- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Andé Lyons (née Ashcroft), Walter Laird, Peggy Spencer MBE (née Hull), Frank Spencer, Victor Marlborough Silvester, Dorothy Silvester (née Newton), Victor Silvester (Junior), Patti Morgan, Franklin D. Tyrer, William Joyce ('Lord Haw Haw').
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 December 2005
‘Andé Lyons and Walter Laird’ dancing during a ‘BBC Television Dancing Club’ broadcast. Victor Silvester and his Dance Orchestra are on the stage. The ‘BBC Dancing Club’ with Victor Silvester began with radio shows in 1941. It transferred to television in 1948. [Photograph from collection of Andé Tyrer]
This article has been written with the assistance of Andé Tyrer (née Ashcroft). Andé became a professional ballroom dancer during World War Two, under the name of Andé Lyons. Andé's professional dancing partner during the war and the years that followed was Walter Laird. Andé has kindly loaned me a photograph of her dancing with Walter to music being played by the Victor Silvester Dance Orchestra. This photograph is submitted to the website with Andé's permission.
Music and dance was very much a part of the everyday lives of so many people during World War Two and the post-war years. With so many service men and women away from home, during World War Two the BBC began broadcasting dancing lessons and dance music on the radio in a show called the 'BBC Dancing Club'. The lessons were given by Victor Silvester, a former World Ballroom Dancing Champion, with the music played by the Victor Silvester Dance Orchestra.
After the war, the 'Dancing Club' broadcasts continued, eventually transferring to BBC television. Andé and Walter were one of the professional dancing partnerships who used to demonstrate for Victor Silvester during his 'Dancing Club' broadcasts.
On Sunday 18 December 2005 I had the great pleasure of being able to talk to Andé about ballroom dancing and the BBC “People’s War” project. This article is in addition to a more detailed account of Andé's wartime dancing memories I submitted to the "People's War" website on her behalf in June 2005 (Edited Article Reference ID: A4165166). Before speaking to Andé on this occasion, I referred to some of the notes, books and music I have about dancing to cross check some details about Victor Silvester. Both Andé and myself have read and understood the terms of the "People's War" website.
BBC Dancing Club
As a dancing partnership, Andé and Walter first danced to the music of Victor Silvester and his Dance Orchestra during the war years. They became good friends with Victor, his wife Dorothy, Victor Silvester (Junior), Patti Morgan, Frank and Peggy Spencer and many other professional ballroom dancers and dance band leaders of the 1940s and 1950s.
When World War Two broke out in 1939 a skeleton staff of the BBC Variety Department moved to Bristol. After a short period when dance band broadcasts were stopped, Victor Silvester and other dance bands recommenced broadcasting from Bristol.
The ‘BBC Dancing Club’ began in the spring of 1941, with the intention of bringing some glamour into the lives of wartime listeners to the radio, or the ‘wireless’ as it was often known at that time. These programmes were broadcast from the Paris Cinema, Lower Regent Street, London in front of a studio audience.
From the beginning one of the features of these broadcasts was a short dancing lesson, with the steps dictated slowly by Victor Silvester, followed by a pause so people at home could write the lesson down. It was then discovered that ‘Lord Haw Haw’ (William Joyce) was using these pauses to broadcast German propaganda! The way round this was for Victor to repeat the phrase rather than pause.
With the reintroduction of television broadcasts after the end of World War Two, the ‘BBC Dancing Club’ was one of the shows that transferred from radio to television. The television broadcasts began in 1948, creating a boom in dancing schools throughout the country. In 1953, the show began to be shown from the Carlton Rooms, Maida Vale, London. Patti Morgan was brought in to act as hostess, with whom Andé used to share a changing room.
As well as the professional dancing couples, such as Andé Lyons and Walter Laird, and Frank and Peggy Spencer, some of the top amateur dancers were also invited to take part as general dancers. Through the ‘BBC Dancing Club’, Victor Silvester and his Dance Orchestra played a large part in getting Britain on its dancing feet!
Victor Marlborough Silvester was born on 25 February 1900. This was the date that Mafeking was relieved during the Boer War, and hence why he was given the name ‘Victor’! In the First World War Victor Silvester served in the army between 1914 and 1918, signing up at the age of 14 years and 9 months.
After coming out of the army in 1918, Victor Silvester became a professional dancer. He won the World Ballroom Dancing Championship in 1922 with his then dancing partner Phyllis Clarke, only a few days after getting married to Dorothy Newton. Victor Silvester Junior was born in February 1924.
Between the World Wars, Victor and Dorothy opened a dancing school and Victor wrote one of the most successful ballroom dancing books of all time in 1927: ‘Modern Ballroom Dancing’. In 1935, Victor Silvester and his Ballroom Orchestra was formed and released its first record: ‘You’re Dancing on My Heart’, which became the orchestra’s signature tune. The Victor Silvester Ballroom Orchestra continued performing until the 1990s, with Victor (Junior) taking over from his father in 1971.
In 1958, Victor M. Silvester published his autobiography ‘Dancing is My Life’ (see reference below). I first read this book at the age of about 7, although only a small part deals with events that took place during World War Two. I have recently re-read this biography to cross check some dates and details about Victor Silvester.
After a successful career as a professional ballroom dancer, Andé retired at the age of 35. Andé is now happily retired in Spain with her dear husband Franklin. I would like to thank Andé for assisting me with information about dancing, and especially the photograph that goes with this article.
Walter Laird, Frank Spencer and Peggy Spencer continued their involvement in dancing. Frank and Walter passed away some years ago. Peggy Spencer was awarded an MBE for her services to dancing and was elected President of the ISTD (Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing) in 2004. This is a post that was previously held by Victor Silvester.
This is the title of Victor Silvester’s excellent autobiography:
‘Dancing is My Life’ by Victor Silvester (1958), Wm Heinemann Ltd (London).
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