Bill McGuffie

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Highly accomplished English pianist, composer and arranger who shined from the 1930s through to the '80s.
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b. 11 December 1927, Carmyle, near Glasgow, Scotland, d. 22 March 1987, Chertsey, Surrey, England. A highly accomplished pianist, composer and arranger in the UK from the 40s through to the 80s. Although the third finger of his right hand was amputated following a playtime accident as a child, McGuffie persevered with his music studies, and at the age of 11 was awarded the Victoria Medal for his piano proficiency by the Victoria College, Glasgow. A year later he made his first broadcast on Childrens’ Hour, and at the age of 14 was playing regularly with the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra. For a while he studied to be a naval architect, before moving to Ayr to join the Miff Hobson Orchestra. Early in 1944, he moved to London and played with Teddy Foster at the Lyceum, and then spent four years with Joe Loss, before joining Maurice Winnick and Sidney Lipton. He also led his own ensemble at the Mayfair Club, but really came to prominence during a three-year spell as a featured soloist with Cyril Stapleton’s BBC Showband in the early 50s. When the band was taken off the air, McGuffie joined Kenny Baker’s Dozen, and then, in the early 60s, played with the orchestra of Robert Farnon, who, together with composer Philip Green, was one of McGuffie’s main influences, particularly in the area of film music. Widening his field into composing and arranging, he is said to have worked on over 50 movies, including The Boys (1961), The Leatherboys (1963), The Asphyx (1972) and The Small Miracle (1973). He also assisted Farnon on many projects, such as Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955) and the final ‘Road’ film, Road To Hong Kong, in which Frank Sinatra joined the regular team of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. In the early 70s he played with Benny Goodman’s British Band and American Sextet on their European tours, but a stroke in 1974 laid him low for a while. When he recovered, McGuiffie continued to work regularly until 1983, and the onset of cancer, from which he died four years later. During his wide-ranging career, he played jazz, both sweet and swinging, show music and concertos for films. He recorded as a solo pianist, and fronted a variety of ensembles including the Bill McGuffie Big Band, Trio, and Quintet. He broadcast regularly with his own show, and contributed to programmes such as Breakfast (And Bedtime) With Braden, Round The Horne, King Of The Keyboard, Piano Playtime and Week Ending. His compositions included ‘Dear Dave’, ‘Up On the Hill’, ‘Gentle Gataa’, ‘It Zoot Sims’ and ‘Sweet September’, for which he won an Ivor Novello Award in 1963. In 1980, the British Academy of Composers Songwriters and Authors awarded him its Gold Badge of Merit. He was also a founder member of the Niner Club, so called because of his missing finger. The organization raises substantial sums of money for autistic children.