Here below are some notes written by Vera Binge, extracted from The Ronald Binge Collection, a set of music on two CDs published by Mozart Records, Salzburg, Austria.
I remember Ronnie telling me that his father played the piano, which may have been an early influence on his later life. However, in 1914 his dad joined the British Army and did not return till 1919. He died on Christmas Day, 1920, so his mother was left to bring up Ronnie and his brother and sister on her own.
Musically, Ronnie’s grandmother was also a big influence, partly because she owned a piano! Then, as a boy, he became a chorister at St. Andrews, Derby, and the organist and choirmaster there gave him lessons. Ronnie talked of him as an imaginative and sensitive musician and a first-rate teacher.
His experience resulted in him getting a job as an organist at the local cinema at the age of just 17 and since this was still the age of silent films, the little cinema band had to play everything from symphonies to foxtrots. This presented the opportunity for composing for a real – if small – orchestra, and developed in all the musicians a high degree of sight-reading ability.
Frank criticism from his colleagues forced Ronnie to learn about all the instruments of the orchestra, and the different techniques and styles of the individual musicians made him realise how important it was to study the player as well as the instrument.
His first job away from home was with an orchestra on the pier at Great Yarmouth, where he was persuaded by his fellow musicians to try his luck in London. During the next few years he played with orchestral combinations of wide and varied kinds.
In 1935 his association with Mantovani began, and Ronnie did all the arrangements for his orchestra at that time. When the war came, he and Mantovani were working on an early TV production at Alexandra Palace in London, when word came that Hitler had invaded Poland. British Television broadcasting suddenly ceased in the middle of their preparations.
Ronnie joined the Royal Air Force and became a Link Training instructor. In his spare time he wrote the little piece Spitfire after the famous fighter place of that name. He also began to learn German, and in 1944 I was invigilating a Royal Society of Arts Examination in German when Ronnie appeared as the only entrant. He passed his exam, and we got married a year later! At the end of the war however we were not allowed to enter either Germany or Austria because of military restrictions, but we went to Switzerland where Ronnie practised his German, and wrote Music Box Polka.
He worked hard at this time to earn the money to set up a home, and the orchestration of other people’s music occupied a lot of his time. Ronnie wrote: “I made orchestral arrangements of the piano music of composers in many spheres of music. Not perhaps from Bach to Boogie, but certainly from John Ireland to Noel Coward, both of whom write of their approval of my work.”
He was also asked to create a new orchestra for Mantovani, in which he employed a particularly large proportion of strings in relation to woodwind and brass. In this way Ronnie devised the amazingly successful ‘echo effect’, which became Mantovani’s famous trade mark. He could have gone on writing in this style for many more years, but he wanted to create other kinds of music as well.
So he and Mantovani went their separate ways, and Ronnie began composing on his own behalf. In this period he wrote music for films, including Desperate Moments with Mai Zetterling and Dirk Bogarde, The Runaway Bus with Frankie Howerd, Dance Little Lady with Mai Zetterling and Mandy Miller, Our Girl Friday with Kenneth More and Joan Collins. There were many more.
The BBC commissioned him to write a new work for the Light Music Festival, Thames Rhapsody after which followed other compositions for broadcasting: The Fire God, Trade Winds, The Watermill, and his regular weekly programme String Song. In 1957 he won the Ivor Novello aware for the best light orchestral composition of the year, Elizabethan Serenade. Longer, more serious compositions followed with the Saxophone Concerto, Saturday Symphony and Te Deum.
With all the success he achieved, he never forgot his first learnings from working at the local cinema. He was always deeply interested in working with the musicians who played his music. He often wrote for amateur or local groups – his Cornet Carillon is still played regularly by brass band ensembles everywhere. He wrote pieces for choirs, and had a longstanding connection with the Wimbledon Girls’ Choir under their conductor Malcolm Parker. He even wrote a piece for a primary school orchestra on one occasion. And he loved to travel and conduct his own music with orchestras that were performing or recording his music.
His passion for music continued all his life, and he went on composing through the development of the cancer from which he eventually died. Other passions in his life were conversation with his many friends and colleagues, and as a recreation he used his creative talents in painting and woodwork, many items of which are still being appreciated by his family.
Ronnie died in 1979, but his work continues to be enjoyed in many different countries. A particular favourite in the UK is Sailing By, which has announced the Shipping Forecast on Radio Four since 1973. Twice the BBC considered playing something else, but when they did so, they received so many letters and phone calls that they agreed to leave it in place. In 1995 just a few weeks after trying another piece, Peter Donaldson the Radio 4 Chief Announcer wrote to me: “Good news! Sailing By is coming back!” and it has been in its slot ever since.
In 2000, Mike Carey, a biographer and broadcaster from Derby, wrote and published a biography of Ronnie, which was published in July that year on the same weekend as the City of Derby inaugurated a plaque to his name in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.
When the BBS broadcast A Little Light Music, a BBC-4 TV programme on the 8th October 2005, Sailing By was played at the beginning of the programme and Ronnie’s music was mentioned many times. Many people on the programme talked about the thoughts and ideas that came into their minds when they heard it, and very varied they were too.
Ronnie was a lively and exuberant character who is much missed by me, his children and his grandchildren and we still receive letters from from around the world asking for sheet music or more information about his life.
Vera Binge, 2009