Wally Ridley

EMI record producer


Walter John Ridley, record producer: born London 28 February 1913; married (one son, two daughters); died Datchet, Berkshire 23 January 2007.

For the most part, the popular music output at EMI during the 1950s and 1960s depended on four men: Norrie Paramor and Norman Newell (Columbia), George Martin (Parlophone) and Wally Ridley (HMV). The individual output of each of these four producers was prodigious and, taken together, they defined popular music in the UK.

Ridley's many successes included "Dreamboat" (Alma Cogan), "No Other Love" (Ronnie Hilton), "My Special Angel" (Malcolm Vaughan), "Shakin' All Over" (Johnny Kidd and the Pirates) and "Hippy Hippy Shake" (Swinging Blue Jeans). Unlike Martin and Paramor, Ridley had difficulty in appreciating rock'n'roll and, hence, the British beat explosion, but he always denied that he had turned down the Beatles. Essentially a modest man, he was in doubt about the importance of high-quality record producers, telling me in 1984,

When you're making a record, all the elements have to be right and that includes a record producer who understands what you are trying to do and he has to heal the little wounds along the way as well as balancing the sound.

You may think that once a record is made, that's it, but it isn't like that at all - oh no, no, no - you've got to convince the marketing men to promote it. In short, a record producer has to have faith and belief in what he is doing, as otherwise he will not convince anyone else.

Ridley was born in London in 1913. He started piano lessons when he was six and was soon demonstrating the pianos which his father sold in his furniture store. By the time he was nine, he playing at masonic functions and he won a scholarship to the Northern Polytechnic to learn about the manufacture of pianos. Ridley was 15 when he joined the music publishers Feldman's, where he demonstrated songs to stage and radio performers.

His first composition, at the age of 15, written with the 65-year-old veteran Harry Castling, "The One Little Hair on His Head", was recorded by Gracie Fields. In 1935, he worked as the manager at Peter Maurice, and promoted the talents of Michael Carr and Jimmy Kennedy, helping them, without credit, to write "Dinner for One Please, James" and "Did Your Mother Come From Ireland". He coached a talented young singer, Vera Lynn, thereby expanding her range. He accompanied her on broadcasts and theatre shows and discovered her biggest success, "We'll Meet Again".

In 1948, Ridley persuaded the BBC to broadcast a radio series live from a theatre. The series starred Donald Peers and his signature tune, which Ridley found, was "Powder Your Face With Sunshine". Ridley expected the BBC to mock his suggestion of a radio series featuring a ventriloquist, but Educating Archie with Archie Andrews and Peter Brough captured 20 million listeners and made household names of Beryl Reid, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe and Tony Hancock. "I always think that Eric Sykes was the genius behind that series as he wrote the scripts and created the catchphrases," said Ridley:

Max Bygraves stumbled over long lines and so he gave him short, little lines and it worked perfectly. When I made records with Maxie, I did exactly the same thing. I found him songs with short lines that he could punch in and we had lots of hits.

The same year Ridley joined EMI Records to build up a popular catalogue for the HMV label. The label, decimated by shellac shortages during the Second World War, only had regular releases from Joe Loss and George Melachrino and their orchestras. Very soon, Ridley was having success with Peers, Bygraves, Ronnie Hilton, Malcolm Vaughan, Bert Weedon and Don Lang. There was also Alma Cogan, known as "the girl with the giggle". "Oh, it took two and a half years to find that!," Ridley said:

Her father brought her to me and she wasn't much of a singer. She didn't have a natural God-given talent like Streisand, but she had enormous character. I said, "I want to find something so that as soon as someone hears you, they'll know who you are." When we were clowning around with "Bell Bottom Blues", she giggled and I said, "Hey, that's great." And it was - it was a good, good piece of work.

In 1955, a tearful Jeannie Carson told Ridley that she needed a decent song "something like 'The Trolley Song' " for a film she was making, An Alligator Named Daisy (1955). Ridley came up with "I'm in Love for the Very First Time" and was very satisfied with the result:

The producer told me that I would have to pass over 25 per cent of the song and I said, "This song will be around long after your picture's dead and forgotten." He got nothing; the song is still around and the picture is dead and gone.

Ridley had to determine which records from America's RCA Victor label were right for UK release. In 1956, that included Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel". "RCA told me that he was going to be very big indeed, but I turned it up, I turned it down, nothing - the only words I could make out were Heartbreak Hotel," Ridley said:

I released it and HMV got the worst reviews it had ever had. The chiefs wanted to sack me for releasing it. Radio Luxembourg wouldn't play it and nor would the BBC. The bandleader Jack Payne wrote half a page for the Daily Express saying, "How dare EMI release such rubbish?"

But, instead of being sacked, Ridley had to consider whether to establish his own rock'n'roll stars. "When I heard Presley, I listened to what was behind the voice," Ridley recalled:

I decided that the UK would take three years to find musicians who could even begin to play like that, let alone find a singer up front to do it. Everybody would be copying anyway and we would only be second-best. I left it alone and stuck with what I knew.

Right in the middle of all this nonsense, I had "St Therese of the Roses", which had nothing to do with rock'n'roll but sold quarter of a million in 1956 for Malcolm Vaughan. If a song is well-written, has a clear, clean message and is delivered with sincerity with a good quality performance, good orchestra and good sound, then it will sell and sell.

Ridley's first venture into rock'n'roll was with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and he turned down Adam Faith because, according to Faith, "HMV told me that they already had one scruff on the label."

One music publisher asked Ridley to cover an American song, "Mad Passionate Love", expecting the song to be taken seriously, but Ridley placed it with the comic actor Bernard Bresslaw, whose lugubrious delivery made it a hit. Ridley worked with many comedians, finding "Bring Me Sunshine" for Morecambe and Wise and producing Benny Hill's "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)" (1971) and Windsor Davies and Don Estelle's "Whispering Grass" (1975). Ridley also produced big-selling albums by The Black and White Minstrel Show (which was not considered controversial until the mid-Sixties), as well as records by the Deep River Boys, Andy Stewart, Iris Williams and the Mike Sammes Singers.

When I met Ridley in 1984, he had retired but he was still working on occasional projects such as Love is José Carreras. "He is working terribly hard," Ridley said about Carreras, "but his English pronunciation is not all that good. He knows that, so why does he want to record a wordy song like 'My Way'?"

Spencer Leigh

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
News
people
News
A speech made by the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister urging women not to laugh in public in order to preserve morality has sparked a backlash on social media from women posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at his remarks.
GALLERYWhy are Turkish women having a chuckle at the government's expense?
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP FICO SOLUTION ANALYST

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP FICO SOLUTI...

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

SAP PROJECT MANAGER

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MAN...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star