BEECHAM, Sir Thomas, C.H. (1879-1961)
Plaque erected in 1985 by Greater London Council at 31 Grove End Road, St John's Wood, London, NW8 9NG, City of Westminster
Music and Dance
SIR THOMAS BEECHAM, C.H. 1879-1961 Conductor and Impresario lived here
The conductor and impresario Sir Thomas Beecham founded both the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. He spent much of his life in London and lived for four years at 31 Grove End Road in St John’s Wood.
ORCHESTRAS AND OPERAS
Born in St Helen’s, Lancashire – where his grandfather set up Beecham’s Pills in the 1860s – Beecham made his début as a conductor at the age of 20. During his long and successful career, he trained and conducted three new orchestras: the Beecham Symphony Orchestra (founded 1909) and the London Philharmonic (1932) and Royal Philharmonic (1946). Knighted in 1916, he produced some 120 operas, 60 of them new to the country, and was England’s leading champion of the works of Richard Strauss and Frederick Delius.
He was a formidable personality, famous for his sharp wit. He once described the sound of a harpsichord as like ‘two skeletons copulating on a tin roof’ and observed that while the English may not like music ‘they absolutely love the noise that it makes’. In 1936, he took the London Philharmonic Orchestra to Berlin, where Hitler was in the audience. When he saw Hitler applauding, Beecham remarked to the orchestra, ‘The old bugger seems to like it!’
Beecham led something of a nomadic life, residing in at least five London properties, most in the Regent’s Park and St John’s Wood areas. The original choice for commemoration was 39 Circus Road, his home in 1946–8, but consent for a plaque was refused by the building’s owners. Lady Shirley Beecham – Sir Thomas’s widow – suggested as an alternative 31 Grove End Road, his home from 1950 to 1954.
The house, a handsome villa of about the 1820s, had six rooms plus servants’ quarters, and was filled with the Beechams’ fine furnishings. Sir Thomas lived here with his second wife, the pianist Betty Humby (1908–58), who ‘did what she could to cram a quart into a pint pot’. During his time at number 31, Beecham made a number of gramophone records at the nearby Abbey Road Studios. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1957 and died in 1961 at the age of 81.