Blue Plaques

COATES, Eric (1886-1957)

Plaque erected in 2013 by English Heritage at Chiltern Court, Baker Street, London, NW1 5SG, City of Westminster

All images © English Heritage




Music and Dance


ERIC COATES 1886-1957 Composer lived here in Flat 176 1930-1939




The plaque us on the north-west entrance of Chiltern Court, at the north end of Baker Street, opposite Melcombe Street.

One of the best

Eric Coates (1886-1957 created some of the best-known and loved pieces of English light orchestral music, including 'By the Sleepy Lagoon' (1930), which is still used as the theme music for Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.  He is said to have needed the right atmosphere to produce his work - his son Austin recalls how his father 'couldn't settle down to write music until he was properly dressed in the morning, complete with tie and Harris Tweed coat - and, perhaps, a Turkish cigarette'. 

Eric Coates' blue plaque was unveled by English Heritage in October 2013 at Chiltern Court, Baker Street


Eric Coates was surrounded by music from an early age and despite his father's efforts to steer him into a career of banking, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music to study the viola under Lionel Tertis and composition under Frederick Corder.

After graduating he combined playing in orchestras with composition. His Four Old English Songs were performed at the Proms in 1909, and two years later he conducted the première of his Miniature Suite in the Royal Albert Hall. Despite being an accomplished orchestral player, Coates was dismissed from Sir Henry Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra in 1919 for over-using understudies. His ready sense of humour and reported tendency to fall asleep during afternoon concerts may have been further sources of dissatisfaction. In any case, neuritis in his left hand had made playing the viola painful, and so he was spurred exclusively into composition and conducting. He was always generous to the oft-underused viola in his arrangements.

He was one of the first composers to understand the possibilities of recording media and gained much of his income from performance and broadcast royalties; he was an early member (and later a director) of the Performing Right [sic] Society (PRS).

Many of his compositions have been used as radio theme tunes: when the 'Knightsbridge March' (1932) first introduced the BBC's long-running In Town Tonight, it brought 20,000 requests for the name and composer of the piece. 'By the Sleepy Lagoon' (1930) is still used as the theme music for Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. The popularity of these pieces - especially 'Knightsbridge' - saw Coates overtake Albert Ketèlbey to become Britain's highest earning composer during the 1930s.

Coates worked unabated during the Second World War and the suites Four Centuries (1942) and The Three Elizabeths (1944) were among highlights. When the war was over, he composed the 'Television March' (1946), to celebrate the resumption of BBC transmissions. He also travelled to the Americas on PRS work and discovered a love for New York.  Coates and his wife Phyllis (known as Phyl) were keen dancers, being among the first to do the 'Charleston'; the Kit Kat club was among their favourite London haunts.

A creative hiatus - perhaps caused partly by Coates giving up smoking on medical advice - came to an end in the early 1950s, and in 1954 he wrote 'The Dam Busters March' (1954).  This was his first substantial foray into film scoring and it was a happy accident - when the commission arrived, he had just completed a suitable march.

Love of London

Eric and Phyl Coates lived from 1930 to 1939 in a top-floor flat at Chiltern Court, with a view over Regent's Park that was, he recalled, 'lovely in all seasons'. Shortly after moving in, he lost his residual homesickness for Nottinghamshire. 'When one day I went up on to the flat roof and saw the vast expanse of the great city spread around me I realised I had found a new home', he recalled, describing the flat as 'delightful', if 'perhaps a little on the small side'. To write music, Coates observed, 'it is essential that I am high up, away from the ground', adding that his ideal would be 'to live either in a balloon suspended a thousand feet above Regent's Park, or in my own private lighthouse on a rock two hundred feet above a semi-tropical sea'. The flat at Chiltern Court came close to this ideal; 'By the Sleepy Lagoon' and the 'Knightsbridge March' were among the pieces composed during the time he lived there. The Coates's subsequent home - also on the top floor - was in Berkeley Court, just over the road.

Coates reportedly needed the right atmosphere to produce work - his son Austin recalled how his father 'couldn't settle down to write music until he was properly dressed in the morning, complete with tie and Harris Tweed coat - and, perhaps, a Turkish cigarette'.

Uncrowned King of Light Music

He was based in London for most of his life, though he also had a succession of retreats on the Sussex coast. On 17 December 1957 he suffered a stroke at his home in Bognor Regis and died four days later at the Royal West Sussex Hospital in Chichester.

Described on his death as 'the uncrowned king of light music', Coates enjoyed the regard of some distinguished peers, including Elgar and Ethel Smyth. Smyth memorably greeted him on their first encounter with the query: 'You're the man who writes tunes?' 

For a time after his death his work was somewhat out of favour but a reappraisal came in the wake of his centenary in 1986 and the publication of a biography.  His Three Elizabeths Suite and 'Sound and Vision' march also featured at the Proms of that year.

Commemorated at Chiltern Court, Baker Street

Eric Coates was commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at Chiltern Court in Baker Street - his home during the 1930s in October 2013. The plaque was unveiled by conductor, arranger and musicologist, John Wilson in a ceremony that included Michael Payne, author of The Life and Music of Eric Coates (2013) and Francis Freeman, Coates's nephew.

"Though born and bred in Nottinghamshire, there can be few composers who boast such a strong connection with London as Eric Coates.  His adoptive city provided direct inspiration for some of his most celebrated works including the famous London Suite which was composed at Chiltern Court.  The view from Coates' flat on the top floor took in all of central London and was to be a life-long stimulus for the composer whose superbly-crafted music gave pleasure to millions of listeners the world over," said John Wilson.

Howard Spencer, Blue Plaques historian, said: "Eric Coates's first biographer has written perceptively of his music representing 'a desire to escape the grim realities of life after the Great War and the Depression'. Period pieces they may be, but his best work remains extremely popular and highly regarded."

Nearby Blue Plaques

Nearby Blue Plaques