local morale, Willey and Bridges submitted an entry to the 1969 Gibraltar Song Festival - "The Gibraltar Anthem (Our Rock, Our Home, Our Pride)". In due course Dorothy Squires recorded the song (known locally as "Rock of Ages"), as did the Gibraltar Cathedral Choir. The then organiser was a local parish priest; today he is the Right Rev Charles Caruana, Roman Catholic Bishop of Gibraltar, and it was he who selected it for performance in the London ceremony.

Willey noted that they were the only living composers represented during the service, but Bridges, at 85, ruefully remarked, "Well, only just!"

Keith Skues

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