By Del Kempster
It was with great sadness that, last October, we learned of the death of Son of the Desert and talented musician Ronnie Hazlehurst. On February 12th last, there was a special event to celebrate his life and work. When I received the invitation to attend this event I was delighted, especially when I found out that your own Grand Sheik Rob Lewis and Chris Coffey from St. Helen's in Lancashire would be there with me to represent the Sons of the Desert and to enjoy the show. Also in the audience were many recognisable faces that we know from the world of show business and the BBC in particular.
The entire Ronnie Hazlehurst Orchestra conducted by Chris Dean began the proceedings playing "The Two Ronnies" theme. James Moir, former head of BBC Light Entertainment, who gave the introduction, reminded us that it was Ronnie Barker who gave the opinion that such was Ronnie Hazlehurst's contribution to the success of the show that it could easily have been named "The Three Ronnies." Creating the title music to some of the BBC's best-loved sit-coms and game shows was just part of his C.V. "Are You Being Served?", "Blankety Blank", "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em" and "To The Manor Born" were just a few of those for which Ronnie Hazlehurst either composed or arranged.
He was BBC Light Entertainment Musical Director, a musical director for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, 1977 and 1981 and conducted the British entry on seven occasions. In 1977 he famously conducted Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran's "Rock Bottom" with a rolled-up umbrella instead of a baton.He did so much more, but if I attempted to list all of Ronnie's credits it would take up too much space. Despite all this, he was always a very modest and down-to-earth man. He was a very friendly guy with a great sense of humour. This was emphasised by those who got up and said a few words about Ronnie. These included Sir Terry Wogan, Val Doonican and Cilla Black.
Of course, it as a Son of the Desert that we will always fondly remember him. Ronnie attended our international conventions in 1980, 1990 and 1992, the year that he and his band entertained at a concert for the conventioneers at the "Wet 'n Wild Water Park" in Las Vegas. He had brought over one professional musician from England with him and hired the rest of the band from local freelance musicians. He and his whole orchestra played for us again at Leeds Castle in 1991 for a great night to remember. And in 2001 he again rounded up the old gang of his musician pals to entertain Sons of the Desert with a full two hour concert at the Laurel & HarDay in Wigan.
When Ronnie was doing the Generation Game in the late 1970s, they had a spot where an expert came in, demonstrated a skill, like cake decorating for instance and then the contestant had to do the same thing but in a much shorter time, so Ronnie thought the L&H music would be ideal for the "hurry up" music as he called it. He originally did not know the names of the songs, but just called them Laurel and Hardy 1, 2, 3 etc. One man who also knew the tunes was the warm-up man and announcer for the show; it was Tony Hawes. The two had been great friends long before they worked on that show. Tony was a member of Helpmates and talked about attending the Hollywood 80 International Convention. As well as Ronnie, the main front man Larry Grayson and his assistant on the show Isla St Clair also attended the convention along with Rob Lewis, Peter Elkins and many other Helpmates. Ronnie recorded his first music album of his orchestra playing some of the best known tunes from Laurel & Hardy films entitled "Laurel and Hardy's Music Box Vol. 1" (on old fashioned vinyl). The very first disc to be pressed was presented to Sam, Stan Laurel's great grandson, at Leeds Castle during the Helpmates meeting there.
These two photographs of Ronnie were taken during the recording of 'Laurel and Hardy's Music Box' Vol. 1.
During a visit to Britain Tony and Lois Laurel Hawes paid a visit to the studio where they were making an episode of 'The Last of the Summer Wine', at Ronnie's invitation of course. A small part was written for them. In the scene, Nora Batty was showing off her new hat to Ivy in the café when in walked Lois and Tony. Both ladies were wearing identical hats and glared at each other in disgust. Naturally, this little scene was accompanied by the "Cuckoo Song".
As well as being a Helpmate, Ronnie was a member of The Live Ghost tent of London. Although he moved to the island of Guernsey ten years ago, he always kept his memberships up to date. He will never be forgotten because his music for those comedy series will be repeated time and time again and his music will be a great memorial to him, but I will always remember him as a friend and a great Son of the Desert.
By Del Kempster
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