Walter J. Ridley

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Respected songwriter and producer worked for several U.K. music publishers and record labels.
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b. Walter J. Ridley, 28 February 1913, London, England. Ridley started piano lessons when he was six years old and was soon demonstrating the pianos his father sold in his furniture store. At nine, Ridley was earning money singing and playing piano at various functions and at 13 won a scholarship to the Northern Polytechnic in London to learn about the manufacture of pianos. Ridley was 15 when he joined the music publishers, Feldman’s, where he demonstrated new songs to stage and radio performers. It was also where he was given lessons in accompaniment by Sophie Tucker’s pianist, Ted Shapiro. It was at Feldman’s that Ridley wrote - with Harry Castling - his first song, ‘The One Little Hair On His Head’, recorded by Gracie Fields. After seven years at Feldman’s, Ridley moved to another music publisher, Peter Maurice, where he was appointed professional manager. His songwriting partners were Michael Carr and Jimmy Kennedy, a collaboration which produced, among others, ‘Dinner For One Please, James’ and ‘Did Your Mother Come From Ireland?’ Ridley was later to write songs with Sammy Cahn and he also wrote ‘In Love For The Very First Time’ with Paddy Roberts for Jeannie Carson to sing in the 1955 movie, An Alligator Named Daisy. While with Peter Maurice, Ridley coached an aspiring young singer called Vera Lynn. He accompanied her on radio and theatre dates, directed the musical content of hugely popular wartime broadcasts, and found one of her biggest recording successes, ‘We’ll Meet Again’. In 1948, Ridley persuaded the BBC to broadcast a radio series live from a theatre: he created the series which starred Donald Peers at London’s Kilburn Empire. He followed this with the concept and creation of a radio series featuring a ventriloquist. This was Educating Archie with Peter Brough and Archie Andrews, which also made household names of Max Bygraves, Tony Hancock and Hattie Jacques. That same year Ridley joined EMI Records with a brief to create a ‘popular’ catalogue for HMV Records. He did this with artists including Joe Loss, George Melachrino, Alma Cogan, Ronnie Hilton, Malcolm Vaughan, Donald Peers (for whom he found ‘Powder Your Face With Sunshine’), the comedy duo Morecambe And Wise (for whom he found ‘Bring Me Sunshine’), Andy Stewart, Joy Strings and, somewhat later, Benny Hill and Iris Williams. Ridley produced a number l hit for Johnny Kidd And The Pirates, ‘Shakin’ All Over’, and in the Mersey Beat era, he produced the Swinging Blue Jeans, who had UK Top 5 hits with ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ and ‘You’re No Good’. Another number 1 was with 1975’s cover version of ‘Whispering Grass’ by actors Windsor Davies and Don Estelle, and he produced a series of bestselling albums based on the BBC Television series, The Black And White Minstrels. Ridley’s original brief when he joined EMI was also to determine which records from America’s RCA - Victor Records label were right for UK release. He was doing that when he introduced a record by a young and unknown singer called Elvis Presley with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. It created friction at EMI at the time. ‘We got the worst reviews we’d ever had for a record, ’ he explains, ‘and the powers-that-be wanted to sack me for releasing it.’