BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

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The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, established in 1935, is a Scottish broadcasting symphony orchestra based in Glasgow. One of five full-time orchestras maintained by the BBC, it is the oldest full-time professional orchestra in Scotland.

Precursor: BBC Scottish Studio Orchestra

The 1929 policy of centralisation vastly reduced the number of programmes being made in Scotland and, with fewer accompaniments, interludes, and incidental music to perform, the 28-member Glasgow station orchestra and the octet in Aberdeen, were merged into a single octet based in Glasgow on 30 September 1929. The new BBC Scottish Studio Orchestra, as it became known, performed mainly in the afternoons when trunk telephone lines were unavailable to relay programmes from London.

A few months later it was moved to the new regional headquarters, Scottish Broadcasting House in Edinburgh, after it opened in 1930.

It consisted of three violins, viola, 'cello, double bass, flute, clarinet and piano, and was directed by Guy Daines. During the early summer months of 1932, these players were augmented in numbers on six occasions for a series of Scottish Philharmonic Symphony Concerts given in the concert studio at Scottish Broadcasting House, under the conductorship of Stewart Deas, Kemlo Stephen, Guy Warrack, Henry Havergal and Ian Whyte.

Before the formation of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, there existed a much-maligned BBC Scottish Studio Orchestra. The criticism it faced was largely on account of it having just eight or nine players. Listeners, perhaps unfairly, expected the S.S.O. to live-up to its description and compared it with other units definitely in the orchestral class. (Alternative descriptions such as 'octet' and 'nonet' were far from satisfactory because they expressed only a number. Musicians had yet to coin a word which could, unequivocally, describe a band of eight or nine players.)

The other problem faced by the S.S.O. was that composers generally did not think it worth their while to write for eight or nine players. They would write for orchestras, quintets and even trios, but not for octets. Subsequently, all the music that the S.S.O. played had to be 'written up' or 'written down' to suit bodies of its size.

In 1935, the members of the S.S.O. were:

  • Andrew Bryson (pianist, accompanist in Edinburgh);
  • John Dickson (leader of the octet and one of Scotland's most distinguished 'cellists);
  • R. I. Boddington (flute);
  • Fred Cole (double bass);
  • John Fairbairn (viola);
  • J. H. Clucas (clarinet);
  • J. M. Beggie (violin);
  • W. McInulty (violin).
  • Guy Daines (left to join the Empire Orchestra in London).[1]

Interim arrangements

David Cleghorn Thomson was convinced that the only way of solving Scotland's orchestral problem was "the establishment of a National Orchestra in which the BBC is joint adventurer with Edinburgh, Glasgow and other interested centres".[2]

By the beginning of the 1930s, the BBC was the world’s largest employer of musicians.

Early in 1932, all the bodies concerned for the future of orchestral music in Scotland were represented at a series of discussions, presided over by (among others) Sir Daniel Stevenson, Lord Glentanar and Mr John Pearson of the Caird Trust, Dundee. The need for some form of Scottish National Orchestra was apparent to all present, but there arose various points of difference regarding the position of the various constituent bodies in the event of a merger. The chief concert-giving organisations represented were the Glasgow Choral and Orchestral Union, the Edinburgh Concert Society, the Reid Symphony Orchestra and the BBC. There were only two main points of disagreement: firstly, the question of the demand for orchestral concerts in the provinces and the feasibility of providing them (which it was contended must be one of the major concerns of any National orchestra committee); and secondly, the technical problems of orchestral auditions and the engagement of one conductor for the whole season.

Difficulty in finding unanimity on these points led, in the first place, to the foundation of a new orchestral organisation, the Scottish Philharmonic Orchestral Society Ltd, established to handle (until the advent of the National Orchestra) the problem of the provincial demand, under a pledge not to compete with the Scottish Orchestra; and, secondly, to the decision of the BBC to take the majority of its orchestral concert relays this season from the Reid Orchestra. This orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra both agreed to the principle of professional auditioning, and all their players have since been tested by Dr Adrian Boult, the BBC's music director. The Philharmonic negotiated a series of visits to places such as Galashiels, Ayr, Inverness, Perth, Kirkcaldy and Kilmarnock, many of which were broadcast. Scots listeners also heard the greater number of the Reid Concerts on Thursdays and Sundays under the conductorship of Professor Tovey.

