- Sidney Torch
Born Sidney Torchinsky of Russian parents, Torch learned the rudiments of music very quickly from his father, an orchestral trombonist. He worked as an accompanist before getting a job playing the
Pianowith the Orchestra of the Regal Cinema, Marble Arch, London. When the Cinema's Christie Theatre Organ was installed in 1928, Torch became the Assistant Organist to the Chief Organist, Quentin Maclean. Torch took over as Chief Organist at the Cinema in 1932 when Maclean left to become Chief Organist of the Trocadero Cinema, Elephant and Castle. Torch's tenure at the Regal lasted until 1934.
Torch then played the organ in a number of London Cinemas an in 1937 he became the Chief Organist of the new Gaumont State Cinema, Kilburn. He continued to play the
Wurlitzerthere up until 1940, when he was drafted into the RAFand stationed near Blackpool. Torch would play and make recordings on the numerous Cinema Organs in the Blackpool area, during his spare time. While in the RAF, Torch became the Conductor of the RAF Concert Orchestra, where he learned to arrange music and to conduct.
Mysteriously, Torch refused to continue playing the organ professionally after the war, despite the fact that he was a popular and well-liked organist and one of the most talented in Britain. Instead he turned his attention to conducting, arranging and composing full-time. He conducted many orchestras and bands, particularly those of the
BBC. Torch was even the man who created the popular BBC Light Programmeshow " Friday Night is Music Night", which started in 1953 and continues to be broadcast to this day. Torch also conducted the BBC Concert Orchestrafor nearly every "Friday Night" show until his retirement.
Torch also composed many pieces for the BBC, particularly the theme tunes for
radioand televisionshows. The themes from the radio show "Much Binding In The Marsh" is an example of this. Torch also composed independently, mostly pieces of light music. The piece "On A Spring Note" is considered to be one of Torch's best works and is still regularly played and recorded by Modern Cinema Organists.
Torch retired from full-time conducting with the BBC in 1972 and was appointed an MBE in 1985. Even though he gave interviews he would never talk about his days as a Cinema Organist and would dismiss attempts to get him to recall his great moments in light music. Torch also had very little time for bad performers in his orchestra and always expected a perfect performance and immaculate dress from them. However, Torch was remembered by all in the orchestras he conducted as a kind and thoughtful man, who would even be willing to give financial assistance to struggling musicians, and as a truly great and respected musician and conductor.
Torch made a huge number of recordings during his lifetime. Many of Torch's Cinema Organ recordings have been rereleased on CD and can therefore still be bought today. Torch's organ recordings are regarded as some of the best ever made and are an excellent example of cinema organ-playing. Many organists around the world claim that they have been influenced by these recordings and Torch's 'snappy' organ playing style, including the American organist George Wright. CDs are also available of the records made by Torch and the BBC Concert Orchestra. This orchestra and many others continue to record and perform Torch's compositions.
Torch died at his
Eastbourne, Sussexhome on 16 July 1990at the age of 82, having survived his wife Elizabeth Tyson (a former BBC producer), who died six months earlier. Sidney Torch's music is remembered by the many admirers of the cinema organ and light music and " Friday Night is Music Night" is still regarded by many as 'his' programme, and his own compositions and arrangements are still regularly performed by 'his' BBC Concert Orchestra.
* [http://www.rfsoc.org.uk/storch.shtml Detailed biography at the Robert Farnon Society]
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