Music while you work…


This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Do you listen to music while you write, or edit, or create, or do housework… or do whatever? 

Music While You Work  was once the title of a British radio programme (BBC) which broadcast twice a day when I was growing up. Whether I was at my own house, or staying with my Nana (I’ve written about her on this blog already), it was tuned in to regularly because it played continuous music for a half hour. The music was light and easy listening, nothing that was distracting, and if I was at Nana’s it never interfered with my concentration when playing card games, dominoes or cribbage with my Grampa. My memory tends to be a bit limited these days so I Googled Music While You Work   to jog my memory even more.

What I didn’t realise back then in the 1950s was that the programme,  Music While You Work, started in 1940 and it was broadcast till 1967. The music was deliberately chosen to be non-stop light listening with a fairly even tempo, cunningly devised to improve the productivity of factory workers. It was generally live orchestras, dance bands, brass and military bands which provided the music. Wikipedia states that: “strict rules were applied: predominantly familiar pieces, nothing lethargic, consistent volume, avoidance of overloud drumming (which could sound like gunfire), and generally cheerful programmes to which workers could whistle or sing.” Some might call that a type of government propaganda of the era… and they might be right!

And that brings me to Friday Night is Music Night… This was another programme we regularly listened to and is probably the reason that I love classical music, opera, operetta and what I’d call classical musicals. Started in 1953, this show is amazingly still running and is said to be the World’s longest running live orchestral music programme. The BBC Concert Orchestra provides most of the music but the draw of the programme is that the playlist is never broadcast in advance of airing – in this way it keeps loyal followers listening in to find out what’s going to feature. Surprise guest artistes also appear, to accompany the orchestra. It’s broadcast live from many theatres and concert halls throughout the UK, although regularly from the Mermaid Theatre in London, the Watford Colosseum or the Hackney Empire. Sometimes previous shows are repeated later in the year when the orchestra is on tour and therefore isn’t a live broadcast.

On Saturday my Nana would trawl through her old shellac 78s (rpm) collection, and her recently bought vinyl ones, to find a copy of what had been featured that previous Friday night. If she had the music then it went a few more rounds on the radiogram (vintage radio and record player combined, in a walnut cabinet) on the Saturday night before the usual Saturday broadcasts. Her collection was added to by copies from my Uncle Eddie who regularly bought new copies of his classical and musicals if his own got a bit scratched.

DSCN0546I still have some of their records in boxes in one of my cupboards. I’ve no idea what I’ll do with our collection of old shellac 78s and vinyls, EPs and Singles; even some early tapes for original type tape recorders,  but I can’t bear to throw them away.



The whole compilation of a half dozen large boxes is fairly eclectic because it also includes my dad’s Scottish music and some of his Country and Western like Johnny Cash. There’s my own classical, folk music, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and other 1960s pop. Though a lot of the collection is British artistes there are also US ones.


There’s my husband’s large Jazz collection- Traditional and Experimental and his classical which wasn’t the same as mine. He loved The Shadows and Buddy Holly ….

The Rolling Stones and early hard rock are in there.

And that reminds me of an extra little story about those album covers.

Somewhere around 2005, as a teacher of 11-12 year olds, I was asked to add a new historical topic to the annual study programme. Normally I’d be teaching The Victorian Era, or World War 2 but I was (GULP) asked to teach the 1960s /1970s. “What?” I screeched to my headteacher. “That’s my life!” Yes- by then it was what I’d lived through and didn’t seem like history to me but it certainly was to that current crop of 11 year olds. As part of the studies of Artwork of the period, I dug out my album covers since they are actually quite iconic art of the time. I took a bundle (30) in of very mixed music types and asked the kids to evaluate them (back and front)  for specific targets like: visual impact, colour; image portrayal; info given on artistes and recording studios etc; pointers to genre…and so on.

Sticky Fingers
Rolling Stones- Sticky Fingers

The cover which garnered the most interest was one of The rolling stones and not the above one. It was the one seen here called Sticky Fingers. 

I’m not sure if anyone reading this post will recognise this album but the cardboard sleeve comes with an actual metal Zipper that can be pulled down. Yes- it was deliberately suggestive back in 1971! Now was their interest a surprise given the age of the kids I was teaching? Not really when some had hormones screeching ‘let me out’. But when questioned they were actually more fascinated by the fact that we wore jeans in 1971!

