After a disagreement over outside earnings, Jack Payne left the BBC in 1932 and, with largely the same personnel, he formed Jack Payne and his Band. They appeared in the film, Say It With Music, which was directed by Herbert Wilcox, and they toured the UK and France. The musicians referred to Payne as Maestro, and they were not allowed to speak to him before a show.
He rejected the idea of a female vocalist in his band: he commented, “I am often asked, ‘What do I think about women in bands?’ and the answer is, ‘I don’t.’ The band should be able to entertain without someone only half-dressed or who threw herself about on stage. It is better to refrain from introducing any such novelty.”
Payne also left Columbia. At the time, Columbia was selling his records at three shillings (15p), the same as classical releases. He wanted them cheaper as he felt he would sell more. When Columbia refused to budge, he moved to Imperial. With no loss in technical quality, they sold his records at 1/3d (6p) and Payne became so popular that Imperial replaced their gold crown trademark with his portrait.
You will find a clip on youtube of Jack Payne and his Band performing ‘Tiger Rag’ at the Empire in Paris in 1933. Note the acrobatic dancing of Phil Trix, one of Jack Payne’s regular features. Humphrey Lyttelton said that Louis Armstrong had wanted to join the band for the filming, but he was rebutted by Payne: he was after all a jazzman!
Jack Payne picked on individual musicians at rehearsals and they used to wonder whose turn it would be that week. One week in 1933, the saxophonist ‘Poggy’ Pogson couldn’t do anything right and Jack Payne fired off tirade after tirade. His trumpet player Jack Jackson shouted, “If you don’t lay off him, I am going to bash you over the head with my trumpet.”
Jack Payne spat out, “Jackson, you’re fired.”
Jack Jackson retorted, “You’re too late, Payne, I quit. Come on, Poggy.”
Both Jackson and Pogson stormed out but this could have been deliberate and Payne was being set up. Jackson was planning his own band so maybe he was looking for an excuse to leave. Jackson opened at the Dorchester Hotel on 1 August 1933 with Poggy Pogson in his band.
Payne and Jackson’s feud did not last and in 1961, they co-hosted a TV programme, A Pair Of Jacks, in which they discussed their personal tastes and their guests included Billy Fury. Their views were wildly different as Jackson was much more in keeping with the teenage music of the day but they weren’t at each other throats.
Despite mass unemployment, Jack Payne was earning an astonishing £5,000 a year but in November 1933, the American magazine Metronome accused him of being ‘a racketeer’. Payne received damages and the magazine apologised in court.
The band was doing very well and found lucrative employment (and relatively easy work) by playing short sets three or four times a day in between films at large cinemas.
In 1934 Payne made a deal with Singer over its new Airstream model. This car was ahead of its time with pillar-free doors, a new look radiator grill, leather upholstery and gold paint. Only 100 were manufactured and Payne bought 14 for his band. Okay, he would have obtained a good discount but it’s still impressive. You knew when the band was coming to town as they travelled in convoy!
PART 2. IMPRESARIO
Over the years, I had heard Jack Payne’s records but I hadn’t paid too much attention to them. By and large, he is known for his novelty recordings which show that this austere man did have a sense of humour – and a good one – when he wanted to show it. By and large, it is thought today that his work today is too lightweight to deserve much attention.
Playing some of his old recordings is a rewarding experience and it is the comedy numbers that stand out. Granted ‘What More Can I Ask’ (1933) is a great Ray Noble ballad that Jack Payne did first, but he could have coaxed a better performance out of the vocalist, Billy Scott-Coomber.
Coomber is much better on the daft novelty, ‘My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies’, which is packed with sound effects from the band (astonishing for 1931), and Payne is splendid as the hen-pecked husband in ‘Seven Years With The Wrong Woman’ (1933). Best of all, Jack Payne and Leslie Holmes are hilarious on ‘The Argument Song’ (1933), clearly a subject close to Payne’s heart. In spite of his real life personality, it is the frivolous, novelty numbers that make the Jack Payne band so good.
At the end of 1935, Jack Payne and his Band made a second film, Sunshine Ahead, and the following year made a commercially successful tour of South Africa. Jack Payne was becoming the highest-paid bandleader in the UK. He always spent freely and he realised his boyhood ambition and bought a farm in Berkshire.
Early in 1937 Payne gave the band members two weeks’ notice and said he was going to concentrate on stock breeding. This was only partially true. He wanted to open a theatrical agency, which would take a year to establish.
Doris was his long-suffering wife and Payne joked to his friends when she drew up a list of his worst qualities, starting with his bad temper. Doris drank heavily and on dinner dates, Payne might tell the waiter, “No more for the wife”. He told one interviewer, “Doris sometimes says that I treat her like a man. I can think of no bigger compliment that a man can pay a woman.”
Well, yes, you can see which way this was going.
Jack Payne had been reluctant to allow women into his band, but he made an exception for Peggy Cochrane. She was a soloist, who played both violin and piano, and she was established in her own right as the Tune A Minute girl with her radio series in which she played 15 tunes in 15 minutes.