Two of the concerts which were being organised by the Glasgow Choral and Orchestral Union in the winter of 1932 in Glasgow, were also broadcast. In addition, the BBC was able to co-operate in the scheme whereby this old-established orchestra would visit Dundee, Aberdeen and Greenock.

In all contracts for orchestral broadcasts in Scotland, the BBC continued to stipulate for the inclusion of opportunities for young Scots composers and conductors.[3]

Formation of the BBC Scottish Orchestra

After close consultation with, among others, its own music advisory committee, the Glasgow Choral and Orchestral Union and the Reid Symphony Orchestra, the BBC announced in August 1935 that a permanent broadcast orchestra would be formed in Scotland. It was a long-overdue development. As the editorial in the Glasgow Herald put it:

[O]ur country is the last of the divisional centres of the BBC to be granted this necessary addition to its musical establishment. For some time Birmingham, Manchester and Belfast had orchestras of the size and composition now promised for Scotland, while we were limited to a small group of players who did well within their limitations but were not entitled to be called an orchestra.[4]

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was officially established on 1 December 1935 with 35 (some say 37?) members. It made its first broadcast at 1pm on 3 December when Leader J. Mouland Begbie, conductor Ian Whyte, and violin soloist T. A. Carter played orchestral excerpts by Cyril Scott, Simonetti, Scassola, Montague Phillips, and Saint-Saens, plus a selection of violins solos by Svendsen, Gossec, Elgar and De Falla.

The were concerns about the effect the BBC Scottish Orchestra would have upon the fortunes of the Scottish Orchestra and the Reid Symphony Orchestra, but the Scotsman opined that "it need not have any adverse effect upon the two larger organisations which are already in existence. There should, in fact, be room for all three orchestras, with no element of rivalry or competition introduced, for each has its own distinct mission to fulfil."

The newspaper hailed the fact that the new orchestra would be available for work outside its ordinary routine broadcasting work, providing a distinct boon for the larger choral and operatic societies throughout the country which struggled to put together orchestras of an adequate size for some performances.[5] In response to protests by the Edinburgh and District Trades and Labour Council about the prejudicial effect this might have on local professional musicians, the BBC explained that the contract for the new orchestra had been negotiated with the headquarters of the Musicians' Union in London, to whom certain assurances regarding the use of the orchestra outside the studio were given. Furthermore, it stated: "In no case is it our concern to supply our orchestra to a theatre or similar commercial organisation."[6]

In October 1935 it was announced that Edinburgh-born Guy Warrack had been appointed to the staff of Ian Whyte, music director, and would conduct the Scottish Regional Orchestra.[7] As he was unable to start until 1 January 1936, the Scottish Region's musical director Ian Whyte conducted many of the first concerts, while Kemlo Stephen, his recently-appointed assistant did a lot of the rehearsing.

Auditions for players were held in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London in September 1935. The decision to form the orchestra was made at an unfortunate time because many players had already signed their contracts for the coming season and there was some delay in getting them released.[8]


Consisting of 35 players, the new orchestra would play every form of music and could be sub-divided into smaller bodies as required.

The 16 string players (6 first fiddles, 4 second, 2 violas, 2 'cellos and 2 basses) gave occasional string-music broadcasts and the regular Scottish country dance music performances. The wood-wind section (2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, and 2 of the 4 horns) were called upon to give occasional solo wood-wind broadcasts. However, the 2 trumpets, 4 horns and 3 trombones were not sufficient in number to constitute a brass band. The orchestra could also subdivide into the former Scottish Studio Orchestra (SSO), essentially a small theatre orchestra which accompanied variety performances, plays and feature programmes from the studio. The 20 musicians, with John Dickson in charge, played tunes ranging from The De'il's awa' to O Sole Mio.