Probably the most ancient of my collection were 78s of early Disney movies like the original sound track from ‘Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs’. There used to even be a ‘one-sided shellac’ recording (I think) of Al Jolson but, sadly, I’ve a niggly feeling that got cracked when my kids were little. I’ve unearthed one of the boxes but sadly can’t find the earliest recorded ones. Maybe they’re in another of the boxes? That’s my hope but I’ve no more time to rake around.

DSCN0552As this blog post airs it’s the Memorial Weekend holiday in the US and what follows might be of interest to the US readers of this blog.

I also have old shellac records of Gracie Fields, who was a Forces Sweetheart during WW2. One of these was recorded on of her tours of the ‘Troops in France’  the specific place unable to be named. This was somewhere that Allied troops were stationed but was so ‘war sensitive’ that her whereabouts couldn’t be divulged. There’s another ‘Our Gracie with the Navy’.It’s written that she toured endlessly to keep up the morale of the troops and for those war efforts she was honoured by the queen  and became ‘Dame Gracie Fields’

There’s probably an even more appropriate one for Memorial Weekend by Deanna Durbin named ‘Thank You, America’.DSCN0550

I checked Youtube to see if I could hear what it was like because I couldn’t remember it, and to my surprise here’s the very same recording.




Loads of the vinyl albums are 1950s and early 1960s musicals-South Pacific; Oklahoma; Sound of Music- and some of other motion picture scores like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

There’s also some operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. My absolute favourite of G&S is The Pirates of Penzance but I love seeing productions of pretty well all of G&S work because the original performances were so satirical of British politics of the time. (And that’s a hot potato just now… but this blog isn’t the place to air my own politics!)

However… the G &S operetta is a great medium for contemporary productions to update the lyrics and they do that so well with particular British gusto! 


G&S mikadoAs this post goes live I’m off to His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, Scotland, to see a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado claimed to be their most famous work worldwide – Though I’m not sure how well known it is in the US today. (The HMT theatre was opened in 1906 so it was during the reign of Edward VII and therefore HIS Majesty’s)

I love the ’tongue in cheek’ stuff as the singers do excellently clever refrains. Considering it first had an airing in 1885, it’s a production that’s been round the block a time or two! This is my birthday treat from both of my daughters who are accompanying my OH and me for a meal and afterwards the theatre. (My birthday was the ides of March but they knew I’d enjoy the G&S comic opera even if I had to wait a couple of months)

I have no idea of what might be ‘On that little List’ in the Mikado tonight but it’s sure to have a touch of current political leaders like David Cameron, and potential US ones like Donald Trump and maybe even Hillary Clinton. And since it’s being produced in our provincial theatre it’ll probably have some local political references as well.

Will I get any inspiration for my writing from this event? Probably not but I always come away from these operettas with a lightened heart so who knows….

Does any of the above music ring a bell for you?

Whatever you’re doing this Memorial Weekend- enjoy!

p.s My fun Contemporary Romantic Mystery – Take Me Now– based in Scotland, but featuring whirlwind worldwide travel, might still be at a reduced price on Amazon since it was a featured book on the Crooked Cat Books Facebook page during the week 20-27th May.

Nancy Jardine – histories and mysteries

CFS End Sept 2015


Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures



3 mysteries

Contemporary Romantic Mysteries



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20 thoughts on “Music while you work…

    1. Hi,Abbie. I liked a range of music back then but now I probably enjoy an even greater amount of types- almost everything though really contemporary music doesn’t appeal unless it’s got good melody and lyrics.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My grandfather loved big band music, so I grew up hearing those great tunes. As a child actor/musician I did many a show tune, I think if we look at it, most of us have music that is the background to our lives. Great post. Doris


    1. What would life be like without at least some music, Doris? I dread to think! The Jazz Club I regularly go to with OH struggles a bit with encouraging the regular audience to branch out a bit from the ‘ Big Band’ sound – that’s definitely their favourite and I have to say I love it, too, though it can sometimes become predictable after 25 years of Club visiting! The musicians, however, are world class so that makes it worthwhile going.


