GREEN PLAQUE FOR QUEEN'S HALL 13 July 2000 (LF)
London, Thursday 13 July, on the street outside Henry Wood House, in Upper Regent Street. Nearby is Broadcasting House; it is just after noon; grey sky, trying to rain but barely succeeding. Among the crowd gradually gathering on the pavement can be seen three successive BBC Directors of Music (Robert Ponsonby; Nicholas Kenyon, and Roger Wright). The violinist Hugh Bean clasps his violin and he is joined by violinist Emily Francis, at 26 the youngest current member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. BBC Press Assistants weave through the crowd talking to visitors. All are assembled to mark the unveiling of a Westminster City Council Green Commemorative Plaque, sponsored by the BBC, to mark the site of the former Queen's Hall, opened in 1893 and destroyed by the Luftwaffe on the night of Saturday 10 May 1941.
The Queen's Hall was home of the Proms from the inception of the world famous concert series in 1895, the ruins finally demolished in the early 1950s. After the War, Chappells, the former lessees, continued to pay the rent as they intended to re-erect the hall, and in June 1951 Hugh Gaitskell, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the Government had decided that Queen's Hall should be rebuilt. But like many such commitments, it was eventually referred to a government committee and the resulting 'Robbins Report' published in 1955 (Cmd 9467) recommended abandoning the Queen's Hall scheme, eventually resulting in the faceless sixties BBC office block, and the St George's Hotel, which we see on the site today. During the ceremony someone remarked that there are those who would like to demolish the offices and rebuild the hall - 'it cannot be done, the car parking places are too valuable' responded one wit - 'I have 350 staff in there' added another.
In introducing the brief ceremony, Councillor Angela Hooper pointed out that this is the 49th green plaque installed by Westminster City Council, reminding all of key historical sites throughout the capital. A brass group from Trinity College of Music played Sir Arthur Bliss's Salute to Painting, unfamiliar I suspect to most present, and the Principal of the Trinity College of Music, Gavin Henderson, in a brief speech underlined Trinity College's involvement with Queen's Hall, producing an early twentieth century programme for a Royal Philharmonic Society concert where Trinity College could be seen as the only institutional guarantor of those concerts at Queen's Hall. Sir Andrew Davis, the outgoing longstanding Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in white tuxedo and carrying his baton joined Hugh Bean as both responded to a photo opportunity at the plaque. Hugh Bean humorously pretended to be busking and various members of the gathering throwing down coins.
This was a long-overdue commemoration, and all should thank the prime movers of the initiative, Gavin Henderson, Martin Anderson, Philip Fowke and Gillian Dawson, and to the sympathetic response of the BBC and Westminster City Council. Nicholas Kenyon, the Director of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts and former Director of Music at the BBC remarked that it is 'important that people know as they walk down this street that Queen's Hall, the home of the Proms for 45 years stood on this site'. All murmured their agreement.
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