“In the midst of war, music went on”
You in Bristol made the orchestra welcome and they endured with you some of the worst assaults the German Air Force made upon your fine and proud city. But in the midst of war, music went on.
At the beginning of World War II, with the threat of bombing, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Theatre Orchestra were relocated out of London and were stationed in Bristol. During the war the Symphony Orchestra continued to give concerts which were broadcast from Colston Hall on the radio, though the location for the broadcasts remained a secret.
The beginning of the blitz in September 1940, which included the ‘Baedecker Raids’ that involved targets other than London, saw Bristol come increasingly under attack by German bombers. Reliable BBC operations in the area became difficult to maintain, and in 1941 the Orchestras were moved to Bedford.
In 1944, the BBC Symphony Orchestra was able to return to Bristol to give a concert at Colston Hall. Below are images of the programme, with a defiant disclaimer on the front reading:
In the event of an air raid warning being received a notice will be displayed in the auditorium. The concert will continue but those wishing to leave may do so.
The quote at the top of this piece comes from the stirring introduction in the programme by C. B. Rees, in which he goes on to say:
Since those days when Hitler first tore our peaceful days and nights to shreds, much has happened. The BBC Symphony Orchestra has been playing in the studio and in public regularly ever since. Millions who have not seen it have heard it constantly; thousands have seen it also. […]
I can truly say – indeed I am asked to say, on behalf of (conductor) Sir Adrian Boult and the whole Orchestra – that it is heart-warming to be here again, among you, making music and renewing old friendships.
Colston Hall survived the blitz, but shortly before the end of the war on 5 February 1945, burned down for the second time in its history due to a carelessly discarded cigarette. A newspaper headline of “the organ crashing into a sea of flames” and many memories of that fateful night attest to the horrors of the hall’s destruction that was witnessed by many. An entry in the hall diary on February 5th simply states, “Hall destroyed by fire”.
The Hall was rebuilt and reopened for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Top image: Colston Hall’s 1930s/40s auditorium. Below: the aftermath of the 1945 fire.