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Tributes to Len Worsley

Tributes to Len Worsley, 29 June 1925 – 15 October 2015.

Portrait of Len Worsley

Tribute to Len Worsley

29 June 1925 – 15 October 2015

Little did we think, as we celebrated Len’s 90th birthday only four months ago, that we would be saying goodbye to him so soon.

But, as our thoughts go out to his devoted wife Margie and his four children, we must also celebrate Len’s considerable achievements.

I first met my friend Len Worsley when I joined the Royal Artillery Band at Woolwich in 1947. For those whose mental arithmetic might be as bad as mine, that was an unbelievable sixty-eight years ago.

Len, as an engineering student, was co-opted into war-work with Gillette. As he was therefore in a ‘reserved’ occupation, his conscription must have been deferred until 1945.

Many keen young musicians facing ‘call up’ wished to join the Woolwich band, with its full symphony orchestra (the oldest in London, even pre-dating the London Symphony Orchestra) and its complement of 120 men, comprising many ensembles and combinations. The authorities at Woolwich soon realised they could dictate terms and refused to accept conscripts. I imagine Len, like the rest of us, signed up for the minimum we could get away with – five years with the colours and seven with the Reserve.

Time and memory play tricks, but Len must have made a deep impression on me for I thought we served together for years. In the event Len won a full scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and bought himself out of the regular Army in 1948.

At the Guildhall, Len studied harmony and counterpoint with Alfred Nieman, chamber music with William Pleeth and violin with Max Rostal, which I think you will agree was a pretty good grounding. I do remember one of Len’s early gods was Jascha Heifetz.

I knew Len as an unswerving vegetarian, pacifist and a support of nuclear disarmament – all quite difficult in the British Army of 1947! He was always on the side of the underdog and against injustice of any kind. He claimed, however, not to be a socialist but an anarchist – but the result was much the same.

I know that managements, such as that of The Royal Opera House, faced with his formidable negotiating skills, regarded him as a red-hot Trotskyite – which amused him no end.

Len’s approach to problems was completely intellectual and reasoned, which to the uninitiated could seem slow. Indeed my wide Gloria, who admired Len enormously, rather mischievously christened him ‘Tortoise.’ But Len, like his namesake in the Aesop fable, got there in the end and invariably with the right conclusion. Whereas we impatient and impulsive types usually got it wrong.

In conclusion, I witnessed Len’s sterling work in the Orchestra Committee, the London Branch Committee, the District Council, the Executive Committee and at the biennial Conferences of the Musicians’ Union. I never knew how he fitted it all in with his teaching and his playing in the Royal Opera House Orchestra, both of which were of the highest standard.

I can only say my friend Len Worsley was a full paid-up member of the human race and one who left the world a whole lot better off for his efforts.

John Bowler

Tribute to Len Worsley

On 30 October 2015

I feel very honoured to have been asked by Margie and the family, to pay my respects to Len, a great friend who I admired tremendously.

I met Len in October 1969 when I joined the ROH Orchestra. As time went on, I got to know Len much better. I felt that I was communicating with a kindred spirit and that our thinking was very much on the same lines. This grew markedly when Len, John Bowler and I, shared the travelling to and from the Opera House for the next four or so years, and we all had the opportunity to share so much about our professional lives - our satisfactions as well our dissatisfactions!

I found the details of Len’s earlier life and career fascinating - his time at Guildhall, then his years with the CBSO, Sadler’s Wells and then ROH. I remember Len being hugely impressed by the conductor, Rudolf Schwarz, which I feel says a great deal about Len’s approach to music, Schwarz being a significant though under-appreciated musician. He was also immensely proud of his time as a student of Max Rostal, one of the violin’s doyens - it also reflects his own considerable talent as a violinist and a teacher. The main impression I received from Len concerning his life as a professional musician, was of total love of, and commitment to, what that life entailed.

I also learnt a great deal about Len’s work on behalf of musicians through his involvement with the Musicians’ Union, which was prodigious. He was liked and respected by his peers and colleagues and worked tirelessly on numerous Committees: the London Branch Committee, the London Regional Committee, the main Executive Committee, as well as the ROH Orchestral Committee – and he attended the biennial MU.Conference.

The MU Bulletins reporting of elections always showed massive majorities in the voting for Len. I also attended meetings at ROH along with Len and the Orchestra Committee with the Gen. Admin. and other management figures - the latter usually finished up with rather distressed demeanours after a couple of hours of negotiating with mainly Len, who used his logical prowess and powers of perseverance to huge effect. It says volumes that Len only stood down from the Executive Committee at the age of 89 and was still on the London Regional Committee at 90!

Len had a world-view that was comprehensively worked-through and which was a fundament of the totality of his life. He was a lifelong socialist and active member of the Labour Party. Although I think he had more than a few problems with some of New Labour’s dealings and was horrified by, for instance, Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, he maintained his commitment to the Party and was determined to place his vote for Jeremy Corbyn!  He was also a committed vegetarian and even had a part in my becoming a vegetarian as well, along with my family.

This was at the time of the destructive floods in Bangladesh in 1972. These tragic events also led to an initiative from the Orchestra of ROH, which Len, John, John Woolf and I were involved in as the Organising Committee. All artists concerned achieved a very successful performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” at St.Paul’s Cathedral, with everyone giving their services and making a substantial amount of money, which went to Bangladesh through Oxfam. As a corollary to this endeavour, the two representatives from Oxfam, who had not known each other before this concert, subsequently got married - so there were at least two positives coming from this project!

Len’s commitment to teaching new generations of musicians was hugely appreciated by pupils and colleagues alike in terms of his integrity and his dedication to the highest standards. He taught at Dulwich College for a few years and at the Pimlico School Special Music Course for many more years. He was also a respected member of the Centre for Young Musicians’ Committee in representing tutors at the time of the demise of the Inner London Education Authority. Many of Len’s pupils have remained in touch with him over the years. He was described as an ‘inspiring and deeply committed teacher’ by the Director, David Murphy.

On a personal level, Len, John and I, and our growing families, enjoyed really wonderful friendships together, which I remember as being characterised by a great deal of fun and laughter. There was also much mutual support and assistance for each other. When Diana, my wife, was pregnant with our first child, she used to spend evenings at the Worsley household enjoying the company of the family - Christopher apparently ran a very interesting antique shop, while Helen and Katherine demonstrated their dancing abilities.

The Worsley family paid a surprise visit to us on the day of our new daughter’s, Rebecca’s, arrival back from the Maternity Unit. We also enjoyed a couple of nights with the family in Bournemouth at Brendan O’Brien’s house in 1973 - Christopher and Katherine took over the care of 23 month-old Rebecca who loved it.

On New’s Year Eve 1997, we had the pleasure of Len & Margie’s company, along with John Bowler, and Ron & Pnina Deadman and members of our family. It was one of the most enjoyable evenings of our lives, characterised as usual by much laughter, ending with going into the garden for a concert given by a nightingale. We enjoyed various other such lovely get-togethers.

Much of the pleasure of such events was directly due to the vitality and humour that Margie excels in, and which was so integral to her relationship with Len. The enjoyment and satisfaction of life which was so evident over the years of their relationship and marriage, was reflected in this vitality. I never thought I would witness Len cycling in the highlands only a few years ago, but Len was always capable of springing a surprise.

In conclusion, I feel I can do no better than quote John Smith of the MU. He described Len as ‘a principled man of high integrity and a firm advocate for the rights of the underdog.’

He was my friend.

Richard Mitchell


Published: 31/10/2015
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