A BLACK COUNTRY TENOR.
The associated website--“Black Country Bookmakers”-- recalls the rather colourful story of the
progression from Chainmakers to Bookmakers of the Sidaway family from Cradley Heath, from the 1920’s
through to the 1970’s
My Dad, Albert Thomas Sidaway (Tom Sidaway) was the eldest of the brothers that ran the betting shops
in Cradley Heath and Reddal Hill until his death in 1977
There was however another “string to my Dad’s bow” and this was bought sharply into focus by the
discovery of a 1930 letter from the BBC
The letter was addressed to a Miss Pugh who was a sort of “talent spotter” for the BBC
Her Father was himself a well-known tenor in the early 1900’s
Many readers will be aware of the poverty that existed during the global economic meltdown in the 1930’s
and the following should serve to remind them and also to draw a comparison with the recessions of more
My parents married on April 19th 1930 at the height of the worldwide recession when Dad,
a chainsmith, was “on the dole” together with millions of others.
Mom quickly became pregnant, she carried on working—dipping tin baths in the galvanising vats
at Ernest Stevens, Cradley Heath---almost until I was born in February the following year and Dad
would often walk the fourteen miles to Longbridge and back to try to find work at “The Austin”
In a very bad week Mom’s wedding ring would be pawned on Monday and redeemed on Friday,
dole payment day
Apparently however we were much better off than most with Dad supplementing his income with
singing engagements and with some help from his Dad they were able to move into their own house
This was on the banks of Mouse Sweet Brook (a tributary of the River Stour) and I’m told that
one day at the age of two I somehow slipped out of the house and wandered down to the brook.
I was found sitting in it up to my neck!
Pictured at the bottom of Granny Shaw’s garden and on their honeymoon at Blackpool in April 1930
As a child Dad had a remarkable singing voice, a powerful well modulated voice, and not a “boy soprano” type
voice so that when his voice “broke” he developed naturally into an adult singer
His range was remarkable, from rich baritone to tenor—top C was sung effortlessly
His Dad—Sandy Sidaway—somehow found the money for singing lessons and in the 1920’s, singing teachers
were few and far between so that Dad had to travel to the end of the Hagley Road close to Brum, a long way
in those days,
The singing teacher was a Mr Blurton, he was well known in Midland music circles and was also organist
at Halesowen Parish Church
Dad’s reputation as a singer was spreading even though the profession was remarkably snobbish in those days,
and later in the year he was auditioned by the BBC at the relatively tender age of twenty-three
Following the audition, he was contracted to sing two songs for a fee of three guineas, a small fortune in
On the day, he was stony broke and had to borrow the tram fare to town for Mom and himself but, later, he
planned to celebrate at Yates Wine Lodge with his three guineas fee
He had to arrive several hours before the broadcast and with the relatively basic audio equipment available
in those days, coupled with his very powerful voice, he spent a long time in front of the microphones as the
engineers tried to get it right.
The mikes finished up several feet away from him
With that ordeal and some nerves, he claimed that he wasn’t at his best but Mom always said he sang well
as did most of the population of Cradley Heath—no competition from TV in those days!
To his dismay, the fee was paid by cheque!
He’d never even seen a cheque in his life let alone had one but off he went and handed it in at the large and
salubrious branch of Barclays and asked for the cash!
He might as well have asked for the moon!
“Do you have an account with us Mr Sidaway?”
No! Then sorry we can’t cash it!
“Do you have evidence of your identity Mr Sidaway—a business card, a driving licence?
He took a step back and sang the opening verse to Mom’s favourite song, a song that I’d heard him sing many
times, the words go;
You are my hearts delight
And where you are I long to be
You make my darkness bright
And like a star you shine on me
They gave him the money!
The address, at Silverthorne Lane meant that it must have been printed later than 1937.
Before that we lived at Plant Street in Old Hill
I was six when we moved from Plant Street and the house there reflected the improvement in the family fortunes,
It had a lounge (front room) as well as a living room and kitchen and a very imposing staircase and landing
My lasting memories of Plant Street are gazing in awe at Dad dressed in his evening suit as he prepared for
one of his singing engagements and the day my brother was born in 1936
My Brother Derrick, a National Service Infantryman pictured in 1957, aged 21.
Shortly before he had broken a British weightlifting record
He died tragically in 1969, aged 33 years
Subsequently Dad was engaged as lead tenor in operas at Birmingham Town Hall—I don’t know the name of the
operas but he had to have sword fighting lessons for one lead—in spite of this, he said that he was more at home
wielding a chainmakers 2lb lump hammer than a rapier
Following on, he was offered the job of lead tenor at Ripon Cathedral at the princely salary (not wage) of £250/year.
He would only have had to work for three days a week with a guarantee of concert work
Dad would have accepted the post but Mom said no
With nine siblings, she was very much a family person and Ripon must have seemed a long way away however,
I have the feeling that she was apprehensive about how she would fit into the very middle class background
of one of the County’s leading Cathedrals
So he turned down the offer!
However, his singing engagements grew and he became extremely well known in the area.
Then along came the War, this effectively put an end to his professional singing career and then, after the War,
his other love—bookmaking—slowly got the upper hand
Mom with Dad in his Crombie overcoat, in later and more affluent times
As a child and youth I was privileged to hear my Dad sing on numerous occasions.
The earlier parts of the story are anecdotal and are pieced together from conversations with my Parents
and other members of the Sidaway family and family friends
Dad never had formal piano lessons although he could read music and we always had a piano in the house.
He was however self taught to the point where he could accompany himself by playing chords and my lasting
memory is of him accompanying himself with the “flattened” index finger of his right hand moving up and
down the keys.(see Black Country Bookmakers)