  2. Love this post, Nancy. I’ve always been a big music buff, of course, and my dad had his mother’s collection of records and her Victrola. Even as a kid I loved that music. Sharing all your information with the children must have been fun!


    1. It was fun, Linda, but also weird since I couldn’t relate to it as a proper history topic. The pupils asked some great questions though. It’s good to know you’ve also got some old records stored in the family.


  3. My father is a country/western fanatic — the oldies, like Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins. That’s about the only music he listens to. My husband and I listen to a variety of music, in particular Celtic and classical; we also like the oldies. We’re not much into the modern music. And, yes, I listen to music as I write and edit, but I can only listen to instrumental, not music with lyrics — I’ve found I type the words instead my words, so no lyrics for me when I write! LOL


    1. I’m a bit like that too, Gayle. The music has to be non-intrusive from me to remain focused. Familiar is usually better.


  4. I love standards and have often listened to the Madeleine Peyroux station on iHeart lately. They have lyrics, but they’re so familiar that I don’t find that they interfere with my train of thought.


  5. I’m with Abbie… I like a little bit of everything. I’ll even occasionally listen to Medieval and Renaissance music. It really helps you connect with the people who lived back in those times. It’s the same with American Civil War era music. Those sentimental and patriotic songs really tell you how our great-great-grandparents thought and felt during the 1860s. When Mom had ALS and was dying, at night to help her go to sleep, we’d play music from World War II era — Jitterbug songs. That was the music she danced to at places like the Chippewa Lake ballroom in NE Ohio. Nowadays when I hear a Glenn Miller song I think of her.


  6. YouTube is great for finding old recordings and it’s incredible what you can find. I’m writing a short story set in the 80s so i’ve been listening to a lot of 80s music like Oingo Boingo, Depeche Mode, and Duran Duran. Music I listened to growing up. Otherwise I never listen to music while I write. Thanks for a fun post, Nancy.


    1. I’ve only briefly dabbled with Youtube before now but see it as a good resource, now, Sarah! Hope you find the 80s music you need.


  7. I love music, but not when I’m writing–then I need silence. In general, I prefer quiet. Nowadays I mostly listen in the car, usually classical. Got a great sound system and make good use of it for opera (my passion). Love Gilbert and Sullivan. Hubs and I used to belong to a G&S group and did a couple of shows a year for about 10 years. I even have an old partial manuscript about a young aspiring opera singer.
    Fun post.


    1. Forgot to mention: the Mikado is probably the most popular G&S in the States with Pirates a close second. So much fun to do. Did you ever the see the G&S movie Topsy-Turvy? Loved the Japanese sequence.


  8. That sounds wonderful, Kate. I’m afraid I have a voice that chases people for the earplugs…but I do try! 😉 No, I didn’t see that one but my all time favourite is a movie version of Pirates with Kevin Kline. It was hilarious.


  9. Sounds like you have a varied collection. Sorry I’ve never heard of any of them. I guess growing up in the US in a different time and culture is probably why. I don’t tend to listen to music much, mostly when I am driving. When I write or read I need silence or I get distracted.
    My Mom use to play music while she cleaned the house. She would dance around the kitchen with a broom and sway to the music as she washed dishes. I tend to quickly do one chore at a time and don’t devote large blocks of time to cleaning like she did. If I get one room cleaned a day I count myself lucky.


  10. Music While You Work was my favourite programme in the ’50s/’60s and I recorded many of the shows (as did other people). I now have over six hundred programmes! Subsequently I researched the programme and its contributors and wrote a published book about it. It is still available through my website. You can also listen to dozens of complete editions of the show on my website (masters of melody). There is now virtually no instrumental light music on radio – certainly not live. When Radio One and Two replaced the Light Programme in 1967, the BBC stopped employing the many bands and orchestras which had served them well over the years. I got to meet many of the conductors who played on MWYW, all of whom I found as agreeable as their music. One conductor said to me “we gave so much pleasure to people, yet we were thrown out like old clothes!”

    Music While You Work was reprised for a week in 1982. The reaction was amazing – some 10,000 people contacted the BBC asking for the programme’s return. Consequently it returned on a daily basis throughout 1983. I obtained permission to attend as many broadcasts as I wished. I sometimes even sat in with the orchestras – an unforgettable experience.


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