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Duke Ellington’s British Diary, 1933  February 15, 2020

Posted by wallofsound in Jazz, Music History, Music in the media, Music Radio.

The core of the information set out below comes from Howard Rye (1980) ‘Visiting Firemen 1: Duke Ellington’ Storyville, 88 (April 1980): 12830.

I have added in extra information and images from some of the events summarised by Rye derived from my own research. The new information is in blue text.

I’ll update this additional information as I work. If you have any additions I would love to hear about them via the comments box below.

13 May 1932 possible 35-minute BBC programme of Ellington records[1]. The Radio Times shows a 50-minute edition of the weekly Recital of New Gramophone Records by Christopher Stone on the National Programme at 1.30pm, and this could well have featured a selection of Ellington recordings. It would have actually have been possible to play almost all of the Ellington UK releases then available in 35 minutes.

David Boulton, Jazz in Britain. (London: W.H. Allen, 1958).

9 Jun   Ellington band, travelling on the Olympic, dock at Southampton. 

Ellington on the Olympic

On the day of the band’s arrival in the UK, Duke Ellington went into the London BBC studios with Jack Hylton to conduct an interview which was followed by several of the Ellington Orchestra’s recordings.

At nine Duke was rushed over to Broadcasting House with Jack Hylton and ten minutes after the hour the orderly reading of news bulletins was interrupted to put the two men on the air. A new kind of Duke spoke to England. All ad libbed the conversation was relaxed …

Barry Ulanov, Duke Ellington (London: Musicians Press, 1946), 136.


The reception went on until shortly before nine o’clock. Then the Duke was rushed off to Broadcasting House to say a few words into the mike.

I expect you all heard this, for it was put over at ten past nine, right in the middle of the news bulletin. Nothing was rehearsed, and Hylton and Ellington stood before the microphone and “made it up as they went along.” Some people were unkind enough to say that it sounded like it, but surely it was better that way than a stilted and artificial reading of prepared notes !

The Duke’s final remarks anent “ being of little value without my band ” are typical of his unassuming modesty. 

Melody Maker (17/7/1933), 1

According to the BBC transmission logs, the interview went out at 9.20pm after the full news programme had finished, and displacing a scheduled talk from JB Priestly for five minutes.

BBC Transmission log 9:7:1933 sharpened

The BBC Written Archive holds a remarkable record of the interview in the form of a document setting out what is either a script or a transcript of the conversation between Jack Hylton and Ellington.

Ellington Hylton BBC Interview.png

There’s some confusion about the date of Ellington’s arrival in the UK. Catherine Tackley uses 12th June (probably confusing his arrival with the first concert date). The front-page story by ‘Mike’ in Melody Maker (17/7/1933) reports it as 9th June, and this is backed up by the BBC transmission log for that date.

9 Jun   The Radio Times features an up-coming studio broadcast of the Ellington band as a programme of the week, declaring the broadcast as an “event of the season for lovers of ‘hot’ and ‘blue’. First British broadcast of the Aristocrat of Harlem, held to be world’s finest syncopator”.

RT Duke Ellington 9:6:33, 611

The Radio Times Issue 506,  1933, 34

Twenty per cent of the text-heavy listing page for the day was taken up with a portrait photograph of Ellington and a publicity shot of the orchestra. The Radio Times’ trailer for the programme starts thus:

Duke Ellington And His Famous Orchestra

Duke Ellington, the famous American coloured dance-band leader and composerarranger (sic), is now on his first visit to this country, under the auspices of Jack Hylton.

RT Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra 1933

The Radio Times 506, 1933 34

12 Jun   (for one week) London Palladium

14 Jun   Broadcast ‘from the London studios’ over BBC National Programme, 8.00-8.45 p.m.

Ellington Orchestra in BBC studio 1933?

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in the BBC Studios

Titles played were: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo; Lightnin’s Creole Love Call; Old Man Blues; Rose Room; Limehouse Blues; Blackbirds Medley; Sophisticated Lady; It Don’t Mean A Thing; I’ve Got The World On A String: Mood Indigo (faded out)

(Radio Times, 9 Jun 33: Melody Maker, 24 Jun 33; The Era, 21 Jun 33 & 5 Jul 33).

