Our friend Mary Finnigan sent us an email asking if anyone might want some pristine 78 discs of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, played in the 1950s by Reginald Stead, leader of the BBC Northern Orchestra. We wondered how she came by them. This is Mary’s richly human reply:
In the late 1940s/early 50s — in middle class Manchester the art of dalliance between lovers with husbands and wives back home revolved around denial and secrecy. (In this respect not much has changed.) Divorce was off limits, so everyone pretended to toe the conventional line. We went to tea with Reggie, his wife Eileen and their kids. They came to supper with us. Reggie had a Stradivarius and I think (can’t quite remember) his wife played the oboe, so there were spontaneous classical jam sessions which probably kicked off my lifelong love of music.
I remember Reggie as a gentle giant. I remember liking him and my hindsight has him pitched as the last person one would imagine as a dashing amorous adventurer. I think he was bemused by my Mum’s attention, but certainly had no intention of resisting it. I recall that Reggie and Eileen retired to the Lake District and, it transpires, became involved in the Buddhist sect The New Kadampa Tradition.The friendship with my mother continued for many years after the affair had faded away.
Reginald Stead MBE become a member of the Hallé Orchestra in the 1930s and went onto become the leader of the BBC Northern Orchestra from 1945 to 1971. The BBC conductor, Edward Downes, later stated that Reggie was “one of the finest leaders in the country and could play all the solos beautifully.” Eileen first heard him when she was six and he was eighteen; she was bewitched by his violin playing while on holiday with her father. Years later they met again and married.