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Family secrets: ‘My mother was the concertmaster’s lover’

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:




Reggie Stead was one of my mother’s lovers. She was usually discreet about her extra marital flings, most of which happened in the south of France. But not Reggie. He lived in the south Manchester suburbs and we lived in Prestwich, on the northern edge. I think my Mum decided she needed some fun one day,so she sweet talked her way into a Northern Orchestra on air performance and smiled nicely at Reggie afterwards. 
I was aged 9 or 10 and at a boarding prep school in the Midlands. During the holidays my Dad was out at work, so Mum was obliged to keep me with her. This cramped her style with Reggie, but they made the best of their post-concert meetings by canoodling in the front of my mother’s Hillman Minx, while I sat glumly in the back, bored and restless. Years later my Mum’s sister, Auntie Raymonde, confirmed my suspicions that Mum and Reggie had a  fully fledged sexual liaison for several years.

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.

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  1. WOW! Not only would it be wonderful to hear these recordings, but what a picture of human history.

    • Mary Finnigan says:

      I’d love to hear them again but have no idea how to find a “gramophone” that could play them. Has anyone here got one tucked away in the attic?

      • robcat2075 says:

        If they really are pristine and not otherwise available as released recordings don’t play them on any conventional turntable or on any old 78 rpm player. 78rpm records wear quickly. Someone who can do a proper transfer to digital on the first spin should be found.

        • Mary Finnigan says:

          Thank you robcat. Excellent advice. Do you know where to look for someone who can transfer to digital? And yes — they are not released recordings. I think the BBC will have them archived and Reggie’s widow Eileen may have copies but that’s probably it.

          • ECWorthington says:

            In fact, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the BBC will have these recordings – very few broadcast concerts were officially recorded during this period. It may have been that Reggie had the performance privately recorded off-air: do the labels bear the name of a studio or any other information? I second Robcat’s suggestion that they should be professionally transferred. The British Library Sound Archive would be able to advise.

  2. Mary Finnigan says:

    Thanks for your advice EC Worthington. I will extract the records from the garage soon and look at the labels.

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