RT Duke Ellington ... 9:6:33, 642

RT Duke Ellington … 9/6/33, 642


16 Jun   After the Palladium show, performed at a midnight dance at the Streatham Locarno, South London (MM, 24 Jun 33),

18 Jun   Special Sunday concert at the London Palladium (MM, 24 Jun 33). (The Sunday concert on the 18th was originally scheduled for Brighton Hippodrome, but was transferred to London.)

19 Jun   (for one week) London Palladium

After the Palladium show on the 19th, performed at a mid. night dance at the Astoria Ballroom, Charing Cross Road, London (MM, 24 Jun 33). (A dance originally scheduled to take place at Tottenham Palais, North London, on 20 June, was cancelled.)

23 Jun   After the Palladium show, travelled to Brighton to appear at a midnight dance at Sherry’s, Brighton (actually from 1230 4.00 a.m. on 24 June) (Brighton Evening Argus, 24 Jun 33).

25 Jun
  2.00 p.m. Melody Maker Musicians’ Concert at the New Trocadero Cinema, Elephant & Castle, London (MM, 1 Jul 33). 8.00 p.m. Sunday concert at the Regal Cinema, London Road, St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex (Hastings & St. Leonards Observer, 24 Jun 33; MM, 1 Jul 33).

(At one point, there were plans to retain the orchestra at the Palladium for a third week, or, failing that, to present it at the Holborn Empire, doubling at the Finsbury Park Empire, two other London houses. These plans did not come to fruition and the orchestra embarked on a provincial tour.)

26 Jun   (for one week) Liverpool Empire

While in Liverpool, Duke stayed at the Adelphi, and was interviewed by the Liverpool Post for their issue of 28 June.

28 Jun   After the Empire appearance, travelled by road to appear at a midnight dance at the Palais de Danse, Bolton, Lancashire, 1,500 people attended and the orchestra played for two hours (Bolton Evening News, 29 Jun 33). (This dance was originally scheduled for 26 June, but was rearranged for the 28th.)

30 Jun   After the Empire show, performed at a dance, 11.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m., at the Grafton Rooms, Liverpool (Liverpool Echo, 30 Jun 33).

2 Jul       Sunday concert at Blackpool Tower. 4,000 people attended (West Lancs Evening Gazette, 3 Jul 33). (The Sunday concert on 2 July was originally announced for the Royal Hall, Bridlington, Yorkshire, but was transferred.)

3 Jul       (for one week) Glasgow Empire

While in Glasgow, the Duke endorsed McKean’s haggis – see the advertisement reproduced on the right.

6 Jul       After the Empire show, performed at a dance, 11.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m., at Green’s Playhouse Ballroom, Renfield Street, Glasgow (Glasgow Evening News, 5 Jul 33). (Notwithstanding other reports, the date given is the one confirmed by local sources. It is assumed that this dance replaced that announced in the 17 June Melody Maker to take place at Dennistoun Palais, Glasgow, on 7 July.)

9 Jul       Sunday concert at Royal Hall, Harrogate, Yorkshire (Harrogate Herald, 12 Jul 33).

10 Jul     (for one week) Holborn Empire, London, doubling at the Finsbury Park Empire, North London.

13 Jul     Recorded for Decca in London.

14 Jul     Recorded an interview with Percy Mathison Brooks as A Souvenir of Duke Ellington for Levy’s of Aldgate. There may be some doubt about this date as 15 July has also been proposed. 16 Jul Second Melody Maker concert at the Trocadero Cinema, Elephant & Castle, London (Melody Maker, 1 Jul 33 & 13 Jan 34).

17 Jul     (for one week) Birmingham Hippodrome

21 Jul     After the Hippodrome performance, appeared at a dance at the New Palais de Danse, Monument Road, Birmingham (Birmingham Mail, 21 Jul 33).

Burm Palais de Danse poster

Poster promoting the Birmingham Palais de Danse as “The Sensation of the Midlands”

24 Jul Left Britain at 8.30p.m. for a short tour of the Continent (Melody Maker, 29 Jul 33).


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