Besides broadcast performances, the BBC Scottish Orchestra played on occasion at outside functions. At several broadcasts from cathedrals, the Orchestra and the BBC Singers performed with the choir and organist of the Cathedral.[9]

Yet another function was to replace some of the programmes which the old Scottish Orchestra used to provide. However, in no way was the BBC orchestra intended to be a replacement, if for no other reason that it had only half the number of players as the long-established Scottish Orchestra. Therefore relays of other orchestras would continue to be included in Scottish programmes.[10]


Excluding dance music and contributions to choral concerts, the BBC Scottish Orchestra broadcast approximately 151 hours during 1936. 32 hours were given to British music, 27 hours to German music and 25 to Austrian.[11]

By the end of 1938, conductors and players had given broadcast performances on an average of five times a week for 150 weeks — that is, 750 performances.[12]

The BBC Scottish Orchestra played at the British Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, which was held in Bellahouston Park for six months in 1938. Its numbers were augmented by musicians mainly from Glasgow.[13]

Second World War

In the early weeks of the Second World War, regular contributions from the BBC Scottish Orchestra were one of the few contributions Scotland made to the unified BBC Home Service programme. Throughout the conflict it formed an integral part of the output of the Home Service and Overseas programmes and, by the end of the war, numbered 57 players.[14] The orchestra was usually conducted by Ian Whyte or Guy Warrack.

Initial personnel

  • J. Mouland Begbie, leader;
  • Wm. McInulty, 1st Violin (2);
  • H. Carpenter, 1st Violin (3);
  • W. W. Jupp, 1st Violin (4);
  • Chas. Henke, 1st Violin (5);
  • R. Bell, 1st Violin (6);
  • A. Burke, 2nd Violin (P);
  • W. Ivory, 2nd Violin (2);
  • Miss A. Godfrey, 2nd Violin (3);
  • Miss Esme Heynes, 2nd Violin (4);
  • J. Fairbairn, principal viola;
  • J. Linn, viola;
  • John Dickson, principal 'cello;
  • J. Mclnulty, 'cello;
  • P. G. Cole, principal double bass;
  • A. Beers, double bass;
  • A. Hedges, principal flute;
  • M. Knight, flute and piccolo;
  • J. A. McGillivray, principal oboe;
  • S. Barr, second oboe and Cor Anglais;
  • J. H. Clucas, principal clarinet;
  • G. H. Green, clarinet;
  • G. Holbrooke, principal bassoon;
  • E. F. Worsley, 2nd bassoon;
  • (?) 1st Trumpet;
  • F. C. Davison, 2nd trumpet;
  • J. Crockett, 1st horn;
  • J. Shandley, 2nd horn;
  • N. Forster, 3rd horn;
  • Wm. Bull, 4th horn;
  • (?), 1st trombone;
  • T. C. Miller, 2nd trombone;
  • Robert Smith, bass trombone;
  • Miss Sanchie Pielou, Harp;
  • (?) Timpanist.[15]



  1. 'On Your Wavelength', The Scottish Field, April 1935.
  2. 'The future of broadcasting in Scotland', Radio Number, 7 September 1935.
  3. BBC Year Book 1933, 249–50.
  4. 'An editorial diary: BBC and Scotland', Glasgow Herald, 19 August 1935, 10.
  5. 'BBC Orchestra for Scotland', Scotsman, 19 August 1935.
  6. '"Hiring out" Edinburgh BBC orchestra', Glasgow Herald, 25 September 1935, 15.
  7. 'The BBC Scottish Orchestra: Mr Guy Warrack to be conductor', Glasgow Herald, 12 October 1935.
  8. 'BBC Scottish Orchestra', Glasgow Herald, 1 November 1935.
  9. Scotland on the Air, 61-2.
  10. 'BBC Scots orchestra will be "elastic"', Glasgow Weekly Herald, 14 December 1935.
  11. 'Broadcasting in 1936', Glasgow Herald, 28 December 1936, 10.
  12. Scotland on the Air, 61.
  13. Scotland on the Air, 63.
  14. BBC Handbook 1945, 80.
  15. 'BBC Scots orchestra will be "elastic"', Glasgow Weekly Herald, 14 December 1935.