Payne had met her first at the Holborn Empire where there had been a bad piano. She demanded something better. Payne agreed to pay half the cost of the hire of a new piano. Peggy Cochrane, who was in an unhappy marriage to a doctor, was entranced by him and saw his bullish behaviour as nerves. She resolved to make him happy. Soon they were having an affair but she was not named in his divorce in 1939.
Payne formed a new 20-piece dance band in 1938 and started recording for Decca. In 1939 Payne became the first British bandleader to perform for troops in France, where they accompanied Gracie Fields and played for little more than expenses. He said, “I volunteered to go into France for ENSA and worked for a nominal £10 a week plus expenses. At the end of three weeks, I found that it had cost me £120, plus what I lost through not being able to continue my music hall engagements, but I had given a lot of pleasure to the boys and girls in the Services.”
Peggy frequently worked with the band, famously recording ‘El Alamein Concerto’ with them. They married on the death of Peggy’s husband in July 1940. Following a miscarriage, they adopted a daughter, Anne.
Payne came to an arrangement with the authorities that interned Italians could tend his farmland. When they didn’t work hard enough, he switched to German prisoners of war!
In 1941, Payne returned as leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra and he held the post of five years. During this time, he promoted some new singers, Carole Carr, Lizbeth Webb, John Hanson and David Hughes. Webb’s contract was for ‘ballads and opera’, and many considered that she should have been a full-time opera singer.
The bandleader Roy Fox spent the war years in America which was fair enough as he had been born in Denver. However, when he returned to the UK in 1946, both Jack Payne and Billy Cotton publicly accused him of dodging the war.
After the war, Payne did some conducting but mostly worked for his own agency. He heard Max Bygraves on a BBC programme They’re Out about servicemen leaving the forces and another impresario, Stanley Dale, recommended Frankie Howerd to him. He added his friend, the singer Donald Peers, and sent them on a touring package, For The Fun Of It, which toured for several months.
In 1947, Jack Payne offered Frankie Howerd a guaranteed wage of £40 a week which would increase by £5 each year – reasonable money – but Payne was soon obtaining £150 a week for his services. In 1950, when Howerd starred at the London Palladium for £600 a week, Payne became more generous, but even then he concealed from Howerd that the Palladium was giving him another £300 a week as an arrangement fee. Howerd was being stitched up and subsequently took the matter to court. The judge likened Payne to Shylock and Payne had to pay compensation and costs – a total of £9,000.
This damaged the agency as other performers were reluctant to sign with Payne. He had Bruce Trent and Derek Roy on his books, but many other personalities went elsewhere. He did, however, discover Ruby Murray.
Jack Payne was still spending extravagantly. If he received a bank statement and it was “in the red”, he would immediately throw it away. Peggy did not dare to broach the subject as she feared an explosion. Eventually, the house, the farm and the prize bull had to be sold and they moved to Penshurst, Kent, but their new home continued the financial strain.
Jack Payne’s band was one of the first to appreciate the importance of novelty songs. In 1953, Payne complained to the BBC about Billy Cotton’s dance band, saying that “it was built on exactly the same lines as I gave to the listeners.” He may have had a point but a BBC file note says that he was “disc-jockeying for position”.
That neat pun points the way forward. Jack Payne was about to become a presenter for the BBC.
l-r Cyril Stapleton, Eddie Calvert, Don Lang
and Jack Payne in ‘Off The Record’
PART 3. DISC JOCKEY
In 1954 the bandleader and theatrical agent, Jack Payne thought he would become one of these new-fangled disc-jockeys. He hosted British Bandbox on Sunday lunchtime on the BBC Light Programme. He told listeners that he was playing records from ‘here, there and everywhere’ which sounds like a good title for a song. He didn’t regard it as hard work as he said, “Any half-intelligent creature with experience in show business should be able to run a good record programme.”
A TV show based around the current releases, Leave It To Jackson, with Jack Jackson had hit the buffers when an interview with Winifred Atwell was faked. She was in Australia and was told to answer questions by looking as though she was talking to Jack Jackson. The interview was edited in London with Jack Jackson adding his questions. This was no national scandal but the BBC felt that the public was being duped and dropped the programme.
The BBC was pleased with Jack Payne’s radio programme and he was invited to host a new TV series, the fortnightly Off The Record, from 11 May 1955. This was an innovation: a TV programme which would feature the new releases. It would include live music, arranged and conducted by Stanley Black. The American trade paper, Billboard, called Payne the first TV DJ in the UK.
Although he had been a successful bandleader, Jack Payne was not your typical TV presenter. He was in his fifties, a stocky man with heavy spectacles, thinning hair and granite looks. He was breathing heavily, the result of smoking 60 cigarettes a day.
For each programme, Jack Payne was paid 120 guineas, which was more than most of the performers. Max Bygraves, for example, received 70 guineas. The producer, Francis Essex, had to bring in each programme for less than £950.