Obituary: Brian Seymour

Tim Bullamore
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:01

IN THE third chapter of the late Beryl Reid's autobiography, So Much Love, the actress recalls how, on the cusp of the Second World War, she fell madly in love for the first time. She was 18 years old and starring in a show called Blue Skies. The object of her affections was the brilliant pianist Brian Seymour, a decade her senior. She wrote, "I loved him so much that a year later I was prepared to sit up until two in the morning to listen to him doing a broadcast of that beautiful sentimental number `Deep Purple' for the BBC."

Seymour was born in Bath in 1910, the son of a butcher; he allowed the opportunity to inherit the family firm to pass him by. He was educated at the City of Bath Grammar School, where he achieved renown as a dazzling boy pianist, often skipping lessons to play with a dance band at the city's Assembly Rooms. Three months after taking up his first serious job in a local music shop he was asked to leave because he spent more time entertaining customers at the keyboard than in selling them instruments.

Seymour's piano teacher instilled in him an upright posture. She covered the keys of the piano with a cloth, forcing him to play by touch. He particularly disliked watching pianists who played in a crab-like manner, hunched over the keyboard.

The 1920s and 1930s took him all over Europe with revues and dance bands. Meanwhile invitations came in for appearances in America. These were declined on the grounds that he simply didn't like the country. Stars he appeared with included Gracie Fields, Dorothy Ward, Randolph Sutton and Anna May Wong.

The show Blue Skies was typical of the work in which Seymour was involved. It toured the Home Counties and Lancashire before the Second World War took him into the Royal Artillery where he established a concert party.

Beryl Reid visited him during that time and recalled in her book how he thrilled the officers so much that, despite being a humble lance-bombardier, he was invited into their mess for drinks and to be generally fussed over. Seymour in turn caused consternation by inviting his fellow troops into the officers' mess for dinner, dishing out the helpings himself saying, "Is that enough, darling?" while at the same time giving each some more. Halfway through the line he had served up all the food, leaving none for the remaining soldiers.

With the war in Europe over, Seymour accepted an invitation to play the Bach Brandenburg Concertos with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. It was his one serious foray into the strictly classical repertoire and not an experience he cared to repeat. Instead he turned his attentions to the world of revue and dance hall, appearing with Cyril Fletcher in The Magpie, which toured throughout Europe. He also appeared with Larry Grayson, then known as Billy Breen, and recorded a couple of LPs with Randolph Sutton. Earlier 78s from the 1930s with the singer Donald Peers are now considered valuable collectors' items.

A stint on Blackpool Pier - every pier worth its salt had a resident summer pianist to entertain post-war holidaymakers - led to Seymour's 16 years conducting Ted Dwyer's Follies, a long-running show which entertained visitors to Skegness Pier Theatre each summer until 1968. It ran from Whitsun until the last Saturday in September with five programme changes during the season. In it, Seymour danced a little, sang a little, swung his cane a little, and generally appeared in choruses and sketches to the delight and amusement of residents and tourists alike.

One of his last tours before retiring in 1974 was Thanks for the Memory, which brought back music hall stars from yesteryear including Ella Shields, the original Burlington Bertie. Seymour subsequently entertained drinkers at the Compton Arms, at Highbury Corner, in north London, which was managed by his friend Frank Beasley, before the pair of them slipped comfortably into retirement in Bath.

The mutual affection between Seymour and Beryl Reid - which receives far more prominence in her book than her feelings for either of her two husbands - remained until her death in 1996. The two continued to correspond and when Seymour retired, Reid visited him many times, describing with some relish how his apartment in Bath's Georgian quarter was "covered with photographs of me when I was in my teens".

After his retirement, he never touched the keyboard again although, along with mountains of memorabilia, programmes and photographs, he kept the same piano he had learnt on three-quarters of a century earlier, despite it taking up half his kitchen.

Brian Seymour is survived by Beasley, his friend for 54 years, whose gain was Beryl Reid's loss.

Brian Seymour-Jones (Brian Seymour), showman and pianist: born Bath 24 March 1910; died Bath 18 November 1998.

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