Obituary: Alan Frank
Wednesday 29 June 1994
ALAN FRANK was one of those figures essential to the continuing prosperity of the art and industry of music; a publisher and administrator who was also a musician. As a young man he had been a part-time professional clarinettist and, during his retirement, taught the instrument to young people at his home in Hampstead, north London. At one time he wrote music - his Suite for Two Clarinets, a laconic, witty work, is still played - and it was perhaps due to his marrying in 1935 Phyllis Tate, a more gifted composer then him, that he relinquished this pursuit.
Frank also has some books to his credit, and his treatise on the clarinet, written in conjuction with Frederick Thurston, still sells well, whilst, before the Second World War, he could occasionally be heard compering BBC music programmes both expertly and chattily, his light touch and broad taste being just what was wanted in that field.
On leaving Dulwich College, where he had been a scholar, Frank entered the music department of the Oxford University Press - then situated in the City under the aegis of Hubert Foss - and, except for service in RAF Intelligence during the war, where he specialised in the Italian Air Force, stayed there for more than 40 years until his retirement in 1975, having become head of the department in 1954.
Among the many distinguished composers he handled during that time were Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Alan Rawsthorne and Alun Hoddinott, with whom, as that rare bird, a music publisher who can read a score, he had close relations as fellow musician as well as business partner and friend.
Late in life Frank took up, for fun, the saxophone: an instrument on which he made his public debut at a party to honour Vivian Ellis at the Performing Right Society in December 1976. With me as accompanist he played - rather crudely, it must be admitted - six of Ellis's best-known songs to an audience that luckily had had quite a bit to drink, or it might have been less appreciative. It was one of Frank's typical pranks, showing both his sense of humour and occasion, for, as chairman of the society, he was naturally expected in some way to salute the famous tunesmith who was the society's Deputy President and later to be its President.
It was as Chairman of the PRS that Frank showed that he was a master negotiator. I witnessed on more than one occasion his handling of a commercial deal, and admired his cat-like patience and crisp closing pounce on a prey who might well have believed he was king of the jungle until meeting this quietly formidable adversary.
A smallish, compactly built man, Frank was always neatly and stylishly dressed. Throughout his life he enjoyed good health, a gift that might partly be attributed to his daily swim in Hampstead Ponds, where he was known to break the ice in winter. He was a keen walker and loved foreign travel. Living near the terminus of the 24 bus, he would on sudden impulse, even in old age, pack a bag, take the bus to Victoria Station, get on a boat train, cross the Channel and tramp around some beautiful city admiring the architecture, which was one of his special interests.
In addition to his copious musical and administrative talents, Frank also had the gift of hospitality. He had a wonderfully accurate anecdotal and historical memory and could spellbind an audience with accounts of extraordinary and often scandalous happenings in the lives of the famous and not so famous.
He was also a devoted family man, his paternal accounts of the careers and exploits of his progeny never boring but always delighting his friends. His influence will be felt long after his death, both in the world of music at large and in the recollections of those who knew and loved